Archive for the ‘Ethnography’ Category

Kazuyo on the Auto-Rickshaw

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

We’ll be bringing you some of Kazuyo and John’s experiences in India over the next several weeks…

Negotiating with an Auto-Rickshaw Driver
One morning, I went to a fancy hotel in Bangalore to do context mapping.  The hotel people were horrified that I was planning to hail an auto-rickshaw to go there.  No problem!  I hailed one and got there for 15 rupees.  So I tipped him and gave him 20 rupees.  On the way back, I hail one, and give him my hotel address. He nodded and I got in.  He doesn’t push the button to start a meter, I say it to him, “Please start a meter” and he tells me that it would cost me 30 rupees.  I look at him, and say “It cost me 14 rupees to get here.”  He shook his head and said, “No, 30 rupees.”  I kept saying “No,” and asked him to start his meter.  He refused.  I told him that I would get out and find another one.  He thought I was bluffing because I was a foreigner, but he found out that I was not bluffing shortly thereafter!

Auto-rickshaw can go anywhere…except for a herd of cows
It’s not uncommon to see a cow in Bangalore, and I met/saw them frequently. They hang out on the street, on the road, in very random places.  Auto-rickshaws are smaller than cars, so they can go through a small alley and can go through dirt roads, mud, etc. But even auto-rickshaw wouldn’t go through a herd of cows, and we had to trail behind them on the dirt road for quite a while!

John: In India.

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The rhythm of Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai three days ago, I walked off the plane after a 15-hour
flight into a sweaty oven of an airport terminal. Now to the baggage claim.
After waiting in the wrong carousel for 20 minutes in a sleepy daze, I asked
a local for suggestions. All red bags became potential targets. This one?
No. That one? No. Joy shot through my body as I saw my bag circled around
the corner. Checking the tag. Yes!

Though customs in a mass of people, down a long corridor, the volume of
voices increasing with each step.

Now to find a taxi.

I exchanged money for rupees, and scampered to the prepaid taxi line,
waiting, explaining. Here’s the money. Thank you. Taxi this way? Okay.

Opening the door, the oven temperature turned up, and the volume increased
by two notches–shouting, honking, bright colors, exhaust fumes, days of
sweat, an array of blue, yellow and white cars, and . . .there it is!

Into the taxi and now through the city. Honking, braking, acceleration.
Honking, braking, acceleration. Mumbai traffic. A continuous mass of metal
twisting through the city in this wondrous rhythm of communication, all
minds working together.

Traffic rules seem to cease, or become mere guides. Cars moving forward like
creeping, colorful snake, my driver part of the heartbeat, looking all
directions at once. Four cars wide in a three-lane road, side mirrors folded
in for increased road space, speckles of paint and dent on cars corners.
Red. Blue. Yellow. Can a motorcycle slip by? Yes, there he goes. Handle bar
missing side mirror by a centimeter.

At one point yesterday, an auto rickshaw behind us hit our car slightly,
enough to trade paint, but probably no dents. The driver got out, inspected
the damage, yelled at the culprit, and we moved forward at the flash of
green light. At one thirty am two nights ago, I watched us run one red light
after another, in a blaze of speed–throttle opened up in pure joy, then
braking, honking.

Mumbai traffic. An exquisite example of collective thinking, communication,
and the beauty of human interaction. Four cars wide in a three-lane road.
Braking, honking, braking, honking.

Horns are their voices. Steaming tires are their shoes.

Kazuyo: I have arrived to India.

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Wow, here is my quick update/cultural experience of arriving to India.

Even at ORD airport, the gate heading to India had a little more chaotic feeling to it.  Not an unpleasant one. It’s just didn’t feel ordinary.  Let’s say compared to getting on a flight to go to Tokyo, it was distinctively different.

Flight was delayed, but we arrived to DEL about an hour late.  Going to immigration line, they have lines for Indians and foreigners.  There is NOBODY for foreigners’ lines.  I wonder “ummmmm……”  And another traveler says, “Oh, just wait.  It’s just a beginning.”

Some Caucasian people brave to Indians lines, and they seem to have gotten through. Not a problem. So those who are standing in line for foreigners wait patiently and finally, two immigration officers shows up to foreigners’ lines.

No question asked, they look at my passport, visa and give my passport back.  No questioning of why I am there, etc., the general customary questions immigration officers ask.

I don’t find an ATM machine. I am glad that I had some US dollar in cash and exchange at the bank.  I am sure that the rate isn’t great, but I have Indian rupees now.

Go through custom, and there are lines with people with signs picking up mostly foreigners.  I see a sign saying “Pre-paid taxi,” but be aware those are who pretend to be taxi drivers.  So I go to the counter and it says CLOSE.  I wonder, ok, what now?

Then I go to Jet Airways help desk to see if I can get a boarding pass for tomorrow.  But there is a couple who apparently have their luggage damaged and are going through the claim.  After standing in line for 15 minutes, they tell me that I need to go to domestic terminal for that.

Finally, I venture out to the arrival area and I see 3 windows for Pre-Paid taxi again.  I quickly get in line, 5 minutes pass, 10 minutes pass.  The line is not moving at ALL.  After 15 minutes of waiting, I ask a gentleman in front of me, what is going on. He says traffic is so bad, there aren’t enough taxi.  So just wait.

Meanwhile, everybody in the line is calling SOMEBODY trying to get a taxi or a ride.  I tried to call my hotel, but I was not smart enough to program how to call India on my phone and my call fails repeatedly.  So text for help to Melinda.

While I am waiting, checking my emails, and trying to be patient.  People are yelling and getting upset at the window, so the guy leaves.  I am starting to wonder whether I have to spend a night at an airport tonight.

Finally, 2 people come back to the window after 30 minutes or so waiting, and a line to the window (somewhat a line, but not a straight line) breaks out and people start rushing and running to the window.

There are two Asian women who were behind me and they run in front of me to get to another window.  I yell at them, “Hey, you were behind me.” They say, “well, you were too  slow, besides you were waiting in that line, not this line.”  They smirk  me a look and wait for their turn.  I think to myself, “is there any order here?”  It’s just the beginning, I realize later.

Finally, I get to my turn and the window person tells me that it would be 310 rupees.  I tell give him 400 rupees and he tells me that I need give him 10 rupee.  I tell him I don’t have it since I just landed. He gives me back 100 rupees and charges me 300 rupee instead of 310.

I follow the sign to get to pre-paid taxi and I start crossing and I get yelled at by a policeman I shouldn’t be going that way.  Sign is pointing left, but the line for the taxi is on the right.  So I get in a line.  I see the two asian women who cut in front me without any problem, 3 parties ahead of me.  I am thinking, “Japanese niceness has to go, I guess.”

It’s hot, loud, people yelling and shouting.  I am thinking that it definitely has different energy compared to the Philippines. The only word that comes to me is chaos, but it’s not the right terminology.  I wait and wait and finally a taxi comes up and I get in.  It’s HOT and HUMID. I can hardly breath.

Taxi person is very nice and asks me if it’s the first time India for me, I say yes.  The traffic is jammed, and the road is packed.  I see people hanging on the side of the car—I have seen this on photos, but people really DO that!  We drive through and spend maybe 20-25 minutes in the car, perhaps for 5 minutes when there is no traffic (another guy in line told me that it would be 5 minutes to the hotel from the airport).   At the toll booth, a man with a stick is checking underneath of trucks—I wonder if they are checking for bombs?  Or something being smuggled????

We drive by the field with burning tires (smell indicated that), honking traffic, people randomly stopping on the side of the road.  I see squatters and also smell curry.  Curry smells GOOD for sure, “Perhaps I will try something right before I leave India,” I think to myself.  I am thinking that it kind of reminds me of a combination of Manila and Kaoshang night market.

And suddenly, we pull into a gated area with a mall and that is where the hotel is. Separated from the rest of the chaos, but right next to the highway!

This is definitely a beginning of an adventure, I think to myself.

India here we come!

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Kazuyo and John are headed to India. In fact, Kazuyo is probably on a plane as we speak, and John will join her in a little over a week. We’ve traveled all over the world and our stop in India is a new place for us, so we’re pretty excited.

