01 In this presentation today I’m going to discuss with you
INTRO a case of ethnography inquiry that has been built and practiced
by the specific communication design mindset.
02 I want to start with some key points
First I want to introduce the context of the research
We are talking about knowledge production and sharing within design communities.
In fact, research explores the local and contextual environment of tools and
resources that are usually considered as design knowledge,
in order to develop tools and practice in the ICT field
that can support the process of knowledge generation, share and reuse.
03 It’s necessary a PREMISE:
PREMISE In the issue of km,
the present situation of networks and digital knowledge that emerge from internet
confronts us with an increasing change
that ask for the development of the tools for knowledge production and management
and moreover the network culture challenges us in considering
the relevance of its cognitive and social aspects
because it suggests that knowledge is a public and commons undertaking.
This is something that is increasingly concern
any kind of discipline and social domains.
RELEVAN In fact the idea of network unveils not only a new and effective organizational and
CE productive model
But also latent and primary questions for our society:
for example: the extension, the meaning, the rules and the features of our own digital
these become practical and concrete questions,
that pertains to each local knowledge context and space.
For designers, this means two kind of challenges:
First, a specific interest for communication and ICT design about the quality of the
interaction with digital knowledge,
the way in which the quality take shape in interfaces and artifacts.
Second, designers itself are facing this changing in working environment and in
knowledge management tools,
and this is why this research encompass intimate and reflective thoughts
about design knowledge itself
QUESTION Therefore the research aims to develop an understanding of the changing knowledge
environment of design organizations and team-works.
in order to do that we need to find the balance between
the need and the interest to achieve the applied research and prototypes,
and on the other hand
the need and the relevance of establishing, in a systematic way,
the practice of understanding of knowledge spaces.
The balance has been achieved through the construction of a rigorous
methodological approach that I’m going to present
With this approach I suggests the specificity of communication design as strategic
skills for understanding and acting within this kind contexts.
06 DKS It is important to understand that
by knowledge spaces we intend the overlap of the physical and the cognitive level.
All definitions of the creative spaces consider this twofold dimension:
the physical space gives form to cognition;
any cognitive process goes on within a mediated cultural and physical context.
Within the design literature this dimension refers to the notion of common ground,
A quality of a given context that defines
the contents as well as the frame of this cognitive level.
If we talk about design organizations
Common ground pertains to the collaborative dynamics,
and concerns the tacit processes
that make the existence of the design knowledge space.
individual knowledge is entwined with group knowledge ,
therefore any kind of design intervention on tools
resides in the need of keep track of the contents of sharing activities with the same
importance than the process of sharing itself
so the main goal of designing this kind of technology
should be the ability to preserve and improve this relational values:
we can say that the main question about knowledge and technology is not if we can
use ICT to support sharing practice, that it is almost obvious,
but if we can drive ICT to influence the motivation to sharing practice, so intervening
both on information than attitudes and behaviours
ETHNOGR within the framework of constructivism epistemology, there are two aspects worth
APHY AS being underlined:
first is the idea of social epistemology,
that means knowledge is redefined by collective experiences in a progressive
Secondly, we consider the subjective aspects of constructive epistemology,
that means that knowledge process are mediated by an explicit and reciprocal
interference between the knower and the known;
In this perspective observation techniques have epistemological relevance because
allow the 1:1 scale outlook,
and are sensitive to the local spirit of each knowledge spaces.
This is why We choose ethnography to understand the physical level as well as the
cognitive level in the process of designing.
The specificity of the ethnographic practice by design mindset grounds on these
two aspects of reflexivity and relational/dialogue
and it is theoretically supported by two theories
the Virtual Ethnography research practice (Hine)
and the framework of communication epistemology (Sclavi)
that we are going to briefly present.
08 The theories of Christine Hine inspired us to elaborate a double-core ethnography
TORY an external observation in situ
(interested towards the different contexts and the instrumental and cognitive
and a self-reflective observation, that aims to give an insight on the own design
knowledge tools and practice.
While observing and researching we, as designers, are both the subject than the
object of our research hypothesis;
in this sense we integrate the ethnography, as a method borrowed from the social
with the basics of practice based research:
This twofold approach to observation refers in social science to the concept of
And within the practitioners literature it is grounded in Schon theories,
that stress the need to convert and use reflective insights it in design practice
The second inspiration comes from theories of Marianella Sclavi,
that has been defined as communication epistemology.
