Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is this the coolest ethnographic company yet? (next to ours)

One of the wonderful things about having customers enter you shop (iTunes) and buy stuff from you (our App) is that you discover new companies & individuals and strike up conversations with them.

Here is once such company. I'm hoping to meet with them when next on the West Coast.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Giving birth to an App.

Forget about the pain, sweat and missed deadlines of creating an App. Launching it in the App store is the scariest thing ever.

I compare it with giving birth to a child. Will it be OK? Will it be healthy? Will it be normal? Will people love it? Will people really love it? And unlike a new baby which people are tactful about, iTunes actively encourage buyers to rate the Apps and write reviews. I know very well that it takes one bad review to kill an App dead. An App in which your hopes and dreams rest.

After a series of delays I found out last Sunday (20th December 2009) that we were viewable, finally, in iTunes. And since then I have been checking out reviews which have been springing up, not just in the App store but in numerous blogs too. What will people think? What will they write? This is personal. Any harsh words will cut me to the bone.

Last night, 22nd December) I received a detailed email from someone who had bought and started to use my App immediately on downloading. His name was, Simon and he had lots of intelligent questions/comments. You can see our email exchange here.

The main point of his email was the App was quite slow. I re-read the email as a dark cloud of gloom settled over me. What if others experienced this problem? I launched the App. on my own device and started to time the different tasks. It was much faster than Simon's. I was lifted and optimistic again. So I wrote back answering each question in as much detail as I could. Bottom line, there could be something wrong with his iPhone. And there was. Do you know what it was? It was that he had an iPhone 3G which is not only without video, but also far less powerful than the 3Gs. My relief was indescribable. I have warned people on that the App works best on the 3Gs but have to admit I had no idea it would be so slow on the 3G.

Reviews and articles are sprouting everywhere. All, so far, are good. But I am only really interested in and waiting for the bad ones, disappointments and those wanting refunds. The App. killers. The comments that put other buyers off buying.

I will keep you posted but do check for regular user reviews, good and bad, which we will use to build into future updates.


Monday, December 21, 2009

edlAPP Support site

We are still working on it but have a look (and apologies for any typos)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

By the time you read this/watch the clip our App will be available in the iTunes store. Still working on what will be a fantastic support/knowledge base site for the App which will go live over Christmas. In the meantime, download it, practice with it and start running your own ethnographic explorations with it. It will change the way you work.

Once again, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us all at EverydayLives.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Something I wish I had done myself...

Some of you may already know Mike Yorke from the interviews I did with him for this here blog. If you don't, he's an award winning ethnographic film maker who runs the film module at UCL's Department of Anthropology.

In January 2010 him and his team ill be running an MA Practical Ethnographic Filmmaking Module for (if you are already a UCL student) credit or audit in the Spring Term and Easter vacation.

You will be making your own films, under supervision, using UCL equipment... You can either contact Mike here or have a look at a short video of the course here. The fee is 1,300 GBP to non UCL people.

Like I say, I wish I had done this course myself but realise I could never be as good as a dedicated ethnographic camera person.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Essential TED talks

A client sent me the clip above and below. Must watch as far as I am concerned. The one above is particularly frustrating as I wish I had seen it before debriefing Channel 4 on Hopes, Dreams and Fears among young males around 6 years ago.

The one below resonates because I started my ethnographic life out in Advertising (JWT and DBB). Watch these. Your time won't be wasted.
If you have any recommendations for great TED talks for ethnographers, please let me know.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Introducing FieldCREW

It came in the form of a comment: Siamack - "Siamack, have a look at this tool which is quite similar to your App...." So I had a look and loved what I saw. A complete product designed for people like me. The chap behind it, Ron Tannen, was keen to stress that this is only a concept and not a physical product. Nonetheless it's only a matter of time, surely, before these replace exclusive, expensive and skill dependent cameras...

