Paper Session #3: Looking beyond the individual: New sightings on service and social systems

Shelley Evenson
Event Time
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Looking beyond the individual: New sightings on service and social systems

No More Circling Around the Block: Evolving a Rapid Ethnography and Podcasting Method to Guide Innovation in Parking Systems

James Glasnapp
Ellen Isaacs

After many years with little innovation in parking technology, many cities are now exploring new systems meant to improve the use of limited parking real estate, increase parking convenience, and raise additional revenue. We did an observational study to inform the design of one such novel parking system, and in doing so developed an ethnographic method we call REACT (Rapid Ethnographic Assessment and Communication Technique). REACT uses observational methods to uncover key findings relatively quickly and increases the impact of those findings by communicating them through a compelling video podcast. In this paper, we describe the REACT method and show how we used it to discover several key findings regarding parking practices that changed the team’s thinking about the intended customer, highlighted some critical design issues, and revealed unanticipated opportunities for new technology solutions. The video podcasts were extremely well received and ultimately affected the thinking of many more people beyond the original intended audience.

Changing models of ownership

Rich Radka
Abby Margolis

Relationships between people and products are central to the EPIC community. The last two decades of design ethnography have focused on the product experience to make contextual recommendations on how products might be positioned, designed, and made available. Yet, underlying this focus are two assumptions. First, that when people really want something, they buy it. Second, that people buy products to keep them, often for as long as possible. Ethnography has infrequently asked how people lose interest in products they own, what they do with them when they lose interest, or what happens to products that no longer sustain important forms of symbolic value such as pride or status. This paper, based on global research across multiple businesses, proposes that the nature of ownership is changing. It examines how people are rethinking their relationships to products and the ways in which new businesses are surfacing to operate within these shifting ideas of ownership. We will discuss the research content in addition to how and why these new business models are able to capture value.

Limitations of Online Medical Care: Interpersonal Resistance and Cultural Solutions in the Face of Technological Advances

Pensri Ho

This paper examines the resistance of physicians and patients to an online medical consultation program launched in 2009 by a statewide health care service organization in Hawaii. The official intent of the program was to reach underserved clients residing in areas facing increasing shortages of primary care clinicians. The online interface allows clients to consult for an initial flat fee with on-call Hawaii based health care professionals by email, videoconference, or telephone. This case study highlights the themes of this year’s conference about the disjunctions between evolution and revolution. In particular, the intimacy and necessity of interpersonal trust for effective medical consultations rests on face-to-face interaction over multiple sessions, or an evolution of conventional medical practices. Yet, online medical care’s inherent depersonalization of medical care reflects health care’s revolutionary future. The paper offers some solutions to this dilemma, and ends with the implications of differential valuation of ethnographic research by non-practitioners, and its impact on how we judge our own institutional value.

Replacing the networked society with social foam: a revolution for corporate ethnography?

Nina Wakeford

“I said “Brr. It’s cold in here/It must be something in the Atmosphere!”” (Cheerleaders’ chant from Bring It On, dir. Reed, 2000)

What would it mean for corporate ethnography to think of society not as networked, but as if it were a set of bubbles making up foam? In this paper I outline Peter Sloterdijk’s theory that we live in a plurality of spheres, captured in his notion of foam. Sloterdijk argues that we should replace the notion of society – too easily understood as a ‘mono-spherical container’ – with the idea of social foam. Foam is an aggregate of micro-spheres, adjacent but without being accessible to or separable from, each other. Sloterdijk offers a persuasive alternative to the concept of network, which as he points out leads us to think/visualize the world as having an “excessively reductive geometry…the network intimates the notion of expanded points that are connected…a universe for data trawlers”. Working through Sloterdijk’s theory leads us to a different way of thinking about how ideas travel and are transmitted. For him, transmission is about suggestion and imitation. He gives a key role to theories of affective transmission. Thus he focuses on how foam sociality becomes embedded in particular air conditions or ‘atmospheres’. We might use this theory it to change the fundamental tenets of what ‘the social’ is for ethnographers in industry.

