Transferring Ethnographic Competence

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Transferring Ethnographic Competence:
Personal Reflections on the Past and Future of Work Practice Analysis
Brigitte Jordan1
prepublication draft of
Jordan, Brigitte
2011
Transferring Ethnographic Competence: Personal Reflections on the Past and Future of Work
Practice Analysis. Published as Chapter 20, pp. 344-358 in Making Work Visible:
Ethnographically Grounded Case Studies of Work Practice, Margaret Szymanski and Jack
Whalen, eds. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, Learning in Doing Series.
The Rise of Ethnography
In the last few years, ethnography has taken on a new prominence and popularity in the business
realm. As a consequence, many of our corporate partners are thinking about internalizing the
ethnographic expertise for which they used to contract by “transferring” some measure of
ethnographic skills to their employees.2 We have fielded sporadic requests for this kind of teaching
for a very long time, both at PARC and the closely allied Institute for Research on Learning (see
Stucky, this volume), but in the last few years they have become noticeably more frequent, sometimes
attached to requests for research on recognized issues, such as technology development or
understanding customers. In other words, teaching ethnographic field methods has become a product,
an “offerable” for institutions like PARC. The tension between ethnography as research and
ethnography as product is increasingly resolved by moving ethnography into a service function, a
function that supports technology-focused research as a validating rather than as a discovery science
(Whalen and Whalen, 2004).
A History of Ethnographic Research and Teaching at PARC and IRL
The full history of IRL remains to be written. Here I offer my own recollections, based on my
experience during the more than ten years of IRL’s existence, of how work practice analysis arose at
PARC. All such accounts are socially constructed, drawn from a memory that is fallible and only rarely
reflects “the facts.” Multiple histories are important for understanding where we have been, where
we are now and where we are going. It is in this spirit that I first recall some of the pivotal events
that occurred after I accepted a joint appointment between PARC and IRL in 1988; I continue with a
discussion of some of the issues that have emerged around the successes and failures of teaching
about these methods in Xerox and other companies.
1
As is clear from the text, I owe a tremendous debt to my current and former colleagues at PARC and
IRL. Everything I say is in some sense a further commentary on the many, many discussions we have
had over the years. I thank Susan U. Stucky and John Seely Brown for information and insights that
vastly improved my memory. I particularly want to acknowledge Yutaka Yamauchi with whom I
discussed many of these issues as we prepared a short article on teaching in the corporation. My
deepest thanks go to Peggy Szymanski and Robert Irwin for awesome editing and support in a trying
time.
2
I am adopting the “transfer” language here for consistency and convenience of a business audience
though it is misleading in that it implies that bits of knowledge are “transferred” from a sender to a
receiver, a teacher to a student. In fact learning is fundamentally social and involves collaborative
sense-making that builds shared knowledge communities and supports the collaborative exploration of
a problem space.
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The early years during which PARC emerged as a leader in the application of ethnographic methods to
business concerns were shaped by a close alliance between WPT (the Work Practice and Technology
group at PARC) and IRL. During that time, a major factor in energizing the connection between the
two institutions were the activities and ideas that emerged around the weekly Interaction Analysis
Laboratories (IALs) which I had introduced when I joined PARC/IRL. Grounded in anthropological
participant observation, IALs were devoted to the analysis of video recordings from ethnographic
field studies that were collaboratively micro-analyzed by an interdisciplinary group of researchers,
very similar to the lab sessions Harvey Sacks had conducted at the University of California at Irvine.
The IRL/PARC labs were sometimes held at IRL, sometimes at PARC, but as a matter of policy, were
open to anybody who had a video recording to be analyzed. They drew international participants as well
as frequent visitors from area universities and Silicon Valley companies and were instrumental in
keeping the flow of ideas in the community lively and productive.
