Building Capacity as Applied Workplace Anthropologists


(bright instrumental music, Inspiration from
Pond5) – [Narrator, J.A. English-Lueck] This video is
a composite of interviews with workplace anthropologists who have conducted generative
and applied research in workplaces. Some of those workplaces
are in government, others in business settings. A few are embedded in those
organizations as employees, while others are consultants
in organizations, and their specific skills
may be in strategy, design, or innovation research, but all consider the range of
skills they learned to apply and the contexts in which
they apply those skills. These skills may be
specifically anthropological, but more often span multiple disciplines as they learn to work across
disciplinary boundaries with a variety of practitioners. They have learned the
value of anthropology and offer suggestions
for how to stay engaged as anthropologists. – [Elizabeth Briody] It’s often not up to the
anthropologist to make the determination about whether or not the organization will
implement recommendations that the anthropologist developed, or developed in
conjunction with the people from the particular organization. I think that is something that, it’s not a failure, necessarily,
of the anthropologist. The anthropologist may be inexperienced, or may not do the right
thing at the right time, but I think the bottom
line is that it really is up to the organization to carry through with the implementation. The anthropologist can be there as a guide, as a coach,
as a source of expertise, as a subject matter expert on best ways to get something implemented
given the culture of that particular organization, but in fact, it is, the implementation belongs to the organization,
not to the anthropologist. So, while we’d all like to say, “Gosh, every single one of my projects “resulted in a success,” in other words, the companies or the nonprofits
did what we suggested. That is very unlikely to happen. Sometimes, anthropologists
are called in to make a point that somebody in the
organization has figured out they need some data to
advance whatever case they’re trying to make to
their senior management. – [Amy Goldmacher] They, we want a survey
to measure something. You can’t accept that at face value. It may end up being the right solution, but the only way you’re
going to find that out is to take the time to
fully understand the issues they’re facing and ask them questions and make them answer it. It’s not just you taking the time, but getting them to invest
a little bit of time in understanding the situation. Why is this a problem? How do they know it’s a problem? Ask as many questions as necessary to fully understand, and
only then can you come up with a proposed solution to the problem, so I think that was, those
were valuable lessons to learn earlier on in my career, and it’s proven to be worthwhile, no matter if it’s unpaid time or not, it’s worthwhile to spend time
really understanding that to come up with the right solution. – [Thomas Robinson] You’re paid to make
changes in the firm, in the way that it
works, that the company, that will affect bottom
line type stuff, so. That I would say, and it’s also, there is, one, it’s an environment which is challenging in many,
many, many different ways, so will require different,
broad skill sets. Social competence,
communications competence, research competence, so depending on, on what kind of a firm
or what kind of a field, it could be lots of sort of
social interaction competence. You may be in multi, we
are here, multilingual, multicultural firms, I
mean it’s very, very fun, so, but somehow, the buzz has to be also in that challenge. It can’t, and that’s also
something maybe that’s true. If you, if it hurts to
throw away good ideas and good insights, then a business career is not the right one, ’cause you’re going to sort of
throw away an awful lot of them. A few will get through,
depending on how hard you push. A few, you can get a few through, but then it’s just lots and lots of stuff that you’ll just have to
somehow say, say goodbye to. So if the, so if that robs you of energy, then it’s probably a bad location. If the challenge, the
challenge of bringing that into, into structures and processes, areas of the firm that
have a sort of inertia, based on success,
hopefully, if that challenge gives you energy, then do it. In this position, I’ve been able to answer certain questions about the discipline, which were interesting to
me right at the beginning, even though I knew people could do, I knew anthropology was useful for doing product development, I still wondered, can
I take what I learned in my PhD, totally
different research setting, and apply that here and create value here? It’s very different when
you’re doing research, for example, with people
who have a lot more power than you do. Anyway, I was able to
answer that question, and then the second question was, can I take the skills and experience and background I have in anthropology and in other areas, but
in anthropology now, and create value not
just, like I said earlier, not just the product service level, but at the strategic level? Is that possible? That was sort of an
intellectual curiosity, or something related to the discipline, and so I’ve had a chance
to answer that question, so there’s been lots of,
it’s given me a chance to do, to answer questions, of
course, about myself, but also some questions,
some interesting questions, I think, about the
discipline, so it’s very fun. It’s been very fun. – [Stephanie Krawinkler] And I found a
traditional Austrian company, medium-sized, with 150
employees, and no relation to social science at all, and
I was not trying to disturb organization people
either, but I was there, ending up there due to a recommendation, and after the initial interviews, they agreed upon this quest of research and this adventure, and
they opened up the access and I spent five months in total over a period of one and a half years within the company as
a participant observer, meaning that I have the
full range of moments where I was only observing, to moments where I was
fully participating, so it was an electrician company, so trust there was something vital because if you could not
