• Category Archives Blogs by Jennifer
  • A Rejuvenating and Inspiring Experience.

    I had the opportunity to attend a youth summer camp that the company I work for (http://www.uaii.org) holds every year in Big Pine, CA. The camp is for American Indian children (ages 5 to 17 years) residing in the Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Fresno areas and it is a week long. This is the second time I’ve attended, as I did attend last year’s camp as well, and  just like last year I was so inspired about the overall

    Summer Camp Participants!
    Summer Camp Participants!

    experience and specifically a couple different things.

    First of all, I was amazed at how you (or at least I) feel so very rejuvenated and inspired after spending that much time with our youth. By “our youth” I mean American Indian youth (I am also American Indian, a member of the Chukchansi tribe of Coarsegold, CA). I’ve heard various people claim that American Indian culture is being lost and will eventually cease to exist because of assimilation, however, after having this camp experience and seeing the efforts made in my local American Indian community…. I’m not so sure I believe that.

    The camp is great fun for the youth. Around 70 youth attended the first camp, and the second camp is going on as I write this and has about the same amount of youth. They participate in so many activities: horseback riding, archery, pow wow dancing, drumming, pinewood derby, and theater to name a few. Some elders of the Paiute tribe also came to sing some songs for the youth. But I believe another highlight for me was the farewell ceremony. A ceremony was held where adult staff and volunteers did a blessing, prayer, and sang a traveling song. The real highlight was two youth (around 8 year old male and female) sang a song in their own tribal language. These are youth that have been raised in the city, many experiencing difficult life situation… but it spoke volumes to me the pride and courage they showed singing in front of the crowd and the extent to which they knew a great deal about their tribal cultures. In addition to that, every person in the crowd shook hands with every other person at camp during the ceremony, and as I was shaking their hands I was amazed at how many young ones were able to tell me farwell in their tribal languages. It makes me sad to think American Indian tribal traditions are being forgotten over the years, but this inspired me to think otherwise.  It confirmed what I’ve been taught in school….cultures change. But in this case it may be changing but traditional practices are not totally being lost.

    I was also amazed at how well the youth listened. They were so well behaved for the most part and I believe that is because their interest was consistently captured on positive activities.

    I love how the young ones are sometimes so funny (in a good way) in what they say, and they don’t even realize.

    I’m doing a video documenting the experience so I’ll have to see if I can post it up here.

    j

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  • An HTS Debate

    An experience I’ve been meaning to share since the end of December concerns the Human Terrain System (HTS). Dr. Henry Delcore at California State University, Fresno, invited me to act as a judge for a class debate. The question of debate was, “Should the American Anthropological Association (the main professional organization for anthropologists in the US) discourage anthropologists from working in the Human Terrain System program?”

    The debate was part of their final requirements for passing the course, and I thought it was a new and interesting method of engaging the students. It was evident that it was also effective in getting the students to really research not only the HTS system, but also techniques and etiquette of formal debate. One reason it was probably effective is that if you weren’t fully prepared with a firm knowledge of the information, it would have been pretty embarrassing when it came your turn to speak! The students had excitement, healthy competition, and seemed sincerely interested in the topic and task at hand.

    I was very impressed because the student’s arguments were so good that I assumed that they got to pick sides ahead of time and that they chose the team that represented their own personal viewpoints. I found out after the debate was over that the students were asked their personal viewpoints ahead of time and purposely placed on the team to argue the alternative viewpoint! Kudos to the students for being so objective and convincing even when they were debating a viewpoint they did not personally support! In addition to this, I found myself constantly analyzing which team was in the lead, and I found that it swayed many times. In the end, the team arguing the negative came out ahead, but it was certainly a close call.

    One of many major points of arguments came when the team arguing the negative viewpoint said that the HTS system is a new program and therefore has the opportunity to make positive changes in our military and in reducing harm. They argued that it was up to those anthropologists accepting positions on the HTS teams to develop the HTS program into a program that is positive, transparent, and which upholds high ethical standards. The affirmative argued that this was not possible because of environment and situation, and due to the fact that the anthropologists would be associated with the military, dress in military attire, and would have to carry weapons. This, they argued, prevented the anthropologists’ ability to be seen as a neutral party. The debate went back and forth, both sides making strong points.