They’re headed to Mumbai, Bangalore and Ludhiana and will hang out with a local Indian ethnographer and other folks as they learn all about luxury lifestyle. Yeah…Taj Palace, Juhu Beach, downtown Ludhiana, and so on.

I am jealous too!

Kazuyo learned during her trip to the Philippines several years ago that eating mangoes (a hot fruit) every single day didn’t go very far in helping her avoid heat exhaustion, so this time she’s going to skip hot fruits as the temperature climbs. Kazuyo lives in Boston, so as far as she’s concerned, gray skies and cold weather is much more her style.

She’s also pretty excited to learn more about Asian culture, especially considering she’s from Japan. “Although India is a part of Asia, it is very different from Eastern Asian culture and offers something really unique from that perspective. It will be interesting!”

John’s excited too. While he knows “India has an extremely rich and interesting culture, packed with an assortment of languages and traditions, and a rapidly growing economy,” he will learn firsthand what that looks like, how it sounds, and what’s changing right now.

But he’s certainly not looking forward to the long plane ride. It takes 24 hours to get there!

Stay tuned AFTER the trip. We are sure that there will be some good stories to share!

It’s not a contradiction. It’s an insight!

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

We left our last conversation talking about narrative and how we get to learn a whole lot about people by dropping our assumptions about their experiences. In other words, we let them guide our process of understanding through their narrative, and it’s through our analysis of their experience we can really put existing knowledge about them in the proper context.

Which brings us to the second assumption taken from Nurture Shock , the book that recently blew my mind as a parent and an ethnographer. I find the authors’ recommendation to drop a second assumption really relevant in our work.

Bronson and Merryman say, “We tend to think that good behavior, positive emotions, and good outcomes are a package deal: together, the good things will protect a child from all the bad behavior and negative emotions…”

The book pretty much offers a slew of evidence that shows how this is not always true. In the end (and this is the part I really love, the part that makes me jump up and down) they said, “The researchers are concluding that the good stuff and the bad stuff are not on opposite ends of a single spectrum. They are what’s termed orthogonal–mutually independent. Because of this, kids can seem to be walking contradictions.”

Again, we could substitute the word “kids” with “moms with toddler girls” or “people with diabetes” or “men losing their hair.” And again, we can really place what seems like contradictions in the proper context through…wait for it…wait for it…our analytic process.

See, we always tell our clients that a lot of people who say they do ethnography actually don’t. Doing an in-home interview is great, videotaping it and editing a summary of all those interviews is great, but that alone isn’t making it ethnography. It’s the systematic analysis of our fieldwork, those in-home visits, as well as how we contextually map our topic of study in the places we do fieldwork, that helps to make it so.

We actually start doing analysis once we start recruiting, all along during our fieldwork, but the really intensive systematic analysis occurs after we have left the field. To do it right, it takes about 4 to 6 hours for every hour we spent in the field, to really understand what we learned.

And here’s why. Remember that assumption we just talked about. People can seem like walking contradictions. We typically find that there are disconnects between what people say and what people do.  If we rely simply on what they say, it will look like a contradiction. Or it will be taken at face value through literal interpretation, thereby discounting all the observational stuff (and ultimately, what explains what’s really going on) we may not have noticed during that precise moment.

By going back and systematically analyzing not only what was said but what was done, how it was done and why, and looking at it across all our participants to find pattners in similaries and patterns in differences, we can say “Aha! This is what’s happening.” We simply cannot overlook any subtlety or nuance. Otherwise, it’s just not insight.

So, try dropping a couple of assumptions. Like my seventh grade math teacher said, “It just makes an ass out of u and me.”

Categories: context, Ethnography, Process

How Narrative Shapes Understanding

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I just finished the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children (2009, Hachette Book Group) by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It blew my mind as a parent and as an ethnographer because it provided an overwhelming presentation of social science, neuroscience and more as it relates to child development. In their chapter about the science of teen rebellion, Bronson and Merryman say, “We carry dual narratives whenever a phenomenon can’t be characterized by a singular explanation…The danger is when these narratives don’t just reflect, they steer.” As ethnographers we really get into that because it’s through narrative that we understand how our participants apprehend and give coherence to the world around them.

Ethnography is really great for teasing out insights produced from previous market research, typically the results of surveys, focus groups, and the like. Whenever we enter a participant setting–at home, in the office or another location, we start by asking our participants to share their story. By doing this we give them a really good jumping off point and arm them with the power and authority to frame their everyday routines and rituals, attitudes and behavior around our topic of study.

Which brings me back to Nurture Shock. In their conclusion the authors remark, “…a treasure trove of wisdom about children is there for the grasping after one lets go of those two common assumptions.” The first assumption they discuss is that things work in children in the same way that they work in adults.

The issue of reference bias affects all kinds of decision-making. For our purposes, we can literally substitute the words “children” and “adults” with virtually any combination–“patients” and “doctors,” “people who use washing machines” and “mechanical engineers,” “consumers” and “brand managers.” In other words, the experiences of the former are often described and understood based on the perception of that experience by the latter.

One of the reasons to do ethnography is to get a better understanding of a group of people. Often when we do this, our clients can spot when a set of commonly held beliefs about who their customer is stems from their frame of reference. In other words, a designer or product manager may tell us, “I never knew people experienced it like that!”

That’s one of the great things about ethnography. We can study all kinds of categories of people: young families, people with acromegaly, promotional product salespeople, chemotherapy nurses, people living with chronic pain, moms who like to create photo cards, people with arthritis, HVAC repair people, people who eat out, etc. etc. Our process and approach lends itself to throwing out assumptions, and often we end up figuring out that seemingly contradictory happenings aren’t contradictory at all.

What’s this other assumption, and how do you get there? Well, it’s kind of tied to contradiction. And it’s about what we do after we hear their stories. Stay tuned!

Categories: Ethnography, Process

World Cup 2010: Ethnographic Opportunity

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

As the world’s most watched sport, soccer [or football as it’s know throughout much of the world] dates back thousands of years. In this year’s World Cup in South Africa, 32 teams will battle for glory, each carrying forth a tradition of honor in the hopes of being propelled into elite status by bringing home the golden cup.

While some sources, such as EA Sports, predict Spain will defeat Brazil in the finals to take the cup, others have used quantitative methods to name England the 2010 champion.

Our own Rebecca took this on her Tanzanian Journey

We’re excited. Not because we care who wins. Our summer includes several stops in Europe and Asia as we conduct fieldwork for a variety of projects. What excites us is learning a whole lot more about the social worlds undoubtedly living in a fever pitch from June to July 11.

Did you know that Asia predicts a record number of World Cup viewers this summer? Being there, where the fans will be living and working, we’ll be able to tell you a thing or two about why this World Cup differs from the tourneys of year’s past.

And how about a host of other insights? About nationalism. Pride. Sportsmanship. Leisure. Work culture. Archetypes—hero, athlete, fan, winner and loser. The role of gender in playing, watching and talking about sports. New media and the sports experience. And the list could go on and on…

We’ll keep you posted!

Categories: Ethnography, International

Iterative Processes: Ethnographic Imperative

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

We are wrapping up a project for a client in the automotive industry. During our collaborative analysis we discovered some pretty fantastic insights around generations, communication and technology, precisely what we had been studying a couple months earlier during ERI’s demonstration project.

During the demonstration project we learned A LOT about how different generations communicate and use technology, things that were reinforced and highlighted during this automotive study.

It reminded me that for us, for our projects, iteration is the name of game. When we do a project we develop business objectives and determine project scope with our client for that particular project. And while we focus our data collection to answer questions relevant to our topic of study, it’s our experience with past projects that helps us quickly discover our data points. And regardless of the industry–health care, consumer goods, business to business–our experience observing and understanding the world around us comes in handy in virtually any setting.

Take Melinda. She’s been doing this work for more than 15 years and has visited THOUSANDS of households [this is just households, not hospitals, clinics and other business settings, which she has visited too]. When you spend that much time with that many people and see that many households, you can quickly ascertain the inner-workings of a situation and determine what’s different. Talk about a time-savings!

That’s the beauty of ethnography. Using ethnography as an approach to understanding, we’re not limited to studying just toilet paper or just diabetes or just cars. We’re learning and relearning over and over, in every setting, with every individual, with every family and in every household.