You can download a storyboard of the concept design process and early sketches here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leica Update

He still hasn't replied...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Things people say which make me think very too hard about what I do

Someone at my father-in-law's summer barbeque asked me what I did for a living. As a rule telling the truth is best avoided because I get really bored of having to answer the second question which always quickly follows, “Are you analyzing me right now?” But this particular individual didn't ask me that question. Instead, here is what followed:
“Holiday videos…” he started, “become your memories, don’t you think?”
“You know... when you watch a video of your holiday, you forget your real holiday because the video replaces that reality and becomes your only memory.”
“I never thought about it like that…”
“And photos are different to videos because they trigger your memory rather than replace it like videos do.”
I stood with drink in hand as he turned to talk to someone else. What an amazing observation. What do you think?
Update: contrary to popular belief, the above picture is not of me at work...

Every App. needs a cloud. What do you think?

Before we even started working on the App. We were thinking about a Twitter service for ethnographic researchers. A service that would allow clients and colleagues to ‘follow’ and to collaborate with a researcher in the field as he or she posted text, audio, video and photo updates. Quickly we realized there was no way of efficiently collecting such data on one device and sending it to an online ethnographic Twitter service. So before we build the service, we thought, let’s build the App.

Now that the App. is nearly ready, we have turned our attention to the web based service. And here is what we have in mind.

1) Even though clients can ‘follow’ a researcher in the field, we figured the last thing they would want are updates every few minutes. Which might include spelling mistakes or half baked thoughts and observations. So we experimented with a ‘digester’. This is someone who follows up to 6 ethnographers in the field collecting their posts and organizing them on a web based service (we have yet to build). A digest of the very best of the rest can then be sent to client side followers every few hours for them to comment on and collaborate with the thinking percolating through.

2) From a UI perspective, the digester/client/follower would see a tree (growing with time across the day) grow branches as its trunk stretches across the screen. Each trunk would represent a captured event and each leaf on the branch would represent a clip, photo or text post and a fruit would represent an insight referencing the event. And the digester/follower/client would be able to pick their favourite leaves/fruit into buckets and review/analyse/add meaning to data which has is easy to overlay, compare and view the same events across numerous households

3) My big idea, however, was a client/respondent matchmaking service. When a consumer downloads the App. they are given the choice of registering to make themselves available for video diary studies. Once registered, their relevant information will appear on the site for clients to view and choose which to select to participate in their study. Incentives can even be paid directly through the site using PayPal.

4) A skinnable site so clients can personalise their own pages with their branding or panel name

These are basic specifications. I know the matchmaking service, for example, won’t be as simple as I have set out above. So my question to you, gorgeous reader, is: what do you think? Have I missed anything? Would you tackle the web based service any differently? Are there similar service out there we could use without having to build one from scratch? And remember if there is, it will need to talk to my App.

Would love to hear from you.


Where is our App. at?

I have a few confessions to make. But first… you know the old tale about the hairdresser who let his own hair grow so long he couldn’t see what he was cutting any more? That’s me. We run innovations projects all the time for clients. We have a process and a methodology which is rigorous, tried and tested. Yet here I am supposedly ‘innovating’ my own ethnographic iPhone App.:

  • I don’t even have an iPhone. And once it dawned on me that I needed one to test my App. it was too late.
  • I did virtually no competitor analysis.
  • I have no idea how much to sell my App. for.
  • The developers had to keep tweaking and sometimes completely changing things because I changed my mind so often. I.e. no clear brief or specifications.
  • I need a web based service to accompany the App. yet I haven’t even started to set out the specifications and we are only a few weeks away from launch.
  • The App. has a ‘share’ button alongside the ‘send’ and ‘save’ buttons. Share allows a researcher to send an interesting event/observation which is not confidential to a central archive open to all our App. buyers. As yet, I have no central archive because I have no web based service. Put simply, the button will not work.
  • As well as ethnographers, planners and the like, the App. will be a great tool for consumers to download and make themselves available to researchers - e.g. to take part in video diaries - on the central archive . Again, I have no central archive because I have no web based service, yet.

Many of the above issues are down to funding – I have gone over budget by a factor of 2 on the App. However, on a positive note, there have been a couple of rather exciting developments.

