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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Unfortunately, links to categories, pictures uploaded and permalinks to posts will be broken here, as Radio Userland has closed down.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
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Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Maggie Fox has a neat post on How Social Media is Changing Everything

"If you've ever wished you had the budget for a focus group, now you do. All that's required is reaching out to a couple of key individuals and asking them if they would be interested in testing your product or process and letting you know what they think, or posting about it, if they like.

Blogs in particular and social media in general can offer incredible insight for a relatively small investment (your time is another matter!). When I speak to clients about investigating a corporate blogging strategy, I often refer to it as "low cost market research", something Iím sure weíd all like to see a little more of!"

Belonging to the qualitative research industry, this resonates big time with me. Blog Influentials, in July 2005 had called blogs the 'market research of the future'. Again, way back in 2005 I had said:

While nothing beats face-to-face contact, blogs can be a great space to have conversations with customers - Scoble does it every day. In other cases, customers are the ones encouraging marketers to engage in conversation - SkypeