Doing ethnography

Thanks to Twitter again and to the serendipity it creates, I came across a talk titled “Fake Ethnography vs. Real Ethnography” by Aviva Rosenstein from the User Research Friday held in San Francisco last November.

Here’s the recording:

Fake Ethnography vs Real Ethnography Talk at URF08 from bolt peters on Vimeo.

And  James Kalbach did a great job summarising it on his blog!

This is an ongoing debate: do researchers from other domains than anthropology really do ethnography? Or we should only speak about “using ethnographic methods”?

In our project, even if we did field studies during extended periods of time, we preferred to state that we used “ethnographically-informed” methods. Anyhow, Rosenstein makesthe point in the conclusion of her talk: if you are stating your possible bias, you are collecting data (instead of recording assumptions), you’re treating your informants well and you’re also observing what they actually do without relying entirely on what they say they do, if you are trying to understand things at a deeper level, look for patterns and write the whole thing down, you are doing decent research employing ethnographic methods. In the end, the measure of success is delivering some value to the organisation you’re working with!

I loved the advice she gave to researchers : mix and match, be creative and resourceful bricoleurs, make mistakes and tell the others about them, and… be brave!

The talk rang a big bell to me – it is so difficult to walk on this narrow path when there’s criticism everywhere, and so good to hear some words of encouragement!

Carl Aviani also makes the following point:

“Here’s a clever way to do a conference: make it short (four hours), make it entertaining (fast, opinionated presentations), do it in a bar. User Research Friday, hosted by Bolt Peters in SF, has used this formula to great effect a couple of times so far, most recently on November 7, when six speakers in the design research field kept 140 of their colleagues spellbound, then stuck around for drinks.”

Really – an interesting idea!

I tried to retrieve the tweets from the event – there’s a twitter feed on the screen during the final sequences of the video, and Bolt | Peters mentions #URF08 as hashtag, but summize doesn’t seem to find anything. An application for extracting and archiving event Twitter feeds anyone?!

Update: Friendfeed does the trickThis tweet of Josie Fraser gave me the idea to try!

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May 10 2009 10:20 am | unconferences

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