After the Research Magazine article – I have my good friend Paul Edwards at RI London to thank for sending my Ethnosnacker link to them – many individuals and a couple of large multi-nationals got in touch. One of the multinationals was based in the US and as I was already going to be in NJ for another meeting, they suggested we meet. They told me they wanted the App. for all of their marketing, research, branding and agency teams around the world. We are still talking. The second multinational is based in London. They wanted to know about the web based service and what it could/couldn’t do. Their idea was to give each of their panelists the App. to use in research diaries and the like. I am still in talks and I will keep you updated.

At this very moment I am busy writing and rewriting the blurb which will accompany the App. on the App store site when it’s finally launched. Once done we will send it to Apple for approval. This process will take, I am told, 2-3 weeks. And then, and then, I will have perhaps the most anxious wait of my entire life as I wait for the first reviews to come through.

Update: As of Thursday 19 November 2009 - two days after writing this piece - I have a 16Gb 3Gs!


Reading list continued

Ever since I posted a list of great books to read on the subject of ethnographic research I have received dozens of new recommendations.

So I thought I would share:

  • Pierre Bourdieu's books on reflexivity
  • For those interested in contemporary tribes: The Time of Tribes. The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society Theory Culture & Society by Michel Maffesoli - I have no link for this
  • Anthropological research - the structure of inquiry - no link but it's by Pelto & Pelto
  • Cross-cultural film making: A handbook for making documentary and ethnographic films and videos - no link but it's by university of California press 1997

Please let me know if you have any more suggestions...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ethnographic bartering

This is my dream camera. The Leica M9. Aarguably the world's best camera at this time. This is what Ken Rockwell has to say about it:

"The LEICA M9 is the smallest, lightest, highest-quality digital camera ever created by the hand of Man.

The all-metal LEICA M9 is less expensive than the old Nikon D3X, and weighs over four ounces (120g) less than the plastic Nikon D90! The M9 weighs only 2.4 oz (69g) more than the dinkiest Nikon D40!

The LEICA M9 is the most important digital camera introduced since the Nikon D1, the world's first practical DSLR, in 1999.

The LEICA M9 is a rangefinder camera, not an SLR.

The LEICA M9 is the world's best digital camera for travel, nature, landscape, interior and outdoor photography."

And I want one. But it costs almost £5,000 or over $8,000. Not including additional lenses.

My attachment to the Leica stems from my dad's beloved Leica M3 which I grew up with - which has also become the inspiration for the styling of my iPhone App.

So my challenge is to obtain this camera under my wife's financial radar. She would never let me spend this much money on a camera let alone a car. Although she did say she would get me one for my 50th birthday. I responded that if I didn't live to my 50th birthday she would spend the rest of her life guilt ridden about not having bought me the M9 when I asked for it. Predictably, she was having none of this.

So with resolve strengthened, I did a little research on-line and established that a gentleman called Christian Cerhardt is the US Marketing Director for Leica cameras. And late last night when everyone was in bed I crafted a carefully worded email to him with, 'I want an M9 - sorry for getting in touch like this,' in the subject box. In short, I offered an attractive barter/exchange. I would carry out a segmentation animation study for him to the value (and slightly over) of a Leica M9 with a few accessories.

He hasn't replied yet. I wonder if he will. I wonder if I will receive an email saying, 'let's meet when you are in NJ next week...' That would be amazing.

I will keep you posted on my progress. Stay tuned.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some great PR on my App thanks to a friend or two

Here and here! Share/Bookmark

The accidental ethnographer

I have never attended a 'webinar' but this looks interesting.

On Thursday, Nov. 5th at 12pm ET a Dr Julian Goepp will present a talk on capturing fleeting or unexpected opportunities to harvest rich information that affects change.

It's free and you can register here.

A disclaimer - I have no idea who Dr Goepp is and I am certainly not endorsing this webinar. I just think it should be interesting. I will be attending.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Changing behaviour

You may have seen this before but it's a wonderful experiment. An inspired experiment.

Anyway, enjoy.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Beta testing our ethnographic App

A few weeks ago I was sitting by the school pool watching my twins learning to swim. Next to me sat a dad whose line of work was IT. We talked gadgets, toys and cars before I finally ventured to test his boredom threshold with a full description of our new iPhone App.