While there was a great deal of overlap, two somewhat distinctive subcultures developed as actual
work practice studies were carried out. The WPT group at PARC, under the leadership of Lucy
Suchman3 (see Chapter 1, this volume) was more academically oriented in their analysis of data from
diverse work settings, such as airports, lawyers’ offices, and bridge-building engineers. On the other
hand, much of the work carried out at IRL in the 1990s focused on providing insights and
recommendations to the companies that were funding IRL (of which Xerox was the most important
one), something that, at the time, was disparaged in academic settings. Nevertheless there was an
exceptionally productive flow of personnel and ideas between PARC and IRL that generated an
extraordinarily strong alliance and collaboration.
The tight coupling between these strands of endeavor produced over the years a distinctive approach
to the analysis of work practices, workscapes, and later lifescapes4, as well as a grounded
understanding of the obstacles ethnographically based work practice studies were facing in
corporations and how we could respond to them (Jordan and Dalal, 2006). In my view, the main
accomplishments of the IRL/PARC collaboration during these years were two-fold:

the seminal theoretical and conceptual advances developed during that time around social
learning, communities of practice (COPs), context sensitivity (situatedness), and knowledge as
a collaborative achievement rather than as a collection of transferable items, and
3
Though Lucy’s degree is in anthropology, she had became very much drawn into ethnomethodology
and conversation analysis, while I and other anthropologists at IRL such as Jean Lave, remained much
in the tradition of anthropological ethnography that tries to understand what “the natives” around us
are doing. In spite of the fact that I had studied with Sacks, Garfinkel and Schegloff, I think of
myself as an anthropologist. Harvey Sacks himself had always seen CA as aligned with anthropology as
much as with sociology and was preparing to do fieldwork in Mexico at the time of his death.
4
The idea of “lifescapes” came out of early work at IRL and WPT where by the early 1990s our focus
on work practice studies had expanded to include the more holistic notion of “workscapes”. In a
project with on-the-move high-performance executives I coined the term “lifescapes” because it
became clear that work was no longer confined to work-in-the-workplace but had spread into people’s
“other” lives. The idea of “scapes” as indicating horizontal cultural conceptual domains has been
publicized by Appadurai with “ethnoscapes”, Cefkin with “rhythmscapes”, and many others (Appadurai,
ed. 1986; Cefkin, 2007)..
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
the adaptation of anthropological research methods that had been developed in the study of
exotic communities to large, technology-driven organizations.
Work practice analysis was originally internally focused, that is to say, on other parts of Xerox rather
than on external clients. It began during an historic event in the late 1980s when Shirley Edwards,
then VP of Real Estate for Xerox, came to PARC to conduct a meeting concerning facilities issues. At
the meeting, I talked about how ethnographic methods could provide detailed data and insights about
how people actually use space as they carry out their work. I remember clearly that other attendants
were distinctly nonplussed by what I had to say, probably expecting some technology-focused
innovation ideas from PARC, but Shirley said “Oh, that sounds interesting. This is different.”
Shirley became an advocate for ethnographically based work practice analysis. She was excited about
the potential of ethnography for furthering her own objectives (which were to “increase productivity
by supporting work”) and began to look for suitable sites where that approach could be introduced into
Xerox operations. Eventually she brokered the first full-blown workplace study, the “Work Practice
and Design” project at a Xerox call center in Dallas that demonstrated the value of the ethnographic
approach to workplace-based issues. Ethnographic fieldwork produced recommendations for building
a new call center that informed the design and layout of work spaces for productivity and employees’
enjoyment, and generated proposals for redesigning Xerox training programs.5 While there was then
no explicit effort to transfer ethnographic methods to the participants as part of our research, our
presence and activities over more than a year implicitly carried the message that the desired
transformation to a “learning organization” would need to be grounded in a deep understanding of
employees, their work practices, and concerns.
Significantly, this project was also our first opportunity to introduce and demonstrate the power of
video-based Interaction Analysis to call takers and their trainers, an effort that taught them to “see
the invisible” and generated insights about many of the issues inherent in their work (Bishop et al.
