Monday, March 30, 2009

What to ask your ethnographer

I wanted to share an article Ethan Whitehill recently posted on the Ethnography Forum via LinkedIn, answering some questions many in the business world have been asking:

1) How do you know if ethnography is the right approach for your research?
2) How do you know whether you have the right ethnographer?

I thought you might find the featured article in this months Alert! Magazine interesting and wanted to pass it along. In “Ethnography: How to know if it’s right for your study...” Two West Inc.’s Chief Anthropologist Gavin Johnston and Melinda Rea-Holloway address the issues many market researchers face when deciding whether ethnography is the best approach to solve a business problem.
In the same article by Johnston et al, I found this succinct list of 9 questions/answers to ask an Ethnographer if you're looking to bring one onto a project. Indeed, ethnography is very much about one's training/practice/judgment and having the package to make good research decisions based on such.

Nine Questions (and Answers) to Ask an Ethnographer

The following are a number of questions every ethnographer should be able to answer.

1. Is my project a good fit for ethnography?
Your ethnographic provider should be able to determine whether ethnography is a good fit based on your business objectives, timeline and budget.

2. What methods are utilized during ethnographic fieldwork?
Ethnographers utilize a combination of multiple methodologies, but should always mention participant observation and inductive interviews.

3. How long do ethnographic projects take to complete?
It depends on the scope of your project, but a really fast ethnography will take a few months. If a provider tells you otherwise, they aren’t doing ethnography.

4. Do ethnographers have a discussion guide like focus group moderators?

Yes, however each ethnographer has a different style of inquiry, and will not repeat verbatim what is in the field guide.

5. What is the ethnographic analysis process?
Ethnographers should be able to explain their analytical process and this description should include a reference to social and cultural theory.

6. What is the difference between videography and ethnography?
Videography is story-telling through video. Videography may capture the moment, but lacks the rigor of structured research.

7. What qualifications should ethnographic fieldworkers have?
They should have an advanced degree in a social science discipline, such as anthropology or sociology. They should also have a wide range of field experiences.

8. How do ethnographers learn ethnography?
They learn the basics of ethnography in graduate school and through hands-on experiences in the field. To become a practitioner requires understanding of social science theory, research methods and research design.

9. How can I be sure I can use the results from ethnographic research?
A good ethnographer will work with you to plan a research project that is designed around your business objective. Therefore, sampling, data collection and data analysis will all be guided by the end goal. A good ethnographer understands the difference between interesting and actionable findings.

Gavin Johnston is the chief anthropologist of Two West Discovery & Design
Melinda Rea-Holloway is the CEO and founder of Ethnographic Research, Inc.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"I thought you'd blog more in the field..."

Was what one of my friends quipped to me over lunch last week. This was regarding the level of blogging whilst doing my dissertation fieldwork in Korea. Believe you me, I was at times somewhat disconcerted that I wasn't revealing something interesting every day, or that I wasn't one of those journalistic sites for the 'latest and greatest from Korea' as it were.

Then I thought to myself, well that's not what I have been using this blog for, even before I left for the field. These issues have been bandied about by those in my circle but I will rehash them here: that the blog has transformed for its -purpose- in one's media ecology in light of recent innovations such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. The latter two I use more for stream-of-consciousness type-things... and those of you who followed me while I was actually there know that. Both require membership/authorization to some degree, while the blog is a very public site. This is going to change the dynamics of my use, and it did. So, that was the medium question.

As for other reasons, as anthropologists commonly talk about, "anthropologists were notoriously private when it came to talking about their field experience." Here is a great post, complete with lots of yummy links attesting to that from Rex at Savage Minds. I would add my own story to the entry, in that when you're in the field:
  • There is simply too much going on in your head, the field, others, etc to really blog anything of worth. Certainly not every day. After all, is what you're observing in the culture really what you make of it? Enough to be confident in your re-presentation (that same day)? Probably not.
  • The field is an emotional roller coaster. You are not at -home-, nor are you anywhere you can really escape so whatever is blogged would likely be pretty ugly or something you regret later. Honestly, there are moments of levity, and there are some dark, dark times. Ask anyone who has done this type of physically/intellectually/emotionally (not to mention financially!) invested ethnographic fieldwork. Things not fit for public consumption on a blog on the fly, imho. Perhaps twitter/fb where one is relatively sure of who may be reading it and relatively confident about context.
  • Confidentiality concerns. There tends to be so much one does off the record that it takes time to form coherent narratives that do not violate the trust of one's informants. That is (and was) a high priority for me. So yes, the gems are being excavated... and they must be analyzed and polished to be anything one is proud of.
Anyboos, my surface parcel of worldly possessions just arrived for me in the mail from Korea. 4 weeks from Seoul to Vancouver. Not bad eh?

