Corporate EthnographyI first became aware of corporate ethnography when a friend with a background in regional planning and public art was job hunting. She was called for an interview with the group at Intel handling their recently created ethnography unit, and we talked about what she learned concerning the roles and responsibilities of the people in the unit (which has since increased in size to about two dozen employees).
Although a hiring freeze put the kibosh on this particular job opportunity, it did catalyze an ongoing interest on my part in how corporate ehtnographers contribute to their companies' planning. Now Ken Anderson, an anthropologist at Intel Research and a cofounder of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, has written a brief, informative overview of the subject for the March 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Anderson explains:
Ethnography is the branch of anthropology that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. Unlike traditional market researchers, who ask specific, highly practical questions, anthropological researchers visit consumers in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a nondirected way. Our goal is to see people's behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives.Anderson emphasizes that at Intel enthnographers have recently been involved not just in investigating new markets, but also in helping answer strategic questions, such as the degree to which, and the pace at which, television and PC technology will converge.