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The value of rapid ethnography


In the business world, time is a precious commodity and a tough master. Time is present either explicitly or as an undercurrent in almost every plan or business decision. For ethnographers working in such an environment, fieldwork schedules that once mirrored annual agricultural cycles now must align with the business quarter. While surely requiring tradeoffs, rapid ethnography brings the ethnographic perspective into organizations in a way that is culturally palatable and gives ethnographers a seat at the table. In a corporate setting ethnographers tend to act as the company's scouting party, to understand consumers' needs, to make sense of their evolving practices and to explain why those practices matter to the company's strategy and to the design of its products and services. This paper describes how rapid ethnography was used in three projects, each with its own analytic focus, methods, and lessons learned.


Isaacs, E. The value of rapid ethnography: three case studies. In Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities, edited by Brigitte Jordan. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press; 2012; 92-107.