She provides a theoretical outlook on ethnography
and observation that is specific for practitioners mindset,
considering knowledge process as a special kind of communication process.
Basically, Sclavi suggests a perspective on ethnography as a useful tool for
understanding complex communication systems,
and the effectiveness of this perspective based on the main focus about relational
capabilities of individuals and groups involved into communication
Also the methodology given by Sclavi
is based on the crucial concept of reflexivity of observer and the listening dynamics
as the key of interpretative activity;
it bases on two conceptual tools,
the “complex communication triangle” and the concept of “cognitive frame”.
the triangle refers to the concepts of “ascolto attivo” active listening,
"autoconsapevolezza emozionale" emotional self-awareness and “gestione creativa
dei conflitti” creative engagement)
and these ground a theoretical framework about dialogue as the effective strategy for
understanding within complex communication contexts.
The triangle explains the structure of ethnography of communication context:
observation and interpretation are
dynamic, recursive and flexible because the actors involved continuously influence
and remodel communication itself.
So it is a structure schema that emphasize communication as a process of
relationships more than contents.
Instead, the cognitive framework is the concept that describe the cultural and
cognitive forewords of individuals within a communication process that directly
influence the way in which they build meaning and cognitive relevant references.
The cognitive frames are the key points of an efficient interpretation within a local
they represent the starting point of our own interpretation process, as its limit points,
the boundaries where continuously redefine
the dialogue between observer and observed.
In the perspective of communication and complexity,
dialogue allow the perception of tacit knowledge
and the interaction with common ground.
In this final part we will shift from theory of communication epistemology to practice.
From the designers perspective,
ethnography is more than a toolbox that we borrow from other research field;
in the practitioner
mindset, ethnography is a problem-setting skill, a way to frame the problem, and this
is why “observing and understanding” firstly mean to be able to build a own and
The Ethnographer is a part itself of observation when he choose its research
for designers, this mean to choose, and more often to design
the research toolkit: constructing participant observation is a communication design
In the paper the structure and the tools of the ethnography are described in details.
Here we have time just to say that specific artifacts has been built both for the
interaction phase (data gathering)
Than the interpretation phase (data analysis), and to show the general outline of
research that has been conducted.
I want to briefly present the materials and the contents of ethnography,
In order to show a short description of the research process,
that aim to clarify how we interpreted the theory about dialogical observation
in order to provide a praxis for dialogical interventions.
24-25 In the final step of the design ethnography we are discussing,
model we shift from techniques and methods to a more conceptual outcome.
The ethnographic strategy
has been synthesized and schematically presented in a practical model of design
ethnography for observing and acting within knowledge context.
The model progressively developed on three different levels: the
first to describe in details contents, procedures and options of the full process of
the second to abstract from details and show key-points and milestones activities of
the third, which is an outlined and conceptual synthesis of the observation in
ethnography practiced and entwined by dialogue and reflective practice.
opensource I want to point out that,
together with the model which is a “final artifacts” of the research,
we claim to share also the ongoing contents of research,
in some way the source code of the ethnography.
Besides the procedures methods and rules, that are some kind of “conceptual
software” that we can use to do design ethnography,
we suggest that insights, processes, rough thoughts are
effective methodological inspirations,
and in the same way than procedures and solutions,
are worth openly discussing and sharing.
The wider premise of this approach is the repositioning of the idea of use value,
by the inspiration of open culture and peer production, according to the Internet
education that knowledge grows and enhance by use, manipulation and sharing.
dk From the research emerged a clear and defined specificity of design knowledge,
That has been deeply analyzed, visualized and discussed with the involved
The final part of the thesis suggests a way to transform the ethnographic insights in
guidelines and practice for intervention by ICT.
I left this part to a further paper and I hope to be able to present soon the results of
this process, its validation, and its design outputs.
CONCLUSI In the paper we introduce the interpretation of ethnographic plan
ON as a tool for communication epistemology
and as a relevant research tool for the understanding and interaction with high
complexity knowledge contexts.
Coming back to networks, there are two final important remarks:
that design shall to face the challenge to open, in the direction of opensource design,
and this cannot happen just considering the final artifacts but mostly with the effort to
open and share the process itself
and then, in the scenario of co-creation design,
the main activity would shift from forcing or inducting participatory activity
to the enabling of an aware, and diffuse, attitude to sharing,
that is definitely something that cannot be designed,
but just experienced by people together.
29 THANK YOU