I explained that it would allow as-live collaboration for field anthropologists/ethnographers, tagged video, still, audio and text capture, co-discoveries and more. All on an iPhone. He sat transfixed, much to my pleasant surprise, before saying:

"So let me get this straight, your App will enable people like me whose private information, habits, purchases, etc. are of such huge value to large companies to capture and sell my habits and behaviours?"

It was my turn to sit transfixed.

"Wow!" he exhaled, "that's awesome."

"Well, that's not quite what I had in mind for it but I suppose people could download it to their devices (not just iPhone) and use it to sell private information on demand. But I didn't develope it for that..."

My friend was not interested in ethnography. He had seen something completely different in this App. And I wonder, if it ever takes off, whether it will be thanks to anthropologists, ethnographers and sociologists.

I would be grateful for any comments on the above clip.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What is ethnography and how does it provide customer understanding?

Years and years ago me and a mate (he now runs dotcom startups in Silicone Valley) joined NOP to set up a unit called, DSi. It stood for, this is the honest truth, 'Department of Silly Ideas'. You see, in 1993, video taping people was a truly silly idea to most researchers. Today it's an essential part of any agencies array of tools.

Today, NOP and GFK are as one and they have an ethnographic unit which is no longer called DSi. I stumbled across their website. My instant reaction? Wouldn't it be great if we could all agree on what ethnographic research is and how it works for clients?

Some of what is explained on the site is good, but I don't agree with most of it and I haven't got the time to explain why because I need my sleep for an all day project kick-off workshop in Paris tomorrow. No this isn't a copout.

So stay tuned for my full response or let me know what you think ethnographic research should be to clients.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good idea of the week

Varinder, my wife, has disappeared to the UK with our baby daughter to help the accountants with various... let's say accounting things. She has driven to Kent from our home just outside Brussels in our VW Touran all by herself.

I have been left home alone to school, feed, homework assist, bathe, arbitrate, dress and transport our five year old twin sons to school in our Toyota Prius.

While she's away I have decided to surprise her and buy a cot for our daughter from Ikea. She has been sleeping between us since her birth 4 months ago. So I went online and browsed what was available. Some great cots, very reasonably priced. I want to go and buy one. The only problem is that I'm not sure if everything will fit in my Prius. Will it? Won't it? What if I go all the way there, pay for it and find it's just too big and have to come back home empty handed?

So I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if next to each product was a silhouette of the smallest sized car the item would fit into. Even better if I could drop everything into a basket and then find out the minimum sized car they could all fit into.

I call this an unarticulated need. Something I would never have shared with anyone because it was trapped in an anxiety/distress bubble rather than a 'solution' bubble.

Is Ikea reading this?


(UPDATE: I bought the cot and managed to fit it into my Prius. See picture. Pure chance.)

The day I became a film producer

A few years ago a client approached us about conducting ethnographic research on the subject of black skin. The markets were to be South Africa, Brazil, UK and USA. At that time, and given the sample size, it was the largest project we had ever undertaken.

As soon as it was confirmed, I flew to NY for the Kick Off session. Surprisingly, despite writing a proposal with objectives and outputs, there was no clear brief. Well, there was a brief, but nobody could really agree on what the essence of brief should be. So I was asked to re-propose to include a 2 week exploratory trip, alone, to each of these markets. I was to meet and interview a range of potential subjects, experts and commentators in order to come up with a final 'brief' we could all agree on.

Four weeks elapsed and I returned with a presentation around 30 slides thick incorporating the most amazing brief which I knew they would fall off their chairs for. I presented it to a room full of agency planners, clients and agency creatives.

They all hated it.

Nobody said it, but it was clear they felt I had wasted 2 weeks and £20,000 to come up with a bad idea. I even thought they were going to ditch us and had a very depressing flight home.

But they didn't ditch us. Together we finally came up with a brief and the next step was to begin recruitment. While waiting for the client to approve our screeners, I had a call from two of them to say they didn't think our subjects would be 'interesting off' to follow. But surely if they were all interesting they wouldn't really be representative, I countered. And we would effectively be making a documentary about black skin rather than conducting an ethnographic study.

