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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, November 14, 2005

Kris R. Cohen, from the University of Surrey (UK). Yayyy he's a blogger. And does some photoblogging too! But that's not what he is talking of. Design research is what he's talking of and the concept of the user. And forces that suture a 'who' to a 'what'. Landscapes of possibilities.

Am not sure what's new about this basic call to look at the landscape of possibilities and not narrow-focus on users. When I started working as a qualitative researcher over 17 years ago, I quickly learnt that your research is as good as your subject. So we looked at users in a broad context - users, non-users, users of competitive brands and services, lapsed users, heavy and light users, old and recent users. Maybe ethnographers and anthropologists need some grounding in market research:):):)???

He leaves us with an interesting thought that researchers can create 'publics' - public spaces and action. Products enter spaces and get transformed. Public action is unpredictable. Ethnographic methods try and suture the who to the what. Design research not only describes but also can predict 'publics'.

Great Question --- how can we get clients to pay us to landscape the possibilities? No real answer.

11:52:53 PM    comment []  trackback []

EPIC starts with an introduction from Rick Robinson of GfK-NOP - his talk is called "Let's Talk - Introductory remarks for thoery section". He makes us smile when he says "I've never been in a room full of people who's mothers don't know what they do!"

1. Where's "here" ?
2. Who else is in this conversation?
3. Why theory matters .... quotes Richard Buchanan's diagram - from his paper, Design as Inquiry. He says case studies cannot be the only fodder for conversation, there must be active engagement - not just observe and collect artifacts, but work to the future. We act at this intersection of theory and praxis. We have considerable influence on the future, as a result.

He quotes as his conclusion -"I dont fuck much with the past, but i fuck plenty with the future" --- Patti Smith, Easter/Babelogue, 1978.

There's a live conference blog too. But no Flick'r photo feed (ethnographers and anthropologists should be using Flick'r - maybe I'll start a tag that says EPIC2005!), no IRC or back channel!

11:09:53 PM    comment []  trackback []

We had a great session today at the Social Solutions Global Consortium Summit in Seattle, USA. Pat Sachs led us through an engaging conversation on how we participate in this new world, how do we work together and take this forward.

Here's the gang :

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We started off the day introducing ourselves, our backgrounds, areas of expertise and what we expected from being a part of this Consortium. That was really interesting, as it threw up so many commonalities between us, and yet threw up diverse skills and experiences that are relevant to our work, anywhere in the world.

We then moved into a discussion of how we should position this group - while I won't get into details on our discussions, the key concepts we were playing with were around presenting ourselves as the bridge, or the rub connecting customer insight with company innovation. 'Glocal' truly describes us too.

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We then discussed our expectations of how we would partner together on a sustainable, ongoing basis in such manner that everyone benefits. Ideas on infrastructure, collateral for the group and plans for multi-country projects, and how we would retain our own individual company identities while being a part of this global group were discussed.

And finally, we mapped our individual skills into sets - some of the broad groupings that emerged from this mapping were - tools/methods/techniques, project management, domain knowledge.

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While the day was long and exhausting, I feel happy that I got to put faces and passions to people I had interacted with earlier online - and we did have a lot of fun too, with stories from Spain, South America, Russia and Japan adding so much colour to the day. Alexey from Russia - the self-proclaimed baby of the group made us smile through the day, with his probing questions, naughty eyes, and big big smile (and he claims that Russians aren't supposed to smile!)

What did I come away with ... I think I would benefit from being a part of this group, as it would help bridge my area of expertise - qualitative research skills and customer/stakeholder insights - with the ability to now embed sustainable company innovation. Moreover, belonging to a global consortium has it's own benefits - you have the weight of a Multinational behind you so you can market your services better, you can dip into a diverse resource of expertise and experience, you can think of conducting multi-country studies --- all leading to the feeling that you aren't in it alone, which is a certain isolation you can feel when working as an independent consultant.

And, as expected :) - I'm excited too about the possibility of adopting social tools like blogs and wikis and VOIP into our work practices and collaborative projects.

Here's a brief background on those present at this meeting :

Felipe - Spain. Action research, participatory work, PhD on Action Research - getting children back into the mainstream - Clinical Psychologist and Therapist, Human Resources, Started his own company. Also teaches at the university. PAR - participatory action research.