1994). We regularly invited call center workers to “pizza lunch meetings” where we showed video tapes
of the calls they had dealt with, maybe just the day before. Looking at themselves at work and being
able to talk about what they did was inherently interesting to them and with some support from us (we
often pointed out things that they didn’t see) gained insight into the ways in which the technologies
and resources available at their workstations supported their work practices (or not). They became
analysts of their own work. Out of this came employee-based initiatives to generate change, some of
which were favorably received by management. As a result, the call center trainers began to
experiment with incorporating video in their repertoire, out of which emerged standards for what
should be taught to novice call center workers. The trainers became strong advocates for using
collaborative video analysis for coming to a useful understanding of work practice issues. This was in
effect a kind of indirect methods transfer and was successful largely because it directly dealt with
the trainers’ issues.
During these projects, almost without noticing it, we regularly found ourselves attaching methods
instruction to the discussions about research issues. Those instructions in many cases became
workshops and courses. In other cases, they became routine instructional components of joint
research meetings, as for example in a project with Nynex Science and Technology where methods
5
In this first large project William Clancey and I were co-Principal Investigators (Bishop et al. 1994).
Shirley Edwards also funded the continuation of this project at the new call center in Lewisville (see
Chapter 11, this volume) as well as the Systemic Assessment Project at Xerox Business Services
(where we partnered with an entire Xerox business division in a large-scale effort to create a learning
organization (Aronson et al., 1995).
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discussion became an expected part of every research meeting that IRL- and Nynex-based
researchers carried out. This period also saw the development of a number of project reports, white
papers, and later journal publications that explained our approach and methods (Blomberg et al., 1993,
Button et al., 2003, Jordan, 1996, Jordan, 1997, Suchman and Trigg, 1991).
Building on the experience and confidence we had gained with early internal, Xerox-embedded efforts,
we eventually branched out, developing a number of more or less formal course and workshop
offerings that were designed to help large organizations develop internal ethnographic competence. A
final step in this direction was the development of methods learning centers in PARC client companies
(Kishimoto and Whalen, this volume; Plurkowski et al., this volume).
What then are the main issues for embedding ethnographic competence that emerged during this long
and complex history? How can we teach employees who often have minimal background in research
about the benefits (and limitations) of using ethnographic field methods? I draw on my work and that
of my colleagues at PARC and formerly at IRL to suggest that three levels of knowledge transfer need
to be considered: expertise in basic field methods; analytic competence; and, ideally, strategic
relevance. I will discuss these in turn.
Level-1: Basic Field Methods at the Toolkit Level
Field methods epitomize the craft of ethnography. The bulk of the teaching to “transfer ethnographic
expertise” is on the level of techniques. It is comparatively easy to teach and to learn the craft of
ethnography and such teaching shows impressive results in a short time. It provides basic grounding
that differentiates ethnography from other research methods, especially focus groups and
predesigned surveys. The goal of a first learning engagement is thus to provide corporate learners
with a toolkit from which they can choose data collection techniques for their projects.
A typical course of several days begins with historical background, i.e. the transformation from exotic
anthropological “jungle ethnography” to company-relevant “business ethnography”. Often a discussion
is also required upfront in order to establish research as a data-based attempt to answer questions.
From this emerges a grounding conversation about what kinds of data can answer what kinds of
questions, leading to an appreciation of what ethnography can and cannot do.
Since we are convinced that most learning happens in the doing, our courses and workshops are
interactive, experiential and collaborative and often include role-playing during instructional sessions.
They are built around field experiences of various lengths and complexity. We draw most materials
for exercises and assignments from our own fieldwork, but often also include data that course
participants contribute. For example, when somebody brought in a photograph of two friends listening
to music on the same headset, a discussion about the lack of a good design for such an obvious need
emerged, followed by brainstorming about what other data would be useful to understand joint
headphone use.
