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Epic 2021 day 2 conference notes

These are my notes for the second day of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, which is taking place virtually this year.

My notes for day one are here

Catching up to the Present to Reimagine the Future

In the age of pandemics and climate crises, reality is represented via varied narratives on health, politics, and the environment across different cultural and social contexts. As artists, designers, and ethnographers practicing the art of narration within different specialties and contexts, this panel aims to showcase how creative professionals re-organize their methods, practices, relationships, and lives in the face of present circumstances. Panelists will share how art and design can help us reflect upon the present and address any future challenges.

Afra Chen Fudan University PHD candidate

Natascha Nanji Independent Artist & Writer

Rasa Smite RIXC Art Science Center Artist and Researcher / Co-founder

Raitis Smits RIXC Associated Professor

Chuma Anagbado Aziza Design Managing Partner/ Co-Founder


Artist and designer from Lagos. Work revolves around identity. Has three platforms: social enterprise, afro-centric products, cultural events.

In Africa, we had a different way to record history

His works are reminiscent of the age-old curvilinear Igbo ‘Uli Artform’ and created through a synthesis of traditional and digital techniques. This hybrid art making technique has positioned Chuma’s works to feature naturally both in print and emerging NFT art spaces.

Rasa & Ratis

from Riga. Works with science and emerging media with a focus on sensory and perceptual aspects.


Our human stories have always been mediated and the limits of our senses have always been replaced by technology. But with pandemic and lockdown there’s a need to find ways to renew our focus on sensory works and embodied experiences

eg. battery that sonifies bactierical activity in a pond; atmospheric forest - visualizing the relationship between forest and atmosphere

a lot of their work is out in the field / in nature. mainly works with the inivisible in nature

have been working for 20 years. were pioneering internet radio artist.


normally in London. Writes about research, and often lesser-known figures in history. but wanted to share piece of speculative fiction


Designing Emergent Products and Services

Ethnographers must use insights about the consumers of current products and services in order to anticipate future ones. In this session, researchers demonstrate how they do this such diverse contexts as immersive media, virtual primary care, and future vehicles.

Building for the Future, Together: A Model for Bringing Emerging Products to Market, Using Anticipatory Ethnography and Mixed Methods Research Stefanie Hutka, Adobe, Inc.

Defining emergent technology as bringing significant change to business industry or society, primary impact occurs in the future, and where market research products is largely undefined.

Case study on designing an AR creation app - Adobe Arrow

But most customers have never used an AR creation app.

13 participants - all creative professionals - for one on one in person research sessions.

Gave them a photo of an otherwise empty apartment, clear acrylic sheet, and markers - how would you make the ordinary seem extraordinary?

Prompt adapted from a 2017 medium article on designing on emergent technologies.

Kept the prompt/exercise away from the term AR or glasses or specific tech solutions.

This approach - termed anticipatory ethnography - situataes participants in a future in which the emerging technology exists to understand what they value in the future

This example illustrates how a researcher can address the challenge of helping a team anticipate how potential customers want to use an emerging product.

But bigger challenge is how to foster more active engagement between the product team and potential customers in these situations.

Solution was to categorise open-ended responses together, as a team. She then also coded a subset of the responses on her own as a point of reference.

Anticipating the Arrival of a Clean-Sensitive Driving Future Annicka Campbell-Dollaghan, Rightpoint Consulting Omer Tsimhoni, General Motors Edward Gundlach, General Motors Camille Sharrow-Blaum, Rightpoint Consulting Ashlynn Denny, Rightpoint Consulting

Remote ethnographic study done by Rightpoint and GM on the experiences and needs of passengers and drivers during covid.

Pandemic changed driver + passenger experience and needs, but how to research that when it’s impossible for researchers to be in the backseat of a car to observe? Ended up doing a remote diary study over a period of seven weeks from August 2020 to October 2020

Recruitment took into account factors like health status, emotional sensitivity to cover 19 are buying status and Even employment

The experience of a driver and a passenger, even when in the same car together, can be really different (depending on whether they feel like they have control over the environment). This is really different from past conception of the car as an extension of personal space.

Asked participants to show their car cleaning routine in video. only about 11% showed actions to improve air quality. Many didn’t realize that existing car features like air filtering can help risk reduction.

Also only realised afterwards that interest in air filtration was mainly driven by wildfires, rather than covid. Helped answer one question GM had around how long these new attitudes were here to stay.