The same late evening I received an email stating that, after careful consideration, they now wanted us to make a documentary. What this did to my ego and cockiness still reverberates to this day. People in South Africa still call me, Siamack Salari the film producer!

The project did become sticky towards the end when no one could agree on a final edit/story. But what a wonderful client to have worked with. Generous, flexible, creative and incredible bright.

Here is the final output/films (go to Skin Stories and 'Watch skin Stories'. And above is a rather self indulgent film I made of my briefing generation trip. The music, by the way, is Iranian.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Should you slice or dice your ethnographic film?

This question came up during a new business phone conference today. Let me explain. You have spent 3 days with each of 6 respondents conducting video based participant observation. You had clear objectives. You have even generated your themes (I'm trying to keep this bit simple) and now you want to edit together your findings/insights. Question: Should you edit your films by household? i.e. create a 'best of' for each household with clear signposting so you can walk clients chronologically through the time you spent with each one? Or do you present your insights by theme. Taking the 'best of' from different households and cutting together a thematically navigable presentation.

The answer isn't as obvious as it seems. As a rule, presentations by household are more effective for immersing clients into individual household/respondent realities and priorities. They inspire, earth/reality check and emotionally engage clients. Presenting by theme is more effective for getting a line of reasoning across and leading clients to actions and implications. So what do you do if you need a bit of both?

Above is an example from a piece of work completed for a Media client. We spent 16 days with 4 households and disentangled around 12 themes or headlines from the filming and co-discoveries. We needed to convey our thinking clearly in a set of theme driven films which would include the best of the rest from all of the households. However, we also needed our audience to engage with and understand each individual respondent's life up close and personal. Our solution was to create short household introduction films for each and every respondent and follow these up with the themed presentation. Simple with four respondents. But imagine if you have conducted explorations in 4 markets times 6 respondents in each. Even if each household intro is cut back to 2 minutes, you will still have 48 minutes of introductions to get through before you even get to the steak of your debrief presentation.

What do you do?

Great 'ethnographic' editing.

That's what you do.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Interesting conversation with Australia

We are looking to open an office in Sydney early next year. Partners have been found, discussions had and agreements reached - by phone. This is a summary of one particular conversation:

Potential partner: You know what, Siamack? EverydayLives isn't a brand. You are the brand.
Me: That's not right... EverydayLives is a very well known brand all over.
Potential partner: No, you are the very well known brand all over...
Me: *speechless*
Potential partner: If you don't believe me, just Google 'EverydayLives' and then 'Siamack Salari' to see which one gives the most results.
Me: Siamack gives the most results...
Potential Partner: I rest my case. And look, this is my point; you are the bottle neck in your organisation. YOU are bigger than your organisation. So I'll bet everyone wants YOU to work personally on their projects.
Me: Yes...
Potential Partner: So how can you grow?
Me: And EverydayLives needs to be bigger than me?
Potential Partner: Exactly. And that's the challenge we will have when we kick things off in January.

So I can't wait to see what they do with us a a brand in January. Will keep you posted.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sneak preview

It's no secret that we are developing an ethnographic app for iPhone. Well, at first it will be for the iPhone and before long for Android and Blackberry too.

So here (left) is a screen grab of one the pages. It has taken us an age to put together the graphics mainly because I am such a useless writer of graphic design briefs. In the end I resorted pulling together an artboard of images, textures and styles that I liked. I assembled them on a page and emailed it to the designer. Again his interpretation was awful. Not because his work was awful but because I had completely crushed his creativity with my numerous incongruous instructions and confused ideas.

In the end, he arrived at a place I feel very excited about. Can any readers tell me the inspiration for the above design? If you guess correctly and own an iPhone (ideally a 3Gs) I'll give the app. away to the first 5 replies.