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Depending on the participants’ needs, we teach and practice a variety of data collection methods, such
as participant observation, on-site interviewing, documentation by photography, and audio- and video
recording. The overriding goal is “learning to see” in a new way. Or phrasing it more ambitiously,
reconstructing their view of the world. For example, in business environments, thinking is heavily
influenced by the Six Sigma approach, a business management strategy originally developed by
Motorola. Six Sigma decontextualizes, abstracts, and aims to reduce variance. And as John Seely
Brown (JSB) points out, it is the furthest thing from situated analysis or understanding how to take
advantage of these complex situations. Its goal is to reduce variance while the purpose of
ethnographic participant observation is to understand variance (Interview with JSB, August 27, 2009
by Peggy Szymanski).
For a while participants may continue to see themselves as objective outside observers— as data
collection machines that document sites, events and interactions objectively rather than as
participant observers, continuing to attempt to embody the ideal of deductive, laboratory science
(Jordan and Yamauchi, 2008). This attitude is particularly pronounced in those whose training and
work experience tends to reduce reality into abstract structures, consisting of boxes and arrows, as
in the ubiquitous workflow diagrams. Such representations allow only a yes/no dichotomy without
gradations, representing flow as a sequence of on/off states with no grey areas. Teaching
ethnographic work practice analysis, even on a fundamental level, works towards counteracting such
ingrained ways of seeing problem and solution spaces.
Throughout our teaching sessions we focus on signal topics that are particularly important in
ethnography such as how to build trust with research participants (critical for effective participant
observation), or that distinguish it from other approaches, such as the difference between lived
“practice” and documented “process.” We emphasize the fact that what people say is not necessarily
what they do (often leading to a discussion of the proper and improper uses of focus groups), and the
emic/etic or insider/outsider perspective (distinguishing between data collected from the point of
view of study participants and those that are based on the categories the analyst brings in from the
outside). We attempt to instill in participants the idea that the ethnographer needs to assume the
role of learner, of student, and as much as possible, of apprentice. We might illustrate emic/etic
issues for example by pointing out that for understanding the work of pilots from an informed
experiential view it would be useful to learn to fly, but it would also be good to complement participant
observation by listening to an experienced pilot talk about the typicality, normality, general
pervasiveness (or lack thereof) of the activities observed.
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We pay particular attention to the importance of systematic (rather than impressionistic) data
collection and ways of achieving that, for example by constructing team-shared templates for
transforming raw notes from the field into data usable for analysis. This then opens up a discussion of
top-down vs. collaborative approaches to data collection and, more recently, the use of communication
and collaboration technologies (cell phones, cameras, email) for transforming “informants” into
collaborating, data collecting research colleagues (see Schiano and Bellotti, this volume).
One essential component of teaching basic data collection is instilling in novice ethnographers a
serious respect for the ways in which biases of various sorts can affect their work (Convertino et al.,
2009). In today’s business world where we are frequently called upon to investigate interaction
between (often globally) distributed workgroups, understanding what is known as the fundamental
attribution error (Cramton, 2002:193) is of particular relevance. But the general idea here is to build
a constant attitude of bias vigilance, including biases that are personal and grounded in participants’
experience and life history. The slogan here is: know thyself!
Embedding ethnography in corporations is an exercise in culture change that almost always relies on
rephrasing questions, reformulating metaphors, and surfacing deep-seated attitudes that can
interfere with the research process. For many people, the idea that reality is simply “out there” to be
described and that analysis should be researcher-independent is deeply ingrained, while we argue that
this kind of analysis is inappropriate for workplace studies because workplaces are dynamic everchanging organic systems where it is impossible to control for variance.
Learning ethnographic techniques at this level produces a valuable close-grained documentation of
what “really” is going on in the workplace (something that many managers are not aware of). It also
allows identifying local problems and suggesting local solutions. For participants, such courses or
workshops are immensely satisfying because of the resources they make accessible for “seeing
differently” and the insights they generate rather quickly.
