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Transferring Ethnographic Competencies to Subject Matter Experts (Workshop)
Conferences & Talks

American Anthropological Association Conference

17 November 2011
Montreal, Canada



In the 1970s, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center pioneered the involvement of social science researchers from anthropology and sociology in the innovation and design of technology and better ways of working. Historically, work practice researchers and members of the business consultancy partnered to engage in customer projects - a model under which researchers “hand off” their findings and data to subject matter experts who interpret them and implement a solution. Since 2003, Xerox has been engaged in an initiative to transfer knowledge about how to conduct ethnographically-grounded work practice studies to the subject matter experts so that they themselves may produce the kinds of knowledge traditionally generated by researchers. This workshop explores the traces, the tidemarks and the legacies of this growing trend to transfer ethnographic capabilities to subject matter experts who have no prior anthropological training. First, how has the transfer of anthropological methods created traces in the form of value-added capabilities in a variety of industries? Second, what kinds of tidemarks have been established organizationally by enabling subject matter experts to use ethnographic methods? And third, what legacy is this growing trend shaping in the landscape for anthropological work in industry? Two case studies will be shared to ground the open discussion: one describes how a center for fieldwork competence was established within Fujitsu Ltd., and the other details how a self-sustaining group of certified work practice analysts was established within a Xerox business group.