Alexey - Russia - St Petersburg - Cultural Anthro - Social Anthro Masters degree. No big demand in Russia for Anthropology - so working as Sociologist - working on PhD. Estd a company 9 months ago. Northern Consulting - interests in qualitative research of markets, corporate culture

Hugo - born in Italy, moved to South America. Venezuela and then to Argentina. Degree in Social History from Buenos Aires, Masters in Economic History. Research in Human History - Nashville. 12 years ago, moved to Barcelona, Spain - scholarship to do PhD on Social Anthropology. Studied a city Santa Rosa - immigrants found cities - the idea of a city - how did they name streets, etc Exploring how people put into practice ideas.notions. concepts to create organizations. Wife also an anthropologist - CLAY consulting focussing on adoption. Corporate culture - culture debate. We are not social engineers ...in Spain, anthropologists have this motto. Second PhD in Management studies - Focussing on another set of immigrants - expat managers - uses and practices of 'culture' in companies

Peter - Germany. He comes from a user-centered design background in computer science and that Xerox' researchers' work on "Using Video to Re-Present the User" inspired him to do his Ph.D. thesis work on Video-Supported Ethnography in Participatory Design. Participating in a project with Lucy Suchman's Work Practice and Technology group at Xerox PARC was the start of eight years' practice with ethnographic user research. That included giving the first course in Germany on ethnographic methods in requirements elicitation. Peter is principal of Savigny User Research and has carried out the Germany part of several international ethnographic user research projects through the Social Solutions Global Consortium. For more info see www.savigny-userresearch.de/competence.html.

Tom - Stockholm PhD - project on language and media in Paris, Chicago and Stockholm - then went into PR business and worked as a consultant - back to research. Communications consultant at Stockholm Univ - Press Secy for a Political Party - freelancer and yet like to join forces. Main interest is in intelligence and newsmaking - and using anthropological methods is a natural fit.

Mary - A Romanian, brought up in Israel, living in Japan - graduated Eng Lit. Media journalism for 10 years. She was an editor and journalist and currently an academic working in Japan, teaching at several universities and working in business consulting for both Westerna and Japanese companies and conducting ethnographic market research.

Lisa - San Francisco, USA. Different career chapters - entering a new one now. Background - Cultural Anthropology degree from Univ of Pennsylvania. Fieldwork in Papua, New Guinea in the 1970s. Research on relationships between men and women - feminist anthropology Experienced the power of doing fieldwork - spiritual and psychological impact. First job at UCLA - rather alienating experience - left and went into business - sanding floors, sewing/design company etc. Organisational devt Then joined California Institute for Intercultural Studies. Alternative Grad School in San Francisco - Anthropology Dept chair for12 yrs- trained engaged anthropologists. Environmental movement - deep ecology. Consultant full time in 1998. And then joined NASA experiment - Astrobiology institute - origins of life, future of life, life beyond. Worked to set it up as a collaborative endeavor across organizations. Technologies in place but the practices were not. Furthering work practices of collaborative science. Project in Robotics - Project Manager - doing usability research. Globally distributed teams

Pat - Arizona, USA. Doctorate in economic Anthropology - studied work in a retired community of coal miners. Relationship between technology and work. Post-doc in cognitive and developmental psychology - how adults learn at work - discontinuities between learning at school and learning at work. Activity theory. Distinctions in what constitutes training and delivery and what constitutes learning and development. Launched Social Solutions - one of the early anthropologists in practice. Expert systems lab at a telco - adoption of technology in maintenance centers. Reengineering in organizations affected business in early 2000ís. Where should we be --- sort of work rather than how better to run the railroad. Contextual Innovation. Keenly looking at emerging markets - BRIC --- Brazil, Russia, India, China.

2:16:39 PM    comment []  trackback []

I had a lovely time in Prague. It is a city with so much history. We stayed at Wenceslas Square in New Town - lots of history of protests and demonstrations there - and now very very touristy.

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Old Town is a fascinating place - full of small alleys, restaurants that serve divine dessert, beer that is cheaper than water or soda, crystal shops (the crystal for the most part was quite disappointing - perhaps I had been led to expect better) and touts selling discounted tickets for classical music recitals and concerts in the evening.
And there is Kafka and art nouveau.

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There is a tram - you can get around pretty easily. And the patterns the streets and roads make fascinated me ... they are mostly cobbled. The city has Gothic architecture for the most part, with lots of churches, romantic bridges and waterways.

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The Prague castle was interesting .. not pretty really but the Cathedral there was breathtaking.

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Here's a view of the city from the castle.

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Every night there are several concerts - Mozart, Bach, Verdi and Vivaldi ringing out from churches and museums. We sat on the steps at a museum and listened to Vivaldi's Four Season's being rendered by local artists - the lady violinist was just stunning in her energy.

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And there are lots of beggars surprisingly, who lie prone on the floor on their knees and elbows, with a bowl or cup held between their hands. Here's a sculpture I found, which actually depicts this.
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I'd like to go back to Prague some day. It is one of those romantic cities. I just hope it doesn't get any more touristy and commercialised than it is today.

1:07:46 PM    comment []  trackback []