Level-2: Teaching and Learning Deep Analytic Competence
It is comparatively easy to teach Level-1 ethnographic techniques, and companies readily see the value
of having ethnographically informed members in their midst. What is much more difficult to teach is
full analytic competency. In order to develop the ability to relate patterns emerging from field data
to company-relevant issues, deep analytic competence is required that can draw on theory and general
concepts that are applicable beyond the local fieldsite. For some companies, toolkit level competence
is not enough. For example, fieldwork may reveal that employees spend too much time in meetings,
leading to a bullet list of recommendations for overhauling meeting rules and meeting technologies.
This is certainly useful but such local stopgap (“bandaid”) solutions do not touch the company’s larger
issues which have to do with what kind of work these meetings need to accomplish and why so many
meetings exist in the first place.
And so some companies recognize that for addressing systemic, enterprise-wide problems, a higher
level of competence is required. This requires for both teachers and learners a move from mere
observation of interaction in time and space to a structural level, where one might ask: what is it in
the system that spawns the issues we observe in the field? In other words, how can we move from the
specific, local, observable, to the general? Companies do want to fix local problems, but the big payoff
comes for them when issues can be identified at a higher level, that is to say, are generalizable to a
larger universe, e.g. all of the company’s call centers, or all call centers within the industry, maybe
including competitors. This is the promise of deep analytic competence.
Still, why is teaching analytic competence so difficult?
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Professionally trained anthropologists typically acquire analytic skills during years of graduate
education that include multiple stints of fieldwork. During that time they live within a community of
similarly engaged fellow graduate students while coming under the increasingly close supervision of one
or more major professors. A part of this process consists of an intensive study of prior expert
thought and opinion (“the literature”), both in heads-down cramming sessions and in seminar
conversations that link students’ emerging ideas to the history of their field and allow them to draw
on patterns and insights from that literature.
After seeing, reading and hearing about a sufficient number of examples, students learn to recognize
and classify them. They learn to determine which elements of the situation or domain must be treated
as important and which can be ignored (Dreyfus, 2009). In the academic context, this selection is
shaped by the history and current interests of the discipline in which the student is embedded. The
important aspects of this stage are repetition, critical positive relationships with superiors and fellow
students, and fitting methods, topics, and insights progressively into those of their professional
community. But for competent analysis in the world of work, it is company-specific interests and
features of the work culture that provide the analyst with the criteria for deciding which of the many
possibly relevant features they should take up. In contrast to “pure research” in which analysis is
often focused on abstract anthropological or sociological topics, corporate ethnography is responsive
to the interests of the company.
The institutional resources inherent in a professional graduate program are mostly lacking in the
corporate environment. The question then is whether similar analytic skills can be conveyed to nonacademics during a comparatively brief training period. Are there approaches that could approximate
the kind of in-depth learning that happens in graduate school education? We have given considerable
thought to this issue and have devised a series of interventions and experiments that can grow some
measure of analytic skill at a substantially faster pace than traditional graduate school attendance.
We identify three basic requirements: participation in an ethnographic community of practice, the
opportunity to acquire experience with knowledgeable mentors, and involvement with an appropriate
body of literature.
Experience shows that a single individual cannot be taught to attain full analytic competence. While
methods-trained employees should be able to collect data on their own, for the analysis of such data
to show systemic results, it has to be vetted by a community. Popular culture still champions the
Marlboro Man’s solitary excursions (reflected in academic promotion criteria and corporate
performance appraisals) but analytic competence is really a “team sport” in the sense that it requires
a community within which analytic competence is encouraged and supported. It is through exposure to
different kinds of analysis, considerable field experience, a tradition of group reflection and
sustained participation in collaborative analysis sessions that analytic skills develop. For this, a key
requirement is constant mutual mentoring within the group as well as one-on-one mentoring that pairs
novices with experienced researchers over the length of an entire project.
To learn to actually do analysis requires periodic but frequent collaborative data mining sessions
during which trainees analyze their fieldnotes, sketches, recordings, photographs, documents and
other collaterals, exploring multiple data strands through insistent questioning. It is here that
participants ask each other questions like: What do you see? What would somebody else see? What
are you looking for? What else could you be looking for? How do we know this? What evidence do we
have? Where else could we look for evidence? Has anybody else explored this question? Routinely
engaging in this exercise (as we did in the IALs) opens up linear thinking to considering other options,
causes and influences, and tracks the flow of knowledge, people and technologies that keeps systems
interconnected.
