Concept Hygiene Ethnography in User-Centered Design


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A presentation for the 2009 Mini UPA Conference in Waltham, MA. Organized as a debate/discussion.

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Concept Hygiene Ethnography in User-Centered Design

  1. 1. Martha Kam ( Zarla Ludin ( Bentley University Design and Usability Center Spring 2009 UPA Boston Conference
  2. 2. •  The goal is not to draw conclusions on the use of ethnography in UCD, but rather to create a dialog and bring up important considerations on its use. •  We want to point out that ethnography has a history outside the context of UCD that is full of debates and controversies. •  We need to understand some of these issues when adopting the concept of ethnography into UCD.
  3. 3. •  Get to know each other •  Educate –  Definitions of ethnography •  Debate –  Start a lively debate today on ethnography in user research •  Understand –  Ethnography’s advantages –  Ethnography’s disadvantages –  Your experiences
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  7. 7. Theme Definition •  As a genre of writing “A series (of often overlapping) •  As a method genres: expository essay, diary, •  As a methodology novel, memoir, short story, life history, testimonio, self-reflexive •  As a mode of representation narrative, biography, and autobiography” (Visweswaran, p. 183).
  8. 8. Theme Definition •  As a genre of writing “Firstly, ethnography is naturalistic. •  As a method It is research that is conducted in natural environments and not in •  As a methodology artificial ones. Secondly, it is •  As a mode of representation observational. Ethnographers observe how meaning is constructed within and by social and cultural realities. Thirdly, ethnography is portraiture. It involves documenting and representing ontological findings by employing an illustrative or artistic discourse, such as filmmaking, photography or journal writing” (Agafonoff, p. 1).
  9. 9. Theme Definition •  As a genre of writing “a methodological strategy used •  As a method to provide descriptions of •  As a methodology human societies, which as a methodology does not prescribe •  As a mode of representation any particular method (e.g. observation, interview, questionnaire), but instead prescribes the nature of the study (i.e. to describe people through writing)” (Maynard & Purvis, p. 76).
  10. 10. Theme Definition •  As a genre of writing “a mode of writing that seeks to •  As a method represent the reality of a whole •  As a methodology world or form of life” (Marcus & Cushman, p. 29). •  As a mode of representation
  11. 11. •  Practice: –  Goals are different from those of its source disciplines (e.g. Anthropology, Sociology) –  Communication directed towards a specific audience – speak “client language” –  Many practitioners are making changes when applying ethnography to UCD –  Partial interpretation vs. written representation •  People: –  Deteriorated value of ethnography because of lack of expertise –  Illegitimate claims to expertise without standards and proper training –  Focus shifted from participant observation to a moderated environment Crabtree et al, 2009 | Rosenstein, 2009 | Agafonoff, 2006
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  13. 13. “The term ethnography holds distinct connotations for communities of scholars, thereby triggering specific expectations about its conduct and presentation which may not apply equally to all forms of qualitative fieldwork. As reviewers of qualitative work become more sophisticated, distinctions between ethnographic studies and other forms of qualitative fieldwork become more apparent and therefore more institutionally relevant. A well-done piece of qualitative work can sometimes be faulted because of certain unwarranted claims to be ethnographic. It is therefore becoming increasingly necessary to understand the distinctions between different traditions of qualitative research and to grasp the specific connotations held by the term ethnography itself” (Prasad, p. 102).
  14. 14. “…you don’t need ethnography to do that [gather user requirements]; just minimal competency in interactive skills, a willingness to spend time, and a fair amount of patience” (Anderson, p. 155).
  15. 15. “…the work of scientifically trained observers, once seriously applied to the study of this aspect, will, I believe, yield results of surpassing value. So far, it has been done only by amateurs [missionaries, colonialists, travelers], and therefore done, on the whole, indifferently” (Malinowski, p. 19).
  16. 16. “…nowadays every ethnographer has to decide for him or herself how much information is necessary for the reader to be able to evaluate the results of the research” (O’Reilly, p. 11).
  17. 17. “…producing ethnography is as much about writing as it is about data collection and analysis…In doing this, ethnography is also primarily committed to insight over prediction” (Prasad, p. 108).
  18. 18. “…the ethnographic tradition strongly favors the method of participant observation where researchers spend extended periods of time in the site and sometimes even take on the roles of inhabitants within the site” (Prasad, p. 108).
  19. 19. “…ethnography-based information systems research produced is likely to be rejected by the source disciplines as naive if not highly contentious” (Prasad, p. 219). “…communication in the real world is what is important” (Rosenstein, 2009) “…giving it the name ethnography gives you the right direction” (Rosenstein, 2009).
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  21. 21. + - •  The immersion aspect provides very •  Time-intensive. important information regarding the •  Costly. complexities and dynamics of any •  Access can be difficult and tricky. phenomenon of study. •  People often have a hard time •  The definition of ethnography. providing the details of what it is •  It is sometimes hard to draw clear they do, observation helps with that. design implications from field work. •  Develop empathy for the users. •  Requires a separate interpersonal •  It’s just good research. skill set to engage “subjects.” •  There is a plethora of data collected. •  Practitioners often understand the method (fieldwork), but not the •  A skilled researcher will uncover theory behind ethnography. certain phenomena that might have an impact on the design. •  Some purists in anthropology and sociology feel it’s a misuse of the term.
  22. 22. •  Learn about ethnography in the context of its source disciplines to better understand it “Return to the debates in the source discipline’s historical contexts in order to contribute to the debates on ethnography in the adapted context of information systems research” (Prasad, p. 209). •  There are advantages and disadvantages: does one outweigh the other in your situation? •  Learn from each other
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  24. 24. •  Agafonoff, N. (2006, May). Ethnography - from buzz word to swear word. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from AMSRS: •  Anderson, R. J. (1994). Representations and requirements: the value of ethnography in system design. Hum.- Comput. Interact. 9, 3 (Jun. 1994), 151-182. •  Clifford, J. (1986). Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. University of California Press. •  Crabtree, A., Rodeen, T., Tolmie, P., & Button, G. (2009). Ethnography Considered Harmful. CHI 2009 (pp. 879-888). Boston: ACM. •  Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Waveland Press. •  Marcus, G. E. and Cushman, D. (1982). Ethnographies as Texts. Annual Review of Anthropology. 11:25-69. •  Maynard, M. & Purvis, J. (1994). Researching women's loves from a feminist perspective. London: Taylor & Frances. •  O’Reilly, K. (2005). Ethnographic Methods. Routledge, New York, NY. •  Prasad, P. (1997). Systems of Meaning: Ethnography as a Methodology for the Study of Information Technologies. In A. Lee, J. Liebenau & J. DeGross (Eds.), Information Systems and Qualitative Research. 1997. London: Chapman & Hall. •  Rosenstein, A. (2008, November 7). Fake Ethnography vs. Real Ethnography. Presented at the User Research Friday 2008 Conference , San Francisco, CA. •  Visweswaran, K. (2003). Ethnography. From Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories. (ed) Code, L. Routledge, New York, NY.