We should launch the app. late September.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome to the world of Socialnomics

In case you had any doubts in your mind... Share/Bookmark

Monday, August 24, 2009

The truth about lying or contextual reality

I think 'lying' is a little harsh when used in the context of research (or ethnographic research). For example, I have lost count of the number times there has been a difference between something a respondent did and said. They weren't lying as such. I'd prefer to call it 'contextual reality'. And our approach to truth is that there are many truths which need to be disentangled before an insight can be cut.

Here is an excellent, perhaps a little simplistic, article I read in the Guardian recently.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ethnography & the arts

I must admit to having no idea what we would uncover when I proposed a small study to try to understand how the arts (galleries, concerts, theatre, etc.) fitted into people's lives.

We selected two subjects for a pilot. A female and male. We followed each for a day and then revealed to them at the end that we were interested in the arts (they had no idea during the time we shadowed them). For the last couple of hours of the day with them we played back footage and asked them narrate what was going on - in their minds and their actions. We recorded the interviews and dubbed them over the films. Have a look. The three clips can be viewed here, here and here.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A rather useful give away

We thought you might like this. It's a document created a few years back to train new ethnographers, and even some clients, in our way of doing things. It's very practical with only a little theory and focuses exclusively on conducting ethnographic research.

A new one is in the works... and you have 2 weeks to download it before the link expires.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Show stopping TV ads

We filmed this as part of a larger study to understand how people watched TV across the day. We recorded continuously for one month. Can you even begin to comprehend how much data we ended up with? And this is before the days of digital editing (for non-professionals anyway) and before the days of DVD recording. Everything was captured using a video player, a multiplexer and a video camera. This allowed us to capture picture-in-picture recordings (see bottom left of screen) to see exactly what was being watched, when and by who.

Frustratingly, in some of the 10 households, we saw little but hours and hours of the family dog sitting up and watching TV. In others, however, we captured amazing footage. This clip falls under the 'amazing' footage category which we stacked under a theme we called 'Show Stoppers'. It begins with the start of an ad break during Saturday morning WWF wrestling. What they were watching sort of explains the behaviour of the youngest... Between 00:37 and 01:07 a Volvo ad comes on. Keep your eyes on dad. We saw many examples/variations of this kind of behaviour. And context was key - in this case the row taking place.

Can anyone tell me what Dad is doing? Best reply wins an excellent book, 'The Little Book of Twitter' And if you are not into Twitter then you can give it to someone who is.

Inside the consumers' shoe

We made the above film a long time ago to test out some new equipment we were experimenting with.

The camera was hidden inside a kid's frames - he was short sighted anyway - and we asked him to record all day long. We ended up with around 4 tapes (6 hours) which included the journey by bus to and from school, shopping in the suprmarket with mum, TV viewing and all meal times.

A few methodological learnings:

1) Seeing is not the same as percieving. Just because he looked did not mean he saw. Made me terribly unconvinced about eye-tracking techniques and associated post rationalisation
2) The footage was hard to work with. We had to review it 4 times to make sure we had cut out everything we believed to be important
3) Nothing matched this approach for obtaining naturally occuring discussions and decison making

I am sharing because I am curious. Have any of you used such cameras before? And I don't mean eye-tracking...

A Case Study from Bank of America

Here is an interesting read all about service (as opposed to product) innovation. I think I happened upon it on Twitter a few weeks ago but have only just read the article which stimulated this article. It's interesting because the researchers seem to have actually hung out with and watched people in real world settings over time. Something that doesn't happen that often because it is so labour intensive and therefore expensive.

I also liked the openness of the question/brief: How to get boomer-age women with kids to open checking accounts. If the client had any hypotheses, they would have kept them back from the researchers. And this is where researchers need to be extremely wary. On three occasions in the past 14 years we have been commissioned to explore a segment and develop a new offer where the client already HAD a new offer or strong hypotheses about an idea they we not willing to budge on. And all they were looking for was confirmation from our findings that their idea was the answer.