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One outcome of communal data analysis sessions is that analysts learn to respect empirical data. It is
here that the common human tendency to speculate, to make sense of the world by imputing motives
and causes, can be overcome through an insistence on honoring the data. It is in these sessions that
trainees learn to always go back to the data in order to hold unbridled conjecture in check. This ability
to step back from current hypotheses and explanations is precisely what differentiates an analyst
from a person with opinions. In the IALs there was an often-enforced rule: when a video was stopped
for comments, nobody could talk for more than five minutes without going back to the data by turning
the tape back on. This fosters reliance on thinking about what the real world is telling us and starves
unrestrained flights of fantasy. In the long run, this should lead to developing what we might call the
ethnographic stance: an attitude that simultaneously honors data and theory by pulling in concepts and
patterns and checking them against the data that have been collected. Built on reflection and
repetition, it is these group analysis sessions that are a major factor for growing fledgling analysts’
expertise in pattern recognition. Video is especially helpful in this regard. In addition, guided reflexive
exposure to relevant articles is remarkably effective in establishing common analytic ground among
members of ethnographic teams.
It must be recognized that companies who aspire to this level of ethnographic competence need to
understand that they must commit two crucial resources for this enterprise: time and money. Unless
they are prepared to invest both they might be better off reaping the substantial benefits of a Level1 transfer.
Level-3: Growing Strategic Competence
Let me say up front that at the strategic level the transfer metaphor breaks down completely.
Strategic competence means to have significant influence at the top level of the company to the point
of changing the company’s culture. This requires a group of ethnographers who are committed to
upgrade their influence on higher level company goals and presupposes a cohesive group of
ethnographic experts, an “ethno-team”, who have acquired a deep understanding of the company’s work
culture. Some of its members would probably be in-house or at least have become deeply embedded in
the target company during an extended period of work. Thus strategic competence cannot be taught,
it has to emerge almost naturally from the prior two levels of competence, fueled by the vision of an
ethnographically trained core group that aspires to optimize the impact of ethnography at the
strategic level. It requires a sophisticated understanding of the micro-political climate and skill in the
corporate dance that allows the team to navigate simultaneously within the macro-organizational
bureaucratic structures of company politics and policies and the micro-organizational experiential
world of employees and consumers that work practice analysis reveals.
The groundwork for strategic impact is buy-in within the target company. Another factor is target
company ownership at all levels. We have found that in every one of our projects that were successful
there was a strong connection between PARC or IRL project leader(s) and their complement in the
company. Strategic projects thrive under the care of internal brokers, midwives, boundary crossers
that help the project and its results acquire a social life. When projects address issues that people
care about, that help them achieve their goals, then the chances for success increase. When inside
ownership is lacking, excellent research simply does not make it beyond the powerpoint presentations
and their reports get stuck on the credenza of the executive office.
Because of the zigzagging goal slalom, typical for corporate projects, much potentially useful
information is collected but never acted upon because the parts of the company that could use it are
not involved. Thus “marketing” ethnographic results, positioning ethnographic projects with the right
counterparts in the client company, becomes another essential strategic activity.
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Finally, strategic competence requires a grounded understanding of why projects fail and what can be
done to raise the likelihood of success. Our own experience parallels that of Microsoft researchers
Donna Flynn and Tracey Lovejoy who, in an insightful paper, talked about how ethnography attained
strategic influence at Microsoft (Flynn and Lovejoy, 2008). They suggest that a major success factor
is alignment of ethnographic research with the company’s product development cycle and propose that
ethnographic work should begin well before technology gets started in order to provide designers with
relevant data from the field.6 Ethnography at the strategic level fails when ethnographic projects are
(or become) misaligned with the client company’s top level objectives and business initiatives. Most
ethnographic projects draw on Level-1 and Level-2 competence. They are concerned with product or
customer characteristics. To achieve strategic competence, however, a plan for phased strategic
engagement has to be put in place that looks at the deployment of ethnographic projects over the
company’s product cycle, creating a strategic engagement model for ethnography with a vision of endto-end research across the product cycle that aligns customer understanding with product strategy.
