Ethnography is all about wicked problems. We need to be confident to be unconfident!

Posted by on Feb 26, 2012 in Ethno Thinks | No Comments


This past week we officially kicked-off the Experience Research 2 module and man, have we hit the ground running! We have had so many amazing speakers coming through the studio or joining us online that my creative juices are going full speed…and we still have many more to come!

We started the week with a short review of our past research projects and talked about what we learned in Experience Research 1. We were reminded that as ethnographers, we have to fight human temptation to find a narrative and structure where there isn’t one. We talked about the fact that by going from whole to parts (and back) it will lead us to something. One point Cat made that stuck with me was that “ethnography is all about wicked problems…we need to be confident to be unconfident.” I think this idea of being skilled in what we do, understanding the methods available to us and preparing before we go out into the field must be combined with a naiitvity and a natural curiosity. When we go out into the field, I think we should strive to act as “foreign voyagers.”


We moved on to talk about research plans and we came to the conclusion that the plans we make have to be very dynamic so that they can be updated in the flexible environment in which we operate and that research plans should be used as a tool to manage and guide the process. We also talked about data management planning. My biggest take-away was this: data is information without context – we have to contextualize the data!


Then we had the incredible opportunity for a webinar on qualitative data analysis with Steve Portigal where he talked to us about synthesis and ideation. He said that “every translation is another way to engage with data.” During our research phase, we gather lots of data, the hard part is to know what to do with it…How can we translate it into ideas? stories? actions?


I tried to visually capture some of the main points from Steve’s presentation. He shared so much valuable information with us and as we are just begining our next big project and getting ready to go out into the field, his talk was extremely timely. Here is a small snapshot of my notes from his talk:


This talk was followed by inspiring visit from Richard Harper from Microsoft Cambridge who talked about his work on Connect and a digital presentation by Julien Cayla from the Australian school of business and euromed management, who talked about his “ethnography of ethnographers in the field.” 


Needless to say, this week has been inspiring, exhausting, informational, exciting and full of wicked insights…now to maintain all those feelings for the following weeks of field research and analysis…

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