In one case, the idea, unknown to us, was already in production and they had already sacked their first agency for not giving them the right answers. Anyway, it's a long story but the point I am trying to make is that ethnographic researchers must have the courage to sit down with clients and rework the briefs to ensure, a) they are ethnographic briefs, b) the client does not have a pet idea they are trying to push and c) to push against point b, the client does have some ideas or hypotheses to make sense out of the data with.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Ethno schmethnos

I had an uncomfortable exchange of emails with a client this week. We are pitching for a rather large job in Asia and are up against one other agency. The brief includes a substantial ethnographic portion. So I wrote up my proposal, checked it over after a good night's sleep to make sure it all made sense, attached it and pressed the 'send' button on Outlook.

Not long afterwards I received a reply: 'the other proposals include 40 ethnographic observations per market! How come you are only proposing 8?'

I decided to phone him up.

"The reason why they have proposed 40 ethnographic observations is that they are not ethnographic observations. They are IDI's (In Depth Interviews)."

He disagreed.

"I have read these proposals and I know they include observations..."

"Then please don't call them ethnographic... what you are reading is qualitative interviews done with video cameras." I pleaded

I sent him a few clips, including this one, so he would understand that it is simply not possible to conduct 40 ethnographic observation unless you have unlimited budgets. Which they don't.

He came back to me to say that he thought he understood the difference. His next question:

"How can we ensure 8 respondents behaviours are representative?"

"So why do you have a quantitative phase then?"

I will let you know whether or not we win this study.


Hats off to Danone

Why can't more companies think like this?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

15 Years condensed to 15 minutes...

AQR ethnography from researchtalk on Vimeo.

Surinder Siama of, Research Talk, kindly agreed to film my talk a few weeks back for the AQR. I also asked Greg Rowland to join me and help provide semiotic perspectives on the clips I was using to explain ethnographic analysis. I think he stole the show.

The day was divided into a morning all about theory and an afternoon, using freshly captured breakfast footage, all about the process of analysis and interpretation.

The clip, covers the morning session, and has been edited to a mere 15 minutes in length so go get a coffee/tea/whiskey before sitting down to view it.


Air New Zealand

Once in a while something comes along which isn't stricly 'ethnographic' but it is a wonderful example of how solutions to challenging problems can sometimes be so simple, inspired and just plain clever. Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Breaking rules in the Middle East

How to make friends and influence people in our Dubai office: tell everyone that you are a fundamentalist. A fundamentalist video ethnographer. Read my AQR article here.

If truth be told, I have been thinking hard about why we rely so much on video, and not least because of experiences in the Middle East. With the success of recent trials and new partners keen to evolve a 'lite' offer of our process, I have arranged to meet a software consultant to see if our (video based) process can be translated into an online application. Not just for clients to view and to collaborate from their desktops but for ethnographic fieldworkers to use on their Blackberries and iPhones too.

I will, as always, keep you posted.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Our new website

It's still a BETA, but I was sick and tired of the old site's labyrinth of pages, links and clips that we had added sporadically over the years. Here is the new site. Clean, elegant and easy to navigate. We are still tweaking it but why not have a look at the selection of clips we have just added to the Gallery. No annotations yet but, as I have said, it's still a BETA. Share/Bookmark

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Has ethnography become a ‘fat’ word?: Caroline Hayter, Acacia Avenue

Excerpt from IJMR special issue...

It has been an enormous pleasure to take on the role of guest editor for this special issue on ethnography. The huge range of papers submitted has shown that not only is it a subject of great interest, but also that it is also a subject of great breadth. In fact, so much breadth that I am forced to pose the question – has ethnography become a ‘fat’ word?

It is rare that Humpty Dumpty Carroll seeps into the world of research, but in this issue, he appears twice – he brilliantly pinpoints that what people say and what they mean are often at odds (Croft, Boddy and Pentucci) when he says: “when I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” When it comes to defining ‘fat words’, Humpty Dumpty’s perspective just about sums it up. Is this what has happened to ethnography? Has it become filled with different meaning depending on who is talking about it and in what context? What does it really mean? And how is it best used? And by whom? Is Philly Desai spot on in his Viewpoint when he says that ethnography needs to grow up?

These questions prompted me to do a small survey amongst clients to understand exactly what the buyers and prospective buyers of ethnography understand by it – how to define it? What are its barriers? And how as research practitioners and academics can we give it more credibility?

