By Brigitte Jordan
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Extra info for Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities
We as ethnographers can learn what we need to know about what work means and about how it gets done by tapping into the technology infrastructure where work is ongoing. With all these tools available to us for data mining textual, visual, and quantitative data, we no longer need to do participant observation to understand what is happening in any given situation. Another example helps to illustrate how conventional ethnography remains relevant in this age of digital data mining. In this recent case, a project team in a large automotive company relied heavily on their information technology (IT) infrastructure to do their work.
The new protocol helped team members make tacit knowledge about their own context explicit for remote team members, eliminating some misunderstandings due to previously unarticulated differences in context. It also helped them recognize the anxieties and pressures that were facing their colleagues in their different locations. Again, this story demonstrates that context does indeed still matter in spite of our rich virtual technologies. 32 / julia gluesing More similar conventional ethnographic work with different teams in multiple locations helped the ethnographers discover important common patterns in global teaming work processes as well.
People were sending and receiving email on their phones and using their phones for other important business functions as well. This pattern would not have been evident in analysis of the automated data. It was very important for the ethnographers to learn how email exchange was actually taking place—via smart phone more than via computer, as it turned out—so that team reporting could be designed for managers that would work on smart phones and not just on the desktop. The phone was central to the global innovation project man- the power of conventional ethnographic methods / 35 ager’s work, not just as a phone but also as a communication instrument to assist in pacing the work and integrating team relationships.