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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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fieldwork and Ethnography in Design - The state of play from the CSCW Perspective

Dave Randall, Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Mark Rouncefield, Department of Sociology, Cartmel College, Lancaster University & Richard Harper, Microsoft Research Cambridge

We are rushing in all sorts of ways in our lives. We are confronted with a world that disagrees with us.  Other ethnographers work differently than us - and it is their right.  Different people do different types of work.  Some positions :

- Anthropologists have no monopoly on ethnography

- The body-politic of ethnography - some are disciplinary, some are nascent

- The kind of chaos and possibilities it throws up

We need to grow up and face the fact that if corporate life has funded ethnography for the last 20 years, we have to recognise that ethnography has become a hybrid - some may agree with some methods, others maynot.

With this powerful introduction, the speaker took us through CSCW .

He shares case studies that reflect that we cannot define fieldwork because we dont have a particular analytical tool anymore.  They are emergent tropes, they are interdisciplinary.

The foci in CSCW is design but in a broad encompassing way.   Let it emerge.  I AGREE :).  Its a good message for all practitioners.

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Nina Wakeford sets off the session on Methodology with a discussion around Us vs Them - academia and workplace anthropology.  Interesting perspectives - I enjoyed her talk.

Methodology - ways of surviving experience models.  Methods are just not for others - but resources we can draw on ourselves.  We can begin to engage in different ways.  She talks of subjective realities and false objectivity.

"The term traditional ethnography makes me shudder, as much as the term family tradition does" - got a big laugh from the audience.

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Jeannette Blomberg in her summation of the workshops yesterday talks of the notion of hybrids  - Hybrids are here now.  "In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse and in daily practice we find outselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras" - Donna Haraway

She ends her summaries with a call to recognize our hybrid subjects and hybrid identities - and celebrate our commitment to the ephemeral, situated orderliness of everyday practice.

One-minute summaries of the workshops from convenors :
 - Business Ethnography for BoPs (details here)
- Working the Process - Anthropological Approaches to designing and evaluating organisational work processes - focussing on the relationship between work practices and sociality in the context of global workplaces.  Unpacked the process of work process. Many issues related to crossing boundaries and many stakeholders involved.  Conclusion - study of work process needs to be trans-disciplinary and there needs to be language developed for sharing work and results.
- Object Sociality - Researching Living things - How we could conceptualise objects in terms of being social with them.  Looked at some Marxist traditions and theories that address this.  Shared personal stories and observations around this.
- Collaborating across social, organisational and disciplinary distances - The focus was to address how can we do better collaborations, and what challenges.  Design game using video clips were reviewed and make sens of the work, and pulling themes  out.  Then drew maps.
- Holy Hanging out - exploring spirituality and religion in an organisation. The boundaries between culture and religion aren't to broad - we need to study them and communicate them.  Have public conversations about them. Is a huge business opportunity.
- Distributed Sociality - doing online and offline work --- started by preliminary remarks on background, distributed people on three tables and asked them to get to know each other. Issues -- how to get informed consent from an avatar, whats happening to participant observation as we move from offline research as we move to cyberspace. 
- The Sociliaty of Fieldwork - a conversation that spiralled and scaled to a lot of things --- what happens when you see people cry - start off by listening then counselling, how do ou explain truth in different contexts, recruiting people like dressing up like a hedgehog, how do you explain
- Defining the Impact of physical spaces on social interactions - there was diversity in the group, and how we could still think together.
- Framing ethnographic Praxis for Innovation - co-developed ideas around the Innovation space.  Theories of innovation, how is it constructed, how do people participate, how do we engage in it. Co-developed a visual model to begin to map out the space.

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Nirmal Sethia starts by framing the agenda, with a Peter Drucker comment - "Business is a social organ". And then attributes the genesis of thinking around BoP to C.K. Prahlad. He shares his ideas on Business Ethnography - there is much excitement but little experience - three sorts of traps --- greed, ignorance and glamour.

How can Business Ethnography help .... to help businesses steer clear of the traps. Slave of greed - engine of growth, victim of ignorance to vehicle of innovation, captive of glamour to agent of good. An important partner in all this is Design.

We need to be sensitive to improving the lives of the poorest populations with our products and services.

The ultimate user-researcher is Gandhi ! "He understood the masses and the masses felt understood by him" Kamla Chowdhry. Having more versus being more.

Goals for today .... to start a conversation on the Role, Value and Strategy for Business Ethnography for the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Jeff Smith - who has spent 28 years in product design and development takes the discussion further. Talks of ethnography adding a dimension of "conscience-ness" to business strategies and decisions.