What Happens when you Mix Bankers, Insurers, Consultants, Anthropologists and Designers: The saga of Project FiDJi in France

Alice Peinado
Magdalena Jarvin, and Juliette Damoisel

This essay explores an initiative carried on by a group of three banks (BNP-Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole), two insurance companies (GROUPAMA, GENERALI) and a consulting firm, European leader in the field of innovation, (Altran) towards the development of a methodology aimed at innovating through a user-centered approach in design. The project, baptized “Projet FiDJi – Finance, Design et Joie d’Innover”, brought together actors of the banking and insurance sectors with ethnographers and designers within an academic lead context. The aim was to develop a methodological approach that would push banks and insurances to shift their focus from the more traditional, marketing lead quantitative studies towards a more qualitative appreciation of their clients. In so doing, it tried to re-position the main strategic approach of the institutions involved from that of product focused companies to user focused, service oriented ones. Project FiDJi was awarded the highly competitive label of “innovative and strategic project” by France’s “Pôle Competitivité Finance Innovation” due to its unusual co-opetitive approach and the integration of a multi-disciplinary methodology axed on a more complex understanding of users involving them in a co-creation process. This essay analyses the dynamics that contributed to the project’s success in spite of the various pressures that affected it and that were both intrinsic to the work being carried out and extrinsic to it. It provides a first hand ethnographic analysis of the management of change within such a traditional sector as the banking and insurance industry. However, the essay is meant as a starting point for a wider reflection. How to imagine change and affect it then from a professional standpoint? How to accompany it? Anthropology’s and indeed design’s position as relatively new comers in the field of management requires from both to constantly justify the “value-added” contribution they have to business. The anthropologist/designer is here projected from the role of peripheral contributor to that of change manager within a constantly complex global world. Moving from the role of mere “addition” to that of full blown strategist within an industry or a company requires an understanding of the complexity inherent to organizational and indeed global business dynamics. Most companies today are at a loss to deal with such complexity and here an alliance of anthropology and design can bring added value to a company’s overall strategic vision due to these two disciplines’ holistic approach to first research-analysis and then problem solving. Such an alliance, however, necessarily challenges more traditional business approaches and hence places them in a difficult position to already existing power dynamics within companies. How then can anthropologists and/or designers engage with power in order to bring about the creative solutions they identify as pertinent? By analyzing how anthropologists and designers navigated the troubled waters of FiDJi and beyond, this essay hopefully begins to bring some answers to these questions.

When the Wind Blows: How a Scandinavian energy company approaches 'the private energy user challenge'

Louise Buch

This paper is about four different 'streams' of traditions (Barth) existing in a specific energy company focusing on the private energy user perspective from the energy company’s point of view. The paper is presenting the first findings of an anthropological fieldwork conducted in a Scandinavian energy company.

The energy company is in a process of developing the future intelligent energy system based on wind power. This future energy system is based on bidirectional communication between the energy company and the private energy actors. The system is therefore dependent on the private energy actors willingness to cooperate with the system in a completely new way in order to make the system work. This relationship towards the private energy actors is a dramatic new challenge to the energy company and the whole cooperate thinking, because until now the energy company has only delivered energy in a unidirectional distribution system. Therefore the company identity has until now been dominated by an almost non-consideration of the private energy user simply because this has not been relevant to the cooperate aim.

The four streams of traditions presented and discussed in the paper are; 1) the private energy actor as an energy customer and the energy company focusing on change of behavior, 2) the private energy actor as an energy user and the energy company focusing on understanding energy use from the private energy actor's point of view, 3) the private energy actor as an energy burden and the energy company focusing on technical solutions, and 4) the private energy actor as an energy user and the energy company focusing on developing a new interaction design between the energy actor and the energy. These different knowledge streams work in different ways according to the company purpose and the company’s strategy and aim at involving the private energy actors in the future energy system.