Three outcomes/implications:

  1. Growing interest in advanced, self sanitizing surfaces.

  2. Mobile+digital screens create a sense of agency not just for drivers but also for passengers.

  3. These attitudes are here to stay. Changes driven not just by covid but also by climate change.

Tips for remote research:

  1. Design for flexibility and give yourself more time and space

  2. Involve stakeholders early and often

  3. Look for opportunities to pair qual with quant

  4. Use a variety of stimuli to control for bias

Designing Virtual Primary Health Care Marie Mika, Grand Rounds, Inc. Arvind Venkataramani, Sonic Rim

Covid necessitated a co-ordinated effort to deliver virtual care, and accelerated underlying trend towards more online/virtual care.

VPC = virtual primary care.

What keeps people from engaging in primary care, which is low and trending lower in the US? and how could VPC help change that?

Initial assumption was that VPC would be most useful in rural areas. and inversely, there would be less need/desire for VPC in urban areas.

original assumptions around rural/urban were mostly actually around low or high social economic status.

But not only was that original hypotheses debunked, they were found to be insufficient. In that they did not account for any kind of distrust or skepticism in primary care, in and of itself.

People with lower social economic status often do not see institutionalized healthcare, much less primary care, as valuable or trustworthy. So even though they saw virtual care as more convenient, it did not offset the other factors such as seeing VPC as a diminished form of in person care.

and reverse for people with higher social-economic status - who did now view care with dread, and saw VPC as something that was in its infancy but will continue ot get better. The positive experiences they had paved the way for greater anticipation of VPC.


“Not only is the future unevenly distributed, it is also unevenly desired.”


The emic position is an ethnographic tradition, fraught with contradictions of the multiple perspectives brought to bear on the interpretation of culture. Ethnographers in this session call upon us all to examine how ethnography can truly embrace the communities it watches. These authors show us that where and how the emic tradition can be brought forth, reinvented, and invigorated.

Reimagining Livelihoods: An Ethnographic Inquiry into Anticipation, Agency, and Reflexivity as India’s Impact Ecosystem Responds to Post-pandemic Rebuilding

Gitika Saksena, LagomWorks Abhishek Mohanty, LagomWorks

Covid in India particularly affected gig economy workers.

There was a need for different/new skills. One solution was an up reskilling platform for both workers and employers, and

How ethnography can shape not just today’s effort, but how the future can be imagined.

Case study of a pharmacy delivery worker who had been working for 3 years before the pandemic.

Wanted to be a teacher but was unable to because to family financial situation.

“Even dreaming comes at a price” he said, when asked about upskilling.

He was not seeking to be a better delivery worker, but wanted to learn about medicine so he could one day open his own pharmacy.


  1. not just studying jobs, but livelihoods

  2. from a systemic perspective, there’s a tension between what may be aspired and what may or may not be possible.

  3. future making cannot be abstracted away from the composite of aspirations and lived.

“Those who seek to design the future or even design for the future, need to recognise that the future is a cultural fact.”

Ethnography lends a continual way out of the risks of status quo. There is an ever present danger of discourses getting entrenched as rigid knowledge practices ethnography must seek to continually examine the realities of today.

Empowering Communities: Future-making through Citizen Ethnography Sophie Goodman, Sophie Goodman Research Monty (Sumant) Badami, Habitus

Just as citizen science is a way for non-scientists to contribute to scientific outcomes, citizen ethnography is where non-ethnographers are trained in the tools and techniques of ethnography to investigate analyze and lay their own change initiatives.

Benefits: Community led and owned and not just community informed.

“Citizen ethnography is a significant shift away from the ethnographer as expert researcher.”

Case study of a small rural town in Australia. high rate of youth suicide. When they lost several people recently, the community very quickly mobilized around the shared experience of grief and wanted to do something to reconcile the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and confusion as a result.

A number of community organizations and local action groups formed and mobilized in order to initiate interventions for change.

This is where we came in through participatory engagement with young people and people working with young people. We prototyped a suite of programs that looked at how ethnographic methods can be used as tools to both understand the issues facing young people.

Developed a survey-based Community Mental Health Index, but because some well-meaning community members were also corporate change professionals, we were falling into the trap of providing a corporate culture change strategy to a community problem.

We needed to identify what and who had been left out. Needed to shift from adult-child to peer-to-peer.

If adults were motivated to create change in the community then how much more would the young people want? So, worked directly with young people to create programme and gave them strategies to cope with life’s challenges.

It is this stepping away that holds the key to more meaningful engagmenet and change.

“We want to reinvigorate the value of anthropological theory and methods in ethnographic practice, we believe that ethically informed ethnography is something that emerges from a community, and it must be in service of that community.”