The truth is that in our experience strategic success has rarely happened. In the early days,
anthropologically-based ethnography had an almost strategic function under JSB. Our mere presence
made it necessary to take the social into consideration and thereby changed the nature of the
dialogue at PARC. This was a fortunate constellation that provided the space for us to mature our
academically grounded field methods into a work practice methodology that became enormously
influential in corporate research.
Conclusion
So what is the future of ethnography and work practice analysis in the workscapes and lifescapes of
the twenty-first century? I envision at least two scenarios: The first sees ethnography splintering -fragmenting into an assortment of free-standing techniques that are sold to the market place; the
second sees ethnography expanding and extending its reach from workscapes to lifescapes and
beyond.
It is undeniable that along with the rise in requests for competence transfer has come an expanding
number of providers eager to respond to the demand. With widespread lack of understanding of what
ethnography can and cannot do, it has become de rigueur to splice in an “ethnographic component”
whether a project needs it or not. Specialization may concentrate aspects of our praxis in
practitioners helping clients interpret complex data about complex situations. But it may also pull the
life blood out of what makes ethnography compelling, potentially leading to ethnographic piece work,
deskilling and theoretical anemia.
Unavoidably some of these practitioners are not well trained and operate with minimal experience.
Data collection becomes commoditized (Lombardi, 2009) as methods are unpacked and practitioners
claim expert status in this technique or that. But there is a difference, too often ignored, between
adapting traditional anthropological methods in all their richness and the claiming of expert status
that all too often relies on rote application of one or more techniques. Unfortunately, splintering has
led to less than optimal uses of ethnography as pieces of a coherent approach are isolated and sold to
the market as ethnography. A prime example is video ethnography, originally a type of data collection
and analysis that has deep theoretical and practice foundations (Jordan and Henderson, 1995). In
6
A key insight of Microsoft ethnographers is that in their environment they need to build knowledge
of target customers and product opportunities 12 to 36 months ahead of corporate product teams in
order to have relevant information ready when the project actually starts up. This of course means
that the e-team must have access to corporate initiatives in the pre-deployment stage in order to
strategically position such projects.
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some applications, this has deteriorated into “video bites”, the equivalent of voice bites that merely
serve to illustrate and validate some predetermined conclusion. Thus video has become more of a
marketing tool that builds familiarity with internal and client stakeholders that has little to do with
discovery ethnography. It does not enable finding out something new, but merely validates previously
determined issues.
The second futures scenario is about expansion. We started, now so many years ago, with taking on
work and learning as serious research foci and called what we did “work practice analysis.” We have
retained the label even though we came to realize it was too restrictive. We were, after all, analyzing
much more than people’s work practices, their actions, what they did in the workplace; we were also
looking at how they used space and time, how they lived and shaped the culture of their organization,
and how the tools they used were part and parcel of how they worked. What we studied looked more
and more like a landscape that had varying features and areas of interest through which one could
take many different paths. And so we started to think of ourselves as doing “workscape analysis.”
Eventually, our studies morphed into what I called “lifescapes” analysis because it became clear that
work has become mobile, that it is now spatially and temporally distributed all over people’s lives
(Meerwarth et al., 2008). The boundaries between worklife and private life had indeed begun to fade.
My conviction is that once ethnography manages to get beyond the current hump of outsized claims
and faddish popularity, we will again be able to “adapt and adopt” time honored ethnographic methods
and approaches to a changing world. This is truly where work practice analysis belongs.
