Combining foresight and ethnographical insights

Embed: Mapping the Future of Work and Play: A Case for “Embedding” Non-Ethnographers in the Field is a paper by Andrew Greenman and Scott Smith which has been presented at EPIC 2006. The paper describes a very curious idea of combining an “ethnographic walking tour” with futures and foresight methods. The point of this is to improve and validate foresight exercises with direct observation.

we wish to explore the possibilities of how ethnographers might create spaces designed to encourage business decision makers to witness the sensemaking that is produced during ethnography. (...) Walking the city became an opportunity to experience the situated learning explorations ethnographers often make. The act of walking was critical for physically embodying participants in a milieu, rather than showing them a video or interpreting textual accounts. The rationale was to engage in contemplating what de Certeau termed the “ensemble of possibilities”, from which, individuals evolve “ways of operating”, as they navigate the constraints and opportunities of urban places (1984). Walking was presented as an opportunity to explore the city as an “archive” of culture (Donald, 1999, p7).

Here is how the process looked like:

Embed was the name given to a half-day walking tour, DVD and map devised to compliment a two day futures workshop in London. The event was held in June 2005 and focused on the future of work and play in Europe. Day one consisted of a workshop introduction to Futurist research. Participants were encouraged to conduct scenario planning. This involved synthesizing major trends and transitions which the Futurists expect will impact on work and play over the next 20 years in Europe. On the second day participants were invited to witness three “zones of change” in London to further explore, validate, or amend the views developed on the first day. The driving forces included the following; immigration, technology development, cultural values, economic policies and an aging population.

Why do I blog this? I found interesting this idea of combining an ethnographic approach with futurist consulting methods. Looking at the paper is also good to see how they organized it and what came out. Also, it is worth to check the PDF of the expedition "map" (5MB).