trust your fellow colleagues, you might end up, worst case, even dying due to a mistake that happened when you would switch off
the high voltage power, for example. And so, trust there was
of higher significance and so this was quite an
interesting organization to research in because people there had a notion of trust and an awareness, and so I was educated of how to lay cables and how to install subscription boxes so that I could really participate within the field, and I’ve
seen that with the guys building sites externally,
but also in the summer heat, which we have here in Austria, which can range up to 30, 35 degrees [Celsius], and by doing that, I was eventually
able to gain the trust the, in four months, that
I’m not just a hack scientist who’s there and watching them, but I, they kind of
found it quite appealing that I was putting aside
all my writing tools and put on my hat and doing whatever needs
to be done. – [Paul Thibaudeau] Today we were talking
about we were working on a project to look
at settlement services for newcomers to Canada,
and one of the two things that I pointed out is I
said that first of all, I said one of the things you need to do if you’re bringing people
through this process is that there are several stages where people just don’t
know what to do next. They’re uncertain. They’re basically in a liminal state, to draw on Turner and Van Gennep, and of course, as you know,
ritual processes, we use ritual as a technology to help people get through from one status to
another, to be separated, and then be reintegrated into society, and if you create those
touchstones for people, those periods of uncertainty
are still going to be there, but you feel less afraid
because you have a way of integrating that way of thinking, and when I brought that into the table, and then went, that’s how we’re going to, and they see that helps
us to connect the dots, and they got really excited. They said, “That’s why we
hired an anthropologist.” We like, and then that helped other people think about, and then we talk, and then so it really
kind of blends into that, and they’ve viewed my
anthropological experience and my research experiences
extremely valuable, as they view everybody’s experience. So what we do in the settlement, in the design challenge,
there’s been two before, this one is on settlement design, dealing with how we deal with newcomers, including refugees and
permanent residents in Canada, and how, what problems they encounter, and so what they’ve done
is they took from IRCC, they took from across the organization, from communication through policy, and from other branches, and they pulled these people together,
both from the head office in Ottawa, the Windsor
and Toronto offices, and Vancouver and Surrey offices as well, and brought everyone
together to do field work in Toronto, Kingston, and
in Vancouver, and Surrey in British Columbia,
and in all those cases, to help people from these
various parts of the organization to do field work to interview
service organizations, refugees, other newcomers, other people or organizations that work with newcomers, to see what people really experience, what people find that works really well, and what doesn’t work well,
what helps them move forward when in Canada, what holds them back. And that experience of
a week of field work was very, very emotional and very powerful because many people
heard very tough things, both about their government,
and about the people trying to make it in
Canada, and that experience, pulling together as teams, where people who even were each other’s bosses, nope, those titles are gone. We remove all that, and
everyone works together. Then they come back
and in the second week, we do analysis, and they bring
back what they’ve learned, and the big thing is they learn that government can be changed. Policy rules, they’re all made up. They’re important, but
they’re constructed, right? Almost everything about
human culture is constructed, and we can change it. Yes, it takes time ’cause it’s difficult, but it can be done, and so what that does is that it infuses this cultural change. Number one, the first place
where I saw it working was that when I saw people
doing the field work, people were hearing experiences, and some people, of course, were crying. They could feel it, they
could see their own children, they could see their own things, and they could say, “We can change this. “We’ve got to change this. “We’ve got to do something.” That I saw as a success
because, of course, as anthropologists, when
we engage with people, yes, we have to sort of
try to understand things and be a little bit
dispassionate, but we engage. The other time I saw them get it was when we went through all the analysis, but it was in the last
day of the analysis, the end of the third week, when they all acted out the scenario, so here’s what it’s like
when a refugee comes and tries to deal with
a service organization. Here’s our IRC acts, and
they acted out the roles of government and all those parts, and when they did that, they nailed it. They saw, everyone laughed, went
(gasps) all at the same time, they saw and they connected the dots. – [Alexandra Mack] Today, the elevator pitch
around it is usually, they are externally facing, so our customers or other businesses, so usually, I am, if I am doing research, it is with particular types of people in businesses that are
either our customers or that we would like to be our customers or have some type of work they do or behavior of that we’re interested in. That’s, both given me lots of opportunity to observe internal
things, and I’ll go back to a more recent project I was on, and I guess all of them are in some sense, under this broad rubric of innovation, but you start looking internally, and you, I was asked
by the product manager to do some additional research
around some of the concepts. Then he asked me to do stuff around designing end to end experience. Now, what I was really doing
was not necessarily trying to do complete customer journeys that we think of with
end to end experience. It was finding places
where stuff was falling between the cracks of, that either didn’t have
ownership internally, or the ownership was spread
across different departments in such a way that things
weren’t going to be done well, so I spent a good year