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The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Aronson, Meredith, Libby Bishop, Melissa Cefkin, Brigitte Jordan, Nancy Lawrence, Lindy Sullivan,
Connie Preston and Julia Oesterle
1995
Reflections on a Journey of Transformation: Learning, Growth, and Change at Xerox Business
Services. Final Report on the XBS Systemic Assessment Project, Institute for Research on
Learning, Menlo Park, Ca.
Bishop, Libby, Melissa Cefkin, William Clancey, Brigitte Jordan, Julia Oesterle and Beth Tudor
1994
A Learning Organization in the Making: A Report on the WorkPractice and Design Project at
the Xerox CAC in Dallas. Menlo Park, CA: Institute for Research on Learning.
Blomberg, Jeanette, Jean Giacomi, Andrea Mosher, and Pat Swenton-Wall
1993
Ethnographic field methods and their relation to design. In Participatory design: principles
and practices, ed. Douglas Schuler and Aki Namioka. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Button, Graham et al.
2003? The Work Practice Consultancy Tool Kit. needs correct ref with co-authors. URL or
unpublished ms? For me, reading this was a waste of time. There is little in there that is
practically useful for data collection.
Cefkin, Melissa
2007
Numbers May Speak Louder than Words, but Is Anyone Listening? The Rhythmscape and
Sales Pipeline Management. Proceedings of EPIC 2007: 188-199.
Convertino, Gregorio, Dorrit Billman, Peter Pirolli, J.P. Massar and Jeff Shrager
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8:50 PM
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2008
The CACHE Study: Group Effects in Computer-supported Collaborative Analysis. Computer
Supported Cooperative Work 17:353-393.
Cramton, Catherine Durnell
2002
Attribution in Distributed Work Groups. PP. 191-212 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and
Sara Kiesler, eds. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA.
Dreyfus, Hubert
2009
On the Internet. 2. Edition. London and New York: Routledge.
Flynn, Donna and Tracy Lovejoy
2008
Tracing the Arc of Ethnographic Impact: Success and (In)visibility of Our Work and
Identities. Proceedings of EPIC 2008, p. 238-250.
Jordan, Brigitte
1997
Transforming Ethnography -- Reinventing Research. Cultural Anthropology Methods Journal
(CAM) 9:3: 12-17 (Oct).
Jordan, Brigitte
1996
Ethnographic Workplace Studies and Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Pp. 17-42 in:
The Design of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Groupware Systems. Dan Shapiro,
Michael Tauber and Roland Traunmüller, eds. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: North
Holland/Elsevier Science.
Jordan, Brigitte and Brinda Dalal
2006
Persuasive Encounters: Ethnography in the Corporation. Field Methods 18:4:359-381.
Jordan, Brigitte and Austin Henderson
1995
Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice. The Journal for the Learning Sciences 4:1:39103.
Jordan, Brigitte and Yutaka Yamauchi
2008 Beyond the University: Teaching Ethnographic Methods in the Corporation. Anthropology
News 49:6:35.
Lombardi, Gerald
2009
The De-Skilling of Ethnographic Labor: Signs of an Emerging Predicament. Pp. 41-49 in
Proceedings of EPIC 2009.
Meerwarth, Tracy, Julia Gluesing and Brigitte Jordan, eds.
2008
Mobile Work, Mobile Lives: Cultural Accounts of Lived Experiences. Wiley-Blackwell and
American Anthropological Association (NAPA Bulletin 30).
Suchman, Lucy and Randall H. Trigg
1991
Understanding Practice: Video as a Medium for Reflection and Design. In Design at Work:
Cooperative Design of Computer Systems, J. Greenbaum and M. Kyng, eds. Hillsdale: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.
Whalen, Marilyn and Jack Whalen
2004
Studying workscapes. Pp. 2080229 in Discourse and Technology: Multimodal Discourse
Analysis, Philip LeVine and Ron Scollon, eds. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
ms Transferring Ethnographic Competence 091128 gj
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8:50 PM
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ms Transferring Ethnographic Competence 091128 gj
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8:50 PM
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