Darrel Rhea CEO of Cheskin - Innovation through Research in Underserved Markets. Business ethnography facilitates design processes, and design is about creating value for human beings. BE - therefore is the search for value. Value lives in the experience of users. So the question is what are the most highly valued experiences? They are those that are meaningful - in the sense that it helps provide a sense of value for you as a human being. Levels of value differ .... economic, functional, emotional, status and identity and at a deepest level, provide us with a sense of meaning. Stickiness is higher at the level of meaning.

Traditional market research methods work well for commodities,goods and services, but are weak for experiences. That requires a sense of cultural context. So what is meaning ... we require an explanation of the world to help us decide to act. Meaning provide's a contruction of reality. Which provides us a view of the world or framework for understanding what we value, believe, condone, desire. Its the sense we make of reality. How we tell the story of our lives ... we live for them and sometimes die for them. We need to listen to people's stories.

Historically, the constructions of meaning have been shared through religion, govts, family, mass movements for instance. In the modern world however, the construction of meaning is becoming more personal - the value of govts or religion are being broken down for eg.Markets are devolving into niches as well.

Case study - Patrimonio Hoy - very interesting case of how the cultural practice of the 'tanda' (rotating credit association) was used as the platform for Cemex.  Reminded me so much of the ITC e-choupal project which is resulting in a sustainable improvement - economic and socio-cultural - in the lives of farmers in India.

Erica Seidel, Pitney Bowes talks of the ethnographies we conducted in India, and shared lessons from building a BOP Business for Pitney Bowes and the India Post. And the challenges having started the project very broad and unfocussed, to the challenge of making a business case for value propositions, to getting favourable responses from the senior decision-makers at India Post.

Great Question --- What lessons can you bring back to the top of the pyramid from your experiences at the bottom of the pyramid.

We then had a short break and split up into two groups, to discuss Role, Value and Strategy for business ethnography for B2C and B2B organizations.

Some of the issues thrown up at these sessions that reflect role, values and strategy :
- can a framework be developed within the bottom of the pyramid markets rather than imposed from the outside
- do we need to look at B to C (business to collectives rather than customers) and B to G (business to government)
- the need to look at formal and informal structures
- not much research available on these markets through traditional market research - the need for ethnography
- business considerations - palatability by using the right terminology when selling it within your organisation, applicability across markets, translating it into a business model, how do you get buy-in from your organisation
- distributing vs generating wealth, listening, learning, serving
- entrepreneurial traits, creativity and flexibility - to be able to assert solutions on the fly
- what's the starting point, and the need to engage local thought leaders early in the process

3:30:19 AM    comment []  trackback []

I hear you Nancy ! I'm a practitioner, and there maybe some great stuff here .. but it's all lost on me, as I am not engaged to listen.

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Have met some bloggers at EPIC 2005 - Steve Portigal, Simon Roberts who I bumped into in the hotel corridor, and who recognised me from my blog, and Nancy - who I missed at BlogHer and am thrilled to see here at EPIC. She's blogging this conference LIVE.

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Grass roots campaigning as Elective Sociality (or Maffesoli meets ësocial softwareí): Lessons from the BBC iCan project - Stokes Jones, Lodestar

Am excited to be listening to this paper ... Lee Bryant had spoken of how he used social tagging for the BBC at Reboot7. .

Pre-history of the project :
- record low turnout in 2001 British elections
- quantitative research showed - apathy among voters widespread

The original brief : develop a unique interactive community in which people can make a difference in civic life. To participate in democracy.
Focus : Biased towards the local, and biased towards action.
Why research : belief that the site's success would depend on how well it met campaigner's needs.
Research focus : defining iCan's space - grassroots campaigners.
Methodology : indepth incontext interviews and capaign office tours, gathering oral histories of specific campaigns, etc
Deliverables : results expressed processes, priorities and needs of campaigners.

The Questions for the iCan system conceptual model : what is the journey between being a passive user and an active user ? A : iCan is the journey - using online journals and blogs among other things.

Conflicts : need for concept testing - unsung moments needed to be supported on the site - needed communications tools, a campaign blogging tool. Designed a prototype to be tested among target audience - 5 campaigners and 5 sympathisers - asked them a battery of questions and user journeys. Result - its too ambitious, it looks more difficult than campagining actually is. Only one thought the website would encourage them to start a campaign. The bias towards 'comprehensiveness' needed to be re-thought.One of the big learnings was that what they ended up with was a one-stop shop -- and that was overwhelming.

The problem - research had perhaps ignored this - "experiencing the other is the basis of community" Michel Maffesoli. Campaigners were getting something out of the community, far beyond the primary objective of campaigning. They threw back to elective sociality - unite and divide based on community affinities, which is voluntary, affect-based, about strong ties and based on local ties.iCan protocols then supported this model.

What a story !

1:23:04 AM    comment []  trackback []