EPIC! Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference 2014 was worthy of its initials

Fordham University - Awesome infrastructure and location

Fordham University – Awesome infrastructure and location

This article talks about my impressions on the EPIC [Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference] that happened at the Center of Positive Marketing, part of Fordham University in New York City, from 7th to 10th of September 2014.

I want to be brief, yet keep some depth. First I will talk about the big picture, the event and why it is such an experience on professional and personal levels. After that I will cover some of the highlights of the conference, as seen from my perspective.

Before that I want to say: EPIC 2015 IS GOING TO BE IN SÃO PAULO!!!

So my three main points about the conference are:

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Debating Ethnographic Epistemology Salon: Should Corporate Ethnography Even Attempt To Avoid Reductionism?

1 – Strong community

EPIC is about meeting people and organizations that are using research methods borrowed from social sciences inside a wide variety of industries. We are talking about making companies more human and human centric. More empathetic. This is a place we can meet.

Many times anthropologists, sociologists and other practitioners are lone rangers in their jobs. EPIC offers an opportunity to meet other people who are on the same page as you [often more advanced], and exchange experiences, contacts, references and so on.

For me, this sense of community, mutual recognition and knowledge exchange was clearly the most EPIC outcome of the event.

 

Christian Madsbjerg sez ethnography should divorce design . #epiconference

@sladner: Christian Madsbjerg sez ethnography should divorce design . #epiconference

2 – Business pivoting

Since ethnography and other methods generate good strategic results, we climb up the corporate ladder. As ethnographers and consultants we should professionally empathise with business people, learning their lingo and ways of thinking and doing. At least to improve your communication skills.

It does not imply becoming a corporate woman or man, it means to better understand and communicate, so we can offer further help, and have positive impact on our clients and even employers. I think ReD´s Christian Madsbjerg´s keynote was the most assertive about it, but I had this feeling many other times chatting with people around the conference. And it is also something I can see in my professional experience. 

Rob and Joe talking about Anticipatory Ethnography

Rob and Joe talking about Anticipatory Ethnography

3 – Adopting future

Most of us are working around ´innovation´, meaning our studies should help companies build new products, services and communication pieces. In other words, we help companies to shape the future with a human perspective.

As proposed by Brian Moeran in his workshop, we have to come up with solutions that are not a step ahead – because most people won’t get it – but half a step ahead. I would add that we should plan several half-steps to create a map, a path for companies to follow. In business they call it innovation pipeline, often represented by the innovation funnel.

Works of design fiction and/or speculative design can illustrate such futures using storytelling, usually with short films. Like the work presented by Joseph Lindley and Robert Potts, two PhD candidates from Lancaster, and Nicolas Nova, who was in EPIC London last year. I particularly like his ´A Digital tomorrow´, you should have a look.

In my perspective, this kind of deliverable shows there are better ways of demonstrating how valuable our work is, that do not involve only power point presentations.

 

Now some of the stuff I found interesting during the conference:

Sam Ladner´s Pecha Kucha about her research on ´bodywork´. Basically, it talks about body language and behaviour in the work environment and its influence on productivity. The insights and pictures she used have that ethnographic power of “I’ve seen this happening” and “that´s totally like this” and “Gez,I do this all the time”. She has just launched a book called “Practical Ethnography”, check it out.

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Other Pecha Kucha I especially liked was presented by Erick Mohr, who works for the company under the humble name Truth. He used comic books visual language to talk about the process of getting an idea from one’s head to the market with super-hero like characters. Pretty neat!

Brian Moeran paper was “Business, Anthropology, and Magical Systems: The Case of Advertising“. He compares beauty products ads in magazines to magical process. The way such products are presented, the images and words used evoke magical terminology and communication techniques. I really need to dig into that.

Line and Anikka, the Danish partners from IS IT A BIRD, talked about this great idea of making cemeteries more alive. They studied such places and came up with guidelines to get the population, those still alive, to enjoy these areas in a way that are still respectful to the dead. Very insightful.

Jan English-Lueck was talking about food production and consumption systems. You should check her work “Corporate Care Reimagined: Farms to Firms to Families“. I love one of her phrases ´When we dream big enough reality learns´.

 

Want to know more?

You should check out EPIC website, of course, and EPIC People, a website that brings this experience closer to those, who were not able to attend the conference – yet. And also AnthroDesign, everyone that is someone in the field is there. Seriously.

Originally posted at Questto|Nó.

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