or so trying to finesse some ways of us doing some not, not so much the experience of the product, but how are you going to get help from within the product,
and that entailed, I’ve been choreographing
internal stakeholders and encouraging people to think about doing things differently, and it really exposed a
lot of internal workings in that way. The biggest thing to be thinking about, and maybe it has to do with
where I am in my career, I think there’s a couple things. One is, yeah, the academic
jobs don’t come out of the woodwork, but neither do these. So I’ve certainly, if
somebody’s coming to me to talk about the job because
this is their fallback from academia, I’m not
very interested these days. Even though there’s a lot of us who’ve been out for a while, who did come straight out of academia, not to say you can’t come straight out of academia, but we don’t want to see somebody who’s doing this because
it’s going to be hard to get an academic job. You want to see somebody
who wants to do this because they can show on their resume or interview that this
is what they want to do, and that they know what, and
that they can talk to why the skills that they have, what they’ve learned in their PhD program or whatever, so it’s very important to think about in terms of your skill set, and how that will translate
into this other world. And I do use skill set broadly, because another danger I’ve seen, and this has even been
saying maybe very involved in EPIC, in the EPIC environment, is getting overly concerned. I don’t want to say being overly concerned with being an anthropologist. Certainly, I feel like
some of my secret sauce is this social science
perspective I bring. There is a lot of design
researchers out there, they bring a fantastic other secret sauce. So understanding those skills
and understanding what, say, differentiates you
as an anthropologist, with social science
training, but to also be able to grow bigger than that,
that if you want to grow in your career beyond
being a user researcher, you have to then start to say, “How can I apply this in other ways? “What other skills do I
have beyond I can go talk “to people and really understand,” so I’d also encourage people to think what, how to grow beyond
being a user researcher. – [Kyle Jones] Last year and a half
or so of grad school, when I started really
diving into this field of user experience design, and
trying to build up my resume and a bit of a portfolio to land a job, I was diving feet first, right, and this whole, as much as I could, this whole industry, and things like that, and I’ve stayed in, I think
it is really important, because it’s kind of, I don’t know, for me, it’s a lot, you’re kind of, to kind of go back and understand, okay, well, what’s some of the theories or concepts that I can use? And like I said, just understanding how technology works in
people’s everyday lives, and things like that. There’s a huge need for anthropologists to contribute to those
discussions, I think. But at the same time, it seems like you can
easily get disconnected from this one and how concepts
and theories are evolving, so I actually, it’s, I
haven’t been to the triple As. In a few years, that’s
kind of like the hallmark of staying in touch with the discipline, and I think that’s part of it, too, is kind of the, different
roles you take on, right? You kind of need to get some experience and training and things like that and these other things, right? So I became, I did all these Scrum
workshops, right? For this software development methodology called Agile, right? So learning about these different, all these other different
kinds of concepts and methodologies that are out there, but at the same time, being able to still kind of
bring that perspective, I think, is really important. And I think the, a way
that I stay in touch is, yeah, talking with some of my colleagues and things like that, but then I felt, and a lot people I’ve
been talking to lately have been trying to
make the same transition from maybe an academic career or trying to figure out
what career they do want, and then once they kind of focus, find out how user experience design, I’ve been kind of talking with people through that as well, but
then a lot of the more… Kind of, kind of blog and
other kinds of social media, kind of writings that anthropologists are increasingly contributing. Since I’m not part of the university, and don’t have great access
to academic journals, that’s a problem, right? That I can really have very limited access to the newest books or journal articles that came out other than titles, and sometimes abstracts or sometimes, full access if it’s an open access journal or something like that, or
if you can just find a PDF on somebody’s ResearchGate page or something like that,
so that’s been a little, that’s been challenging to try, I’m trying to stay up to
date on a certain topic or trying to explore a new topic, so I think a lot of it
comes from those kinds of, more kind of popular kind of
social media blog articles like that. – [Kerry Fosher] One of the most important
things that I think young
anthropologists starting out, particularly in the applied
and practicing world, need to think about is staying
in touch with the discipline. That can be pretty important
for anthropologists considering any kind of
work, but it’s complicated when it comes to practitioners
and applied anthropologists. Staying in touch can be really expensive. Association memberships, even in SFAA, are pricey and once you
lose your student status, the cost goes up even when
there’s a sliding scale involved. I think it’s important for
junior folks to realize that it may be okay to take
a one or two-year hiatus from membership, but then they really need to start budgeting so
that they can maintain those connections, but I do
think it’s really important to have a plan over the first
five years of your career, for how you’re going to eventually build to the point where you
can start to maintain those connections. Otherwise, you’re going
to become disconnected. Your value to the organization that you’re working in is
going to diminish over time, and your ability to reach
out and get new information is going to be minimalized. So it may be tough, but it
is absolutely worth doing. (bright instrumental music, Inspiration from
Pond5)