The ‘what’ of ethnography
Based on the submissions for this issue, it is broadly accepted by academics and research practitioners alike that ethnography in today’s world is about differing types of observation.

But while there is a general sense of the ‘what’ of the discipline, perhaps more worrying is the variance in understanding of the ‘hows’, that is, the applications of it.

The ‘how’ of ethnography
Ethnography today has become anything from ‘hanging out with people’, to lurking around online to getting people to take photos, to anything to do with video footage. We learn in this issue that it can be ‘virtual’ (Hair and Clark), or visual (Brace-Govan), it can involve sample sizes from under 10 to 180 (McMillan and Ng). Academics reference it as an alternative to surveys and research practitioners reference it as an alternative to focus groups. But these alternatives are very different in terms of benchmarking what ethnography isn’t. And there is little consensus as to the practical application of the discipline.

We are not doing ourselves any favours
Because of this breadth of interpretation, clients are confused. Ethnography has come to stand for what it is not, that is, traditional qualitative research, rather than what it is. It is perceived to be expensive and often a nice to have rather than focused enough to solve a real business issue:

  • “Overclaim is an issue – it is sometimes presented as a panacea”
  • “Takes longer, need a good agency”
  • “Justifying why you need to pay someone to watch someone in their front room is harder than saying we’re going to ask 500 people about their usage and attitudes towards TVs”
  • “It can sound like a big investment, certainly in the early days when there was a more purist approach from agencies…it had the potential to sound fluffy”
  • “Small number of participants = findings not robust enough”
  • “Seeing is believing so if you’re selling ethnography to someone who will not attend and does not know what it’s about, it can be tough”
  • “Seems a new aspect or technique to ethnography is invented every minute”
  • “What is it that ethnography can offer for an extra £10k that the traditional methodology can’t?”

Many of the above associations are hard-wired into the minds of even the most sophisticated research buyers and users of ethnography. It will take a lot of persuading to change this. But perhaps there is an easy win in sight? Another question asked on the survey was about the barriers that clients encounter when selling ethnography in to their organisations. The findings demonstrate where the weight of the resistance really lies:

  • “It sounds technical, like researchers are deliberately trying to be clever clogs”
  • “We badge it with a name. Why don’t we just use more straightforward language and keep the jargon to ourselves?”
  • “The word sounds good to some, but is a turn-off to others”
  • “It’s trendy so invites a lot of bullshit”
  • “Overuse of the term renders it virtually meaningless”

A call to arms
While I am not advocating a wholesale shift away from the terminology of ethnography, I would like to propose some changes in the way in which we think about it – both from an academic and a research practitioner point of view:
We owe it to ourselves to define exactly what we mean by ethnography each time we talk about it.

For my part, I’d suggest starting by classifying the different types of ethnography as follows before deciding which is most appropriate for any given task:

  • Complete observation – pure observation using CCTV or other methods of recording behaviour. People do not know they are being observed.
  • Observer as participant – accompanied activities where the researcher observes and asks questions of the participant
  • Participant as observer – participants are encouraged to become observers of their own behaviour and to develop insights themselves which are then communicated to the researcher
  • Complete participant – a pure anthropological approach when the researcher lives with people and learns about them through extended experience

Secondly, we need to think carefully about what we call ethnography beyond our immediate community. While I’m sure the purists among us would not advocate moving away from its original name, are we doing it – and ourselves – a disservice by holding onto the ‘ethnography’ word? We need to think carefully about who we are talking to – research clients who are already on board, or the organisations to whom they need to sell our ideas?

Thirdly, we need to be clear about what ethnography does, beyond what it is. We need to ‘show not tell’ by holding up results rather than promoting the methodology itself. This will force researchers and academics alike to think hard about what they are doing – both in terms of project design, but also in terms of analysis and presentation.

While it certainly appears that ethnography is a growing and incredibly valuable discipline, unless we address some of these issues, it will continue to be a fat word – and even with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, I question whether we’ll be able to put ethnography on the boardroom tables of our clients.
Caroline Hayter, Acacia Avenue Share/Bookmark