    I believe that activities like this are such a great way to capture the student’s attention and to get them really passionate about researching a topic. As a former and future student, I know that I am certainly more satisfied, excited even, when an instructor implemented new methods of graded activities rather than just sticking to the typical lecture, reading, examination routine. I was so impressed with the students’ excitement, I even found myself wishing to join the debate!

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  • Personas

    I had the opportunity to attend the 2008 EPIC conference in Copenhagen, Denmark last October. A hot topic there was the use of “Personas” in usability research, with the idea that it was an effective and quick way to communicate the results of the research to the client. Personas are fictional characters developed as a representative of the research subjects as a whole in order to identify the characteristics/patterns of the subjects and as a way to “get to know” the company’s “typical” customer on a more intimate level so that the company may make better operational decisions to fit the majority of their customer’s needs and wants.

    This was a somewhat controversial item because, in my group at least, half of the anthropologists disagreed with the effectiveness of a personas. The argument was that personas are just characters, and although they are developed from real anthropological research, they are still fictional. Those who supported this viewpoint suggested that the actual research data should be reported to the companies in lieu of persona (confidentiality protected of course). After all, why should someone make up a fictional person when real living people had been studied and could serve as [more valid] representatives? They believed that the clients should view the data of the real consumers in order to get the most effective results.

    I certainly understood the viewpoint of those anthropologists that supported presenting the actual data rather than a representative character, however, I personally support the viewpoint of the companies/researchers that use personas. I’ve heard, and although I have no first-hand experience with clients consulting with me for usability research, and from the explanations provided from the Copenhagen research companies I visited, I believe that personas are an important and effective mode of communication of the data from the researcher to the client. The reason I take this stance is that companies, and more importantly the executives with the ability to commission such research, usually have absolutely no time, or often desire, to read some long drawn report of findings or statistics. This is why they hire consultants to do the research so that they may gain the intimate understanding of their customers without having to expend their non-existent time researching it themselves. There are critical pieces of that data that they do need to take the time to review and I’m not saying they need not receive a full report of the research results, however, having a persona allows them to “get the point”, so to speak, of who exactly their typical target customer is and what their needs and frustrations are, in a very brief amount of time. And I believe the reality is that many of the executives will not read the full research reports because of time, disinterest, or other factors and therefore making the efforts of the whole project useless because without implementation it becomes only interesting [but operationally ineffective] information. As an Office Manager for a non-profit organization, I certainly understand, from experience, the lack of time available to do this research, even though it would significantly impact the quality of the operations or client services. Furthermore, personas are an easy tool to communicate research results to employees.

    As a side note, the EPIC participants were able to visit multiple that do usability/business research projects. Copenhagen has many of them and they are highly respected. The ones I visited did projects for the Denmark hospital system, police force, and a variety of other organizations. There was also a wide variety of company types/projects that these companies were hired to do research for. That says to me there is great hope for the future of this type of research.

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  • Copenhagen & EPIC 2008

    The end of the conference is nearing and it has been quite an interesting and educational experience for me. I even had photos to share of the workshop and venue but the free wireless access at the Copenhagen McDonald’s has an upload speed that is much too slow! I arrived in Copenhagen a couple of days prior to the conference and was able to see much of Copenhagen via the metro and train systems, walking, and in truly Danish spirit, I also rented a bicycle!

