The value of rapid ethnography


Isaacs, E. The value of rapid ethnography: three case studies. In Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities, edited by Brigitte Jordan. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press; 2012; 92-107.


In the business world, time is a precious commodity and a tough master. For ethnographers working in such an environment, fieldwork schedules that once mirrored annual agricultural cycles now must align with the business quarter. In many cases, corporate ethnographers must practice rapid ethnography, conducting studies within weeks to a few months with a narrow focus aimed at informing technology design. While surely requiring tradeoffs, rapid ethnography brings the ethnographic perspective into organizations in a way that is culturally palatable and gives ethnographers a seat at the table. This paper describes three case studies of rapid ethnography in our organization (on parking enforcement, hospital nursing, and mobile communication), explaining in detail how we carried out the studies and the specific benefits provided.

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