Observations from EPIC

The EPIC conference has been and gone for another year, and we’ve collected some of our initial observations on the most compelling presentations from this year’s show. Two concepts stood out to us straight away, the first of which is the notion of ‘hyper-skilling’.

Hyper-skilling is all about collaboration between different disciplines – something that’s at the heart of how we work at STBY. One criticism that’s sometimes made of interdisciplinary ethnographic work is that  it can lead to a kind of ‘deskilling’. This is where ethnographers change their practices in order to ‘fit’ with other disciplines to such a degree that what they do can’t really be termed ethnography at all.

We’ve tried to avoid this diminishment at STBY via the notion of ‘T-shaped’ people, where a persons deep expertise in one particular field isn’t compromised by the need to link this to others by diminishing differences; instead, a complimentary understanding of design research performs this linking function, allowing the knowledge from various disciplines to be shared – not fragmented. Hyper-skilling’ is similar in this regard, describing a set of practices – using a blog as collective ‘memory’, reaching a collaborative definition of insight at the outset of a project – which facilitate multi-disciplinary ethnographic work out in the field.

The second presentation that caught our eye was by a team at Ricoh, who introduced what they term ‘internal ethnography’. This was their attempt to address deficiencies with presentation-based knowledge transfer of ethnographic results. Again, this is something that we’ve also had to address: a powerpoint presentation in a dimly-lit room with a passive audience severely diminishes the resonance of even the most evocative ethnographic insights.

That’s why at STBY we always deliver results in collaborative workshops involving a range of stakeholders, and the approach of the team at Ricoh proved very interesting in this regard. Their study showed that when ethnographers work collaboratively to deliver their results, they end up going beyond simply identifying opportunities, and instead begin to feel like they have a meaningful role to play when it comes to keeping a company connected to the lives of its customers.

This once more seemed to match our experiences here at STBY, as we have seen first hand the role ethnography can increasingly play in organisational change management. The team at Ricoh expanded on this even further, demonstrating how internal ethnography within an organisation can be beneficial to understanding the capabilities – possibly partly hidden – that they have for delivering new services. Ethnographers could thus have a rule both formulating, and maybe even initiating, organisational change.

Interesting conclusions!

You can read a slightly extended version of these thoughts, along with some photographs taken at the event, on the publications page.