Scaling through Meaning to Action: What the Australian Bushfires Taught Me about Ethnography

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PechaKucha Presentation—This PechaKucha gives a personal perspective on the ethical dilemmas around the impact of an individual's actions, and the meaning of an ethnographer's projects in the context of the scale where these play out.

The story begins with the spectacle of the 2020 Australian bushfires and reflects on their enormous scale. Within this context what is the meaning of individual actions to limit global warming?

The story shifts to the work context and explores the dichotomy of human impacts vs. the marketing metrics that typically measure success. Using an example of a research project with an overtly purposeful aim we explore the tension between ethnography as a tool for understanding the problem and the question of whether the scaled result truly addresses the end-users’ problem.

Returning to the bushfires, we again look at the scaled government response and the question of how successfully this met the needs of those impacted. We explore the different ways that initiatives can be scaled and recognize that smaller initiatives, tuned to end-users’ needs may be those that produce the most human impact. We conclude with the challenge to expand the remit of ethnography beyond problem diagnosis through to end-results.

Charlie Cochrane ( directs an ethnographic and qualitative research consultancy firm in Australia. He has over 25 years experience in ethnographic and qualitative research, marketing and advertising in both the UK and Australia. He has an MA in anthropology from Cambridge University and has trained in psychology and psychotherapy for professionals at Spectrum in London.

He pioneered ethnographic research in Australia. He has conducted projects for government, service organisations and blue chip manufacturing companies in both the UK and Australia for household name companies such as Nescafe, Campbells, American Express, and GIO as well as projects for state and federal government. He also teaches an ethnography unit to MBA students at NTU in Singapore.

Citation: 2020 EPIC Proceedings p 299, ISSN 1559-8918,

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