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Can we ever go paperless? Mobile devices and the perception of attention

The goal to go paperless, in this -day and age- still eludes many, including myself. It's not for lack of technology however, because the means exist at our fingertips whether it's a laptop or handheld device.
Some recent encounters, and my acquisition of an iPhone have led me to believe that unless you're busy scribbling musings down on honest-to-goodness-paper... there is the perception that one's attention is divided in things like seminars, lectures, etc. This is not to say that one could not be doodling or writing down ultra-deviant thoughts on said paper, but the cultural norm still seems to be (at least in more intimate settings) that paper = politeness.
Example: Because I was on the go that day all I had to take notes with at a talk was my iPhone. So, I was taking notes (really!) the entire time with the device. While it isn't my first choice for data entry, my fingers are small enough that it wasn't a terrible thing to do so. After the talk, my good friend (the person giving the talk) said he noticed I had a 'relationship' with my phone during his talk...
I then realized that the talk was intimate enough for him to notice my medium for notetaking--only he perceived that my attention was divided between him and my -TEXTING-.
I was mortified--that probably he and everyone else in the room thought that I could be so inconsiderate as to text the WHOLE TIME throughout his talk. Totally not the case.
This is a widespread thing that I am bringing up here: people tweeting during class, laptop usage for taking notes (but actually playing WoW) in lectures... is it any wonder why no one would believe I was actually ONLY taking notes?
So, this brings me to the question--can we ever go paperless, when we have these multitasking devices that make one's direction of attention ambiguous? Must it continue to be the domain of pen and paper to send the message of "yes, you and this discussion have my undivided attention"?
Can we (should we) get past this technocultural perception?

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Politics and Expertise: Patrick Feng, TODAY at ACT

Today at 3pm, at the SFU Harbour Centre campus ACT Lab, Patrick Feng from the University of Calgary will be giving his talk:

Politics and Expertise: Theorizing the Role of Standards Organizations in Shaping Science and Technology Policy

ABSTRACT: The development of scientific and technical standards has traditionally taken place away from the view of the general public. While the work of standards bodies can have huge impacts on the public—think about standards for environmental protection, food safety, or data security—the actual process of setting such standards is widely seen as lying outside of the political realm. Recent work in Science and Technology Studies, however, suggests that standards-setting is a deeply political process in which the public can and should have a say.

This talk examines the role that standards organizations play in shaping public policy. I will discuss how these organizations function and how they are expected to inform policy. I will also discuss the tension inherent in many standards bodies between politics and expertise. To what extent are decisions based on scientific concerns and to what extent are they driven by other factors? Since experts play a prominent role in the development of standards, it is crucial to ask what kinds of expertise are considered and whether such expertise could be mobilized in other ways. I suggest that reconciling tensions between politics and expertise within standards bodies and other “technical” organizations is an important step in democratizing science and technology policy.

Patrick Feng is an assistant professor in the Science, Technology, and Society program at The University of Calgary.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

March Brown Bag Lunch - Dal Yong Jin

The School of Communication's Dal Yong Jin will be giving this month's Brown Bag lunch talk this Wednesday, March 11th.
Location: Mallinson Conference Room (K8652), SFU Burnaby at 12 Noon.
Title: De-convergence: a shifting business trend in the U.S. digital media industries
Abstract: Since the early 21st century, several media companies, including Time-Warner, Viacom, Walt Disney, and Vivendi, have utilized de-convergence as a new business model. The emergence of de-convergence in the communication industry has raised a fundamental question, that being whether de-convergence will become one of the major business models in changing the ownership structure and system. This topic investigates this shifting trend and applies it in relation to digital media, including Internet, mobile, cable, and television. It analyzes why and how communication giants in Western countries, particularly the U.S. broadcasting industries, have pursued de-convergence in recent years. It first examines the background and practice of convergence between the early 1990s and 2007. Then, it maps out how media companies have pursued de-convergence through split-off and spin-off strategies as their new business model. Finally, it articulates whether the de-convergence trend has consequently contributed to the enhancement of the policy goals of competition, diversity, and promotion of democratic discourse that are embedded in antitrust laws and regulations relevant to mass media.

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