The (not so) secret weapon: Just-in-time wisdom with ethnography


Date Thursday August 12th 2010
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

Technology innovation isn’t easy. Failure often occurs when the product or service doesn’t solve a problem or need, fit with people’s practices in particular contexts, or hold up against the competition as far as customers are concerned. And the risk is increased when innovating novel products or markets without precedents.

In these innovation endeavors, ethnography is our not-so-secret “weapon.” Undertaken at the right time, ethnographic studies can play a critical role by teasing out fact from fiction. New business decision makers, R&D heads, and product designers can then rely on knowing what their target users really do (as opposed to just what they say they do, or what we think they do).

At PARC, as in many Fortune 500 companies who innovate fruitfully, ethnography plays a central role whenever a future technology’s success depends on its being useful, valuable, and adopted. For many years, ethnographic studies have not only saved scientists and engineers from building expensive and useless technological white elephants, but they have also provided important insights towards differentiating products. In this talk, two of PARC’s social scientists will present a number of case studies from projects led, co-developed, or incubated at PARC.


Victoria Bellotti manages PARC's Socio-Technical and Interaction Research team at PARC where she also developed PARC's Opportunity Discovery research targeting methods and program. Victoria studies people to understand their practices, problems, and requirements for future technology, and also designs and analyzes human-centered systems -- focusing on user experience.

Best known for her research on personal information management and task management, Victoria has more recently been focusing on user-centered design of context- and activity-aware computing systems. Her previous work at London University UK, The British Government's Department of Trade and Industry, EuroPARC, and Apple encompasses domains such as transportation, process control, computer-mediated communication, collaboration, and ubiquitous computing. 

Dr. Bellotti received her Ph.D. in Human Computer Interaction from Queen Mary and Westfield College, an M.S. in Ergonomics and a B.S. in Psychology from University College, both in London . She is a co-inventor on 7 patents and 13 patent applications and an author or co-author on ~50 papers and book chapters, many of which are regularly cited by other experts.


With expertise in domestic and international work in ethnography, evaluation, planning, behavioral theory, modeling, requirement analysis, competency transfer, advertising, and public health, James Glasnapp manages PARC's Workscapes and Organization team. He is currently interested in how ethnographic observations of information flow in hospital and clinic settings during transitions to EMRs can facilitate improvements in work practice and streamline processes.

James has conducted ethnographic research in eight countries on a multi-national global account sales team to inform the development of PARC technologies that improve the way distributed teams will work in the future. Interested in technological innovation with respect to human interaction, James co-developed a model for human-display interaction with PARC computer scientists based on ethnographic observations. He motivates clients to look beyond the obvious and imagine future possibilities, and is inspired by opportunities to use ethnographic data to achieve process and/or technological innovation.

Dr. Glasnapp received his doctorate and masters degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also an award-winning educator. James is an avid competitive swimmer and hiker.

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