Invitation to a discussion on the future of ‘EPIC Europe’

Dear Friends of the Barcelona Meeting and ‘EPIC Europe’,we have an opportunity now to craft a new organisation that supports our community and builds on the networking and knowledge sharing begun in Barcelona. So lets talk about our future direction. If you came (or wanted to come) to Barcelona or are someone  interested in applied ethnography in business or organizational contexts in Europe, please join the conversation on our future.We believe it is important to have a public discussion on our core mission and scope, particularly as in our own recent internal discussions two somewhat different views emerged.

What should our core mission be?
a. One view holds that our organizational focus should be on new ways of thinking about design and innovation and the changes that we want to initiate. This view recognizes that the idea of ethnography may be what motivates many, but is still interested in widening our future mission beyond a method and beyond ethnography.b. The other viewpoint, which currently is probably the majority, is that ethnographic ways of thinking and knowing are our current common denominator and glue and should be so in the future. This view also wants to explore the wider context of new approaches to design and innovation but with a primary starting point in ethnography.
In addition, what scope would be best to build our organization? Should it be globally oriented from the start? Or should it focus first on Europe and over time become global by aligning with similar groups elsewhere?
We invite your contributions to this conversation about the future of “the group formerly known as EPIC Europe” on our LinkedIn group site until October 20th.
We will summarise your thoughts and convene an online conference to move towards a final conclusion and plan for the future. In addition, since several of us will also be at EPIC 2012 Savannah we may be able to squeeze a short meeting in there.Once we have clarity we can continue to build a web platform and start working on a next meeting in the spring of 2013. But one step at a time – now join the conversation. We are looking forward to your contributions!The Barcelona organizers

No longer EPIC

Dear Friends of EPIC Europe, as organizers of the Barcelona meeting we want to inform you that our fledgling EPIC Europe network will no longer call itself “EPIC Europe”. The EPIC Board has asked us to not use the EPIC name and brand. Here is a statement explaining this request:

“Recent regional activities by groups in Europe, Asia and Latin America have posed the challenge for EPIC, which started as a conference, to define what EPIC is all about, where it should be headed, and how it should develop. Although appreciating these regional activities, the EPIC Board has nonetheless decided that for now EPIC wants to focus on the global annual conference and along the way take time to more fully consider the aims and implications of advancing EPIC in new and different ways. Therefore, the EPIC Board has asked the regional players to no longer use the EPIC name and brand. This is done in a friendly manner, with interest in future collaboration, and with the hope of broadening the overall landscape of ethnography-related activities, events and organizational forms.”

As the network formerly known as EPIC Europe we appreciate this request and will start a discussion on our future brand and direction soon on our LinkedIn Group (Epic Europe). Stay tuned.

The Barcelona Organizers

Buzzing interest and high energy at the first local EPIC meeting of ethnographic practitioners in business contexts in Berlin.

by Christoph Welter and Fabian Klenk

The evening of June 8th proved to be a surprise for many and a success for everyone involved – it was the evening of the first informal meetup inspired by the recent EURO EPIC event in Barcelona, and taking place in Berlin. The story had started with a tweet from Catriona Macaulay, one of the Barcelona co-chairs: “In Berlin June 8, how about an informal #euroepic meetup, reach out to people that weren’t there?”

So we thought, great idea, let’s run with it! And lo and behold: A mixed crowd of roughly 30 participants showed up on the night – from various backgrounds such as research, design thinking and consultancy, representing agencies, clients and academia, and ranging from student to experienced seniors. By the way: It was the night of another Euro kick off – that of the UEFA Eurocup… so not a bad turnout in terms of numbers.

Images of EPIC Europe Berlin Meetup

In fact: our call for participation (using Twitter, various LinkedIn and Xing groups and contacts to businesses and academia) reached far beyond current ethnographic practitioners and drew a lot of people new to, but very eager to find out more about ethnography in business contexts. Most of them had never heard of EPIC, but nevertheless had decided to join in.

We decided to collect some topics and inquire into what had brought everyone here (apart from snacks, drinks and football on mute in the other room). And it soon became apparent that our initial theme “Exploring the status quo, opportunities and barriers of ethnography in the business context” would turn into something along the lines of “How to define Ethnography?” and “How can it be helpful in a business context?”

 Or, to put it a little more bluntly, and quoting a planner and brand consultant present at the meeting: “I want to know if the buzz around ethnography is real or just a buzz”

Aha! The BUZZ! There it is again, that word – or, that feeling? The EUROEPIC event in Barcelona had certainly left us all with the feeling that there might yet be little consolidated practice, but great potential for the emergence of a fresh, eager and buzzing European scene around the topic of ethnography in business.

So, what’s happening there? Qualitative marketing researchers are increasingly questioning traditional approaches, design thinking postulates extensive immersion and – to hit the ball a bit further – one might argue that the fragmentation of reality into bite-sized info chunks thanks to the way we communicate these days, leads to a longing for a counterweight in the form of deep understanding of complex issues.

At some point during the discussion, the suggestion was made to break up into smaller work groups in order to explore some of the topics that people had suggested in more detail. Following a spontaneous whim, we assembled the groups randomly and left it open to each to choose their own topic… and interestingly, each team individually chose a variation of the same topic – namely an exploration of the essence of ethnography and its practical applicability in business.