We don’t stray from our data, that is, make broad-sweeping assertions we can’t support with data from the project at-hand. But how great is it for our clients that we can start that much closer to insight based on everything we accumulate over time about consumer attitudes and behavior?

That’s pretty cool.

Categories: Ethnography

Hitting the Mark

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday I spent three hours with a local realtor considered a key opinion leader in her field.

Towards the end of our time together, she gave me one of the biggest compliments you can give an ethnographer. “I forgot you were filming. You got me eating,” she said. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but toot toot! In fieldwork, it’s really important that we are as unobtrusive as possible. Because that’s how we learn what we learn!

Just in case you’re wondering, here are some indicators you are hitting the mark in fieldwork:

“I forgot you were here.” I had a nurse say this to me after I had been shadowing her all day to learn how she administered chemotherapy to patients.

“My husband doesn’t know about those.”
Sometimes family members will share things with us they don’t even share with each other. We were actually there for the moment a husband told his wife of more than 30 years that he had overactive bladder. He had kept it from her for a long time, and she was a nurse!

“Let me show you.” It’s really important that we see what our participants are talking about, so having them show us how they do something means a lot more than having them simply tell us.

“Oh yeah, I forgot about the money.” There is an incentive involved for our participants. It’s not a lot, but it does thank them for allowing us to spend time in their lives. We can’t tell you how many times at the end of fieldwork this has happened.

“This was fun. I never get to talk about myself!” Every one has a story to tell, and most people actually thank us for letting them share about themselves without dominating the conversation.

Categories: Ethnography, Interview

Grandma’s day at court: ethnography for understanding process

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

This morning I accompanied my 83-year-old grandma to court. Two weeks ago she received a ticket on her way home from church when she failed to move into the center lane as she passed a police officer who had pulled over another driver for speeding. When she called in to pay her fine, a clerk informed her she would have to go to traffic court. She had a date, time and address for her court appearance, but nothing else that could help prepare her for what to expect.

Ethnography is a particularly useful methodology for understanding process, especially when it comes to uncovering insights into how people experience products and services in context. As we go about our daily life, we often don’t even think about the steps that make up our behavior. If we were to ask a participant how she does X, she would most likely come to a succinct answer by weeding out everything she considers extraneous. As ethnographers the extraneous is precisely what we’re interested in because that’s what helps us really understand the unarticulated needs and wants of the consumer. And these are the insights that offer oodles of opportunities for innovation, branding and product placement.

Back to grandma. When we arrived to traffic court we had no idea what to do. It appeared as a random assortment of people and activities. After watching others and looking for signs, we learned how to check ourselves in. Then we waited. I observed.

The random assortment of people and activities started to coalesce, patterns started to emerge and I began to understand the process people undergo when they enter the courtroom. I learned about the types of offenses that bring people to traffic court. I learned about the division of labor that prepares the accused for their plea and how the different roles (ie., public defender, baliff, prosecutor) make up that process. I learned how those in the courtroom move through the space and how the space itself (ie., the placement of desks and tables) facilitates the plea process and separates officials from the public. More so, I learned a lot about what happens when people deviate from the social norms established by the court, like when someone approaches the prosecutor ‘out of turn’ or talks once the magistrate has started to hear cases.

I began to get a deeper sense of the undertones that ripple through the process. I learned how the process itself strips defendants of their privacy (and how shame accompanies that) and how once a defendant enters the courtroom, he loses all control and authority he may possess in everyday life (and more so, how he responds/adjusts to that). I began to understand some issues concerned with socioeconomic status and social capital, how the defendants can differ from employees of the court around these things and generally, what that means for the process as a whole.

I spent an hour and a half in traffic court with my grandma. Had this been a real ethnography, I would have spent several days. Over time I would have watched nearly 100 defendants go through the process to get an in-depth understanding of everything I just mentioned, and more. I would have spent time talking with defendants, public defenders, prosecutors, the bailiff, clerks and maybe even the magistrate. I would have learned where opportunities exist to make the process easier for both the court and the defendants.

Because ethnography takes us to where the action occurs, it is a great way to bring the experience, and the consumer, to life. My grandma would agree.