    I did not previously know very much about why Copenhagen was chosen as a venue for EPIC, other than a brief comment that one of my professors made about design being a very important element in the city. I had no idea how I would see this manifested. The moment I got off the airplane I began to see what was meant by this. The airport has beautiful architecture, the metro trains are comfortable with a stylish interior, and they were so easy to use that I quickly figured out how to get where I needed to go even though the ticket machines, signs, and everything else was in Danish. In addition to this, it is the little details found in public places that are clean, simple, and beautiful in their designs: water facets, tourist information centers, even trash and recyclable receptacles. It made me wonder why anything ever had to be aesthetically unpleasing or unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes it can be a matter of opinion but in many instances it can be easily measured. I immediately compared the comfortable, clean, stylish interior of the Copenhagen metro with a metro system I am more familiar with: the dirty, uncomfortable interior of the BART metro system of the San Francisco bay area which makes me cringe to sit or touch anything. It is no surprise to me that designers, ethnographers, and usability researchers have played a crucial role in many areas of Copenhagen’s public facilities, services, and strategies. This makes the city a perfect venue to support, highlight, and engage the spirit of the EPIC conference.

    Held in the beautiful University of Copenhagen building, the theme of this year’s conference was Being Seen: Paradoxes and Practices of Invisibility. A wide variety of research topics related back to this theme, each bringing an intriguing new element to the challenge faced by the researchers and ethnographers as to the methods needed to unveil that which was being hidden, or going unnoticed, or being unspoken. While the panelists, presenters, and artifacts were too many to describe with enough depth to truly appreciate here, a general idea of the discussions may be evident with the session topics which included: “Working and Playing with Visibility”, “Representation in Practice: Utilizing the Paradoxes of Video, Prose, and Performance”, “Navigating People and Praxis Across Space and Time”, and tomorrow’s session, “In sight on site; revealing and sustaining valuable knowledge for coroporations”. The proceedings of the conference are already available on the website: http://www.epic2008.com

    I was able to attend the workshop “Cut it out in cardboard” presented by Jacob Buur and Larisa Sitorus (SPIRE, University of Southern Denmark) which focused on different activities used with research subject or focus groups in order to inspire design and gain crucial usability information and data. Participants were asked to bring samples of activities that they themselves have utilized in their research. The most important thing that I took away from the workshop was that the limits are really endless as to the tools one can use in these research activities and creative activities or installations can truly create a safe environment which allows research subjects to step away from what they think they know about how something should look or work and really explore how the product, service, or system could work better for them. Among the tools used in some of the activities: play dough, video collages, materials to create “things” such as cardboard and post-its, and installations in order to gain natural reactions to a change in an environment.

    Unfortunately I missed out on the after-hours festivities such as the pub crawl due to a nasty cold that made my bed seem much more tempting than beer by the end of the day, but other highlights included tours to multiple Danish companies that work specifically in the areas of user research, usability, design, and organizational development. The panel session “Directors of the Future” provided entertaining scenarios, which created discussions about the future of ethnographic praxis in industry.

    In this brief summary I certainly could not discuss the activities in enough depth, however, I’ve found blogs from other participants about their EPIC experience. Since we had to make choices as to which companies to visit, and which workshops and sessions to attend, other blogs may provide a look at the workshops I did not attend. I’ve found one other but I’m sure more will surface:

    http://blog.catchingstories.com/2008/10/live-blogging-epic-2008.html

    I look forward to attending EPIC 2009, which has been announced, will be held in Chicago! Thank you to Mark Dawson and Ethnography.com for the grant to attend the conference. It has certainly been a worthwhile experience for me.

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  • Headed to Denmark…

    The EPIC conference is fast approaching and thanks in part to Ethnography.com I’ll be on my way to Denmark at the end of next week to attend the EPIC conference at the University of Copenhagen. I am excited and nervous about the trip! It is my first time traveling to Europe and only my second international trip. I’m excited because this is the first conference of this kind that I will be attending, and I expect that I will learn a lot about new and different ways that ethnographic research is being used, how people are successfully presenting their ideas and research, and of course I hope to learn a thing or two about the Danish. I look forward to being around creative and innovative people. Being in a creative environment always helps spark ideas in my own mind. I am nervous because travel plans just never seem to pan out the way they are supposed to! *knock on wood* After the conference I’m heading over to Paris, France to check out the sights there and to visit a friend who is currently working on her Masters in French History.

    I’ve obviously been a bit absent from posting on Ethnography.com so I guess a bit of an update might be due for those who were wondering. I graduated with my degree in anthropology and history in May, and have continued to work as office manager of a non-profit organization. I thought I’d have more free time after classes were over, but it has been one project after another! My latest project has been submitting my applications for a Master in Business program.

    I look forward to blogging my EPIC experience! If anyone else is attending please contact me!

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  • Anthropology & Business

    It has been an interesting experience becoming involved with entrepreneurship, business, and learning the do’s and don’ts of this type of environment in contrast to the skills and information I have learned in the social sciences. It seems as if there really are two vastly different types of thinking in these two worlds. I’ve come to realize that it is possible to learn the traits valued within each discipline and to ‘wear’ them when the situation calls for it.

    With the study of anthropology, we learn to be trained observers. We also learn to be careful about knee-jerk judgments in order to be sure that we’re seeing the entire picture (or as much of it as possible) and not simply placing our own opinions or values onto the others. The research process focuses on the importance of analyzing the data carefully and being sure not to draw conclusions that are unfounded. In business and entrepreneurship, on the other hand, quick decisions and risk taking are necessary. This field calls for constant innovation and a trial-and-error type approach in order to move the venture along as quickly as possible. More than one entrepreneurship teacher has used the slogan “If you are going to fail, fail fast”, and then move on to the next idea.

    Although these two different disciplines seem so very different, and in many ways are, common ground can still be found in some aspects. Anthropologists and business people must both step outside their comfort zones often and must be able to gain strangers’ trust. The anthropologist must gain the trust of his or her informants or research subjects, the business person must gain the trust of his or her customers. The anthropologist steps outside their comfort zone in order to submerse themselves within a completely new environment and culture, and are often confronted with beliefs, practices, or actions that conflict with their own values. The business person steps outside their comfort zone by doing what it takes to make the networking connections necessary for the success of their venture.

    Personally I have found it a valuable learning experience becoming so actively involved in another discipline. When I first began last September, I was only able to see the differences between the two disciplines. A much deeper understanding has evolved since I am now able to see the commonalities.

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  • The Importance of Mentors

    As somebody who is going through same major transitions in life, I’ve been thinking about how important mentors are in one’s life. I would bet there are very few people in this world who truly believe that they got where they are in life completely alone. As in my case, there are many different people throughout our lives who could be considered “mentors” because they’ve taken some of their valuable time and donated it to someone else’s well-being.

    Luckily, I’ve had many different people mentor me in a variety of environments and who continue to do so. I am sure that I would not be the same person without their guidance and I am always appreciative to those who reach out. I find that each one of these mentors bring valuable life experiences and resources with them, which, even by simply hearing their personal stories or experiences, help me to keep my mind open and see past potential road blocks. It helps to know, when things get difficult, that there are others who have made it through similar situations successfully and who have proven that the bar can and should be continuously raised. Mentors are not meant to make things easy or hand you an answer, but they can give you that extra little push, boost of confidence, or valuable resource that can make a difference.

    Although mentor-mentee relationships are often informal, with the mentor taking their own initiative to help their student in a time of need or uncertainty, an organized program such as the Entrepreneur Mentorship program at California State University, Fresno can also provide an incomparable opportunity to learn from others. As a participant of this program, I have had the opportunity to contact, interview, and learn from a wide variety of the Central Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. Each week one of these people offer their time to speak to our class about their successes, failures, and life stories. Through their stories, leadership recommendations, words of advice and encouragement, the students have collectively expressed, and I do concur, that a certain confidence is gained. The different lifestyles and level of success of these mentors seemed so foreign to most, if not all, the students in the beginning of the school year. As we edge closer to the end of the year and the class was asked to reflect on our experiences, it was unanimously agreed that it seemed as if the mentors’ willingness to share their stories and to allow us to see that they are human (through their experiences) and therefore not so different after all, has helped us along in our on-going transitions from students to teachers, dreamers to doers, consumers to creators, and from followers to leaders.

    Whether formally organized in an on-going academic program, a work relationship, student-teacher relationship, or other, the positive influence that a mentor can have can not be overstated. I thank all of the mentors in my life, your time and effort is noticed and appreciated.

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