And this is intriguing – experienced practitioners and newcomers getting together to say ok, let us not take ethnography for granted, but instead explore what it can mean for us here and now, from the perspective of academics, agencies and business practitioners. It was not just a debate club for ethnography beginners but rather a fervent discussion in the work groups that resulted in challenging and inspirational thoughts on the purpose of ethnography (e.g. ‘defragmentation of reality’) to the role of the ethnographer as ‘professional stranger’.

So – this is the beginning of something: The group spontaneously decided that they wanted to meet up again soon to carry on the discussion. A mailing list was created and a survey will help to determine which of the topics raised will be discussed in more depth the next time.

And as one of the participants said: ‘Why not also do meetups of this kind in other cities as well?’ Indeed, why not?

For more information about future meetups, send an email either to Christoph.Welter@point-blank-international.de or Fabian.Klenk@useeds.de. See you soon!

Report: First Berlin post-Barcelona Meetup surprised with high interest by newcomers

The local Post-EPIC-Barcelona Meetup in Berlin last Friday drew roughly two types of people: quite a number of participants were entirely new to ethnography in business and were curious to learn more, others had some experience and were interested in discussing more specific issues, from new technology driven trends of data gathering to questions of how to make ethnography work best in client projects.

The meeting had been organized by Christoph Welter (Point-Blank International) and Fabian Klenk (USEEDS°) as the first attempt to organize a more local meeting after the Barcelona EPIC Europe Meeting. Thanks guys! About 25 people came on a nice and warm Berlin summer evening. As we had seen in Barcelona, people here too had diverse backgrounds (despite the fact that the event hadn’t been published very extensively - but twitter seems to be doing a good job of spreading the word): researchers working in market research and in user experience contexts, strategic consultants, designers and service designers, and a few academics and corporate employees.
A bit surprising was perhaps (again) the number of people who were quite new to EPIC and to ethnography in industry contexts overall, and were curious to learn more. The other roughly half of attendants had some experience with ethnography and wanted to discuss a range of topics, from new technological trends of data gathering, to how to explain the usefulness to ethnography, to the challenge of a targeted data analysis – to just give a couple of example.
The easiest common denominator turned out be talking about some of the basics: what are key defining characteristics of ethnography and what are its strengths in delivering insights for commercial projects. A date for a next meeting was not yet set but participants agreed to stay in touch through a mailing list for now.
In short, the event had a nice, positive and engaging atmosphere. It was interesting to see how many new and diverse people came. While understandably for a first meeting, a more in-depth discussion on an advanced topic did not come together, future events will hopefully find a way to both serve the newcomers’ need to learn what ethnography is all about, but also to address the others’ interest in more specific discussions.
To get on the mailing list email Christoph <Christoph Welter <christoph.welter @ point-blank-international.com> or Fabian <fabian.klenk @ useeds.de>.
Heinrich Schwarz

Ethnography in Business Contexts, Berlin Meetup June 8th

Interested in learning about and discussing the potential of ethnographic methods in business or industrial contexts? Then join fellow academic and business ethnographers, user experience and marketing researchers, designers and design thinkers at our first EPIC (Ethnographic Practice in Industry Conference) Berlin meetup on Friday, June 8th 2012.

The meeting will be a very informal get together with two topics on our agenda:

Opportunities and barriers in applying ethnographic practice to business questions

In the US context, ethnographic practice in business is an established force in the research landscape. In Germany and Europe, we are not quite as far advanced – we want to take this opportunity to share and discuss what’s holding us back and how the future might be different.

Next steps: continuing the conversation and defining common goals / a shared agenda.

We will share experiences and impressions of last EPIC Europe Meeting in Barcelona and talk about what follows next. With Catriona Macaulay from the University of Dundee and Heinrich Schwarz from Hamburg we will have two of the Barcelona co-organisers with us.

Practicalities:
- When? Friday, June 8th 2012, 17:00
- Where? Point-Blank International GmbH, Münzstraße 18
- Do I get something to eat? Yes, we’ll have some food to encourage thought
- Anything I need to bring along? Yes, an interest in ethnographic practice

Please register for free until June 1st, so that we know who wants to join us: http://goo.gl/euX5U

We look forward to an insightful first Meetup!
Christoph Welter (Point-Blank International) and Fabian Klenk (USEEDS°)

For those of you who don’t know EPIC yet – here are some links for further information:

http://epiceuropenetwork.wordpress.com/
http://epiconference.com/

Closing Keynote

Here are title and short abstract of our Closing Keynote by Simon Pulman-Jones, GfK, UK, on the trend to “big data” capture, analysis and processing – a thought-provoking talk.

Digital panopticon and a new demos: inspirations for a European EPIC?

Early advocates for the use of ethnography by business had to campaign hard against companies’ reluctance to engage with an in-context, consumer-centred perspective on their products and services. Thanks in large part to the efforts of practitioners from within the EPIC community, and to other closely related consumer-centricity constituencies, many global corporations increasingly got the message during the past decade, and have striven to make consumer-centricity a driving principle. In many ways this has been a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Corporate consumer insights and marketing functions now seek to capture, penetrate and influence any and all dimensions of consumer experience, both through the industrial-scale application of ethnographic research and increasingly through direct engagement with consumers via online research and community platforms. Rapid advances in the capture and analysis of digital behavioural data promise to bring a further step-change in the penetration of consumers’ lives by corporations.

The conditions for the EPIC project have shifted considerably over the past decade. Is there now an opportunity for a distinctively European contribution to the EPIC project? Can European traditions related to the demos (the people) and civic society inform new perspectives on the digital relationships between people and corporations?