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Lou and Cee Cee prepare for fieldwork in the future: a world where robots conduct ethnography


dudek-hi-res-headshotNote from the Editor, Tricia Wang: Kicking off our Co-designing with machines edition is Alicia Dudek (@aliciadudek), Innovation Insight Lead & Design Ethnographer at Deloitte Digital Australia. Using design thinking, ethnography, and other deep contextual customer research methods, she designs, conducts, and trains others in the world of customer empathy. Her contribution to this edition is the first science fiction to explore robots conducting ethnographic work. She uses a fictional story with Cee Cee, the robo-ethnographer, to examine what aspects of fieldwork can be conducted by a robot. I first met Alicia Dudek at an EPIC conference in London, where I became a fan of her work and promptly interviewed her for our edition that featured the best from EPIC. Read the interview, Play nice – design ethnographer meets management consultant, and find more of her writings on ethnography at her site.

Increasingly we are seeing more conversations about ‘what does it look like when the robots take your job.’ Once upon a time we believed this was some remote future where we’d finally invented the technology that could replace our bio-body’s ingenious functions. Now we are coming into a time where our technology has grown so advanced that the replacement of ourselves with robots is not only imagined, but plausible and even possible. An example of this shift is the imagining of white collar jobs ‘going robo’ that was recently covered by Quartz.

Writing this piece I wanted to have a little fun imagining a wonderful world where we can work hand in hand with robot peers. It is exciting to imagine the day when artificial intelligence is on par with that of our human research team members. Ethnographic technology is sometimes slow to progress due to the art and science nature of our work, but if we had the magic wand to unite all the drones, phones, data smarts, and humanly arts, we might have robo-colleagues as a part of our team one day soon. Friendly humans and friendly robots conducting ethnography together are a powerful combination. Also thank you to Elizabeth Dubois for writing this piece about trace interviews, which has some cool ideas on how we might conduct interviews.

– Alicia Dudek

Lou muses over her tea

Lou muses over her tea as she prepares for fieldwork with Cee Cee.

Lou mused over the steam rising from her cup of tea. She gathered her thoughts around what she’d be looking for in the field next week. She and her team were going to shadow young families and understand how they managed their finances. Field work was always one of the most exciting and exhausting parts of the data collection in her ethnography projects. What would be the right focus area for a trip into this family’s everyday life? She knew she’d have to cover the basics of bank accounts, credit cards, laptop / tablet / phone usage, calendar keeping, overall scheduling, family diaries, but what else might be valuable? What else could help to point the team in the direction of the golden nuggets of insight? All these years of traipsing in and out of the field and analysing scores of transcripts, videos, audios had left her always questioning, what’s next? What were the mental parameters that led her to the deep and meaningful insights from field observations? What was that ineffable thing that clients kept hiring her for again and again? How does an ethnographer see differently to find the golden nuggets?

Lou was jostled out of this reverie as Cee Cee energetically buzzed into the office and landed on Louise’s desk with a plop. “Louise I’m here for my briefing for the field work to be conducted.” Lou looked up from her imagined fieldwork and focused on Cee Cee’s entry into her office. In the past Lou had had dozens of assistants, grad students, and junior ethnographers to help with her work. None of them was quite like Cee Cee, who was rather innovative and definitely pushed Lou’s ways of working to new places. “Alright Cee Cee let’s get going on the briefing and I’ll tell you what we’re looking for and how to behave when you get out there.” Lou readjusted her posture and swung around to meet Cee Cee head on and get into the briefing.Read More… Lou and Cee Cee prepare for fieldwork in the future: a world where robots conduct ethnography

Play nice: design ethnographer meets management consultant, an interview with Alicia Dudek from Deloitte Digital


dudek-hi-res-headshotAlicia Dudek (@aliciadudek) is a design ethnographer and user experience consultant at Deloitte Digital Australia. She has experience in designing and conducting customer focused qualitative research in a professional services and academic environment. Her experience includes delivering useful, in-depth, and straight from the field customer insights for diverse industries including healthcare, agriculture, finance, telecommunications, and tourism. Her entrance to the ethnographic insights industry began at the University of Dundee’s Master in Design Ethnography program. She previous worked in product management and residential construction project management.

What are the most forward thinking management consulting firms doing? Hiring ethnographers. That’s right. In this post for the January EPIC theme, I interviewed Alicia Dudek (@aliciadudek) from Deloitte Digital Australia. Through our hallway conversations at the Royal Institution, I found out that Alicia is Deloitte‘s first design ethnographer in Australia. At Deloitte, she has worked in a diversity of fields from health care, agriculture, finance, telecommunications, and tourism. In our interview, Alicia talks about her experience in designing and conducting customer focused qualitative research in a professional services and academic environment. She provides additional answers to the question I posed in the opening post of this series, Why Go to an Ethnography Conference? 

Alicia posted additional reflections on EPIC 2013 on the Deloitte Digital blog (Deeply understanding your future customer, ethnographically speaking). If you want to find out more about Alicia’s work, be sure to read her fascinating guest post on Ethnography Matters co-authored with Rachel Shadoan where they discussed their use of hybrid methods (Plant Wars Player Patterns: Visualization as Scaffolding for Ethnographic Insight). Check out Alicia’s website for a  treasure trove of links and thoughts.

For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.

image source: Alicia Dudek

So Alicia, thanks for chatting with me for our January Epic theme. So tell me, why did you go to EPIC?
A few years ago when our cohort was studying on the masters of design ethnography course at the university in Dundee, our course leader was Catriona Macaulay, an organiser and participant in the EPIC community.  She often mentioned the conference, its proceedings, and most of all the people who participated. Since then I have always viewed it as a goal to attend. This was my first year at the conference and it was even better than expected, especially to be listening to many of my heroes in the halls of the Royal Institution in London.

At EPIC 2013 and so excited to be meeting my ethnography heroes in the science and history soaked halls of the Royal Institution.

At EPIC 2013 and so excited to be meeting my ethnography heroes in the science and history soaked halls of the Royal Institution.

What did you learn at EPIC?
I learned that big data was a big deal to ethnographers. I learned that everyone is still figuring out how to do ethnography in diverse and new environments. I learned that the only way we get better, faster, stronger is by sharing stories in words, on film, in video, or even live (if your budget allows). The lesson that constraints breed creativity was reinforced again and again, as researchers showcased many Macgyver worthy data collection methods. The most important thing I learned was that every single person there was always working for the work itself. You can say that it is a place where passionate and curious ethnographers converge.

How did you end up at your current role as design ethnographer at Deloitte Digital in Australia?
A few years ago Deloitte Digital was one of the early adopters of design thinking and customer experience research as core business drivers. This is part of a design thinking methodology that is being spread throughout Deloitte Australia.  I like to think that the people who hired me in Deloitte Digital thought that a design ethnographer made sense in the user experience team and were willing to roll the dice. In the time since I came on board I have spent a significant amount of time learning about technology development, user experience methods, business analysis and interaction design. Our national team works as more of an experience design team that pulls together diverse skill sets to research, design, and develop holistic customer experiences. Ethnographic work in this case usually lives in the problem definition and customer research areas of the design process.Read More… Play nice: design ethnographer meets management consultant, an interview with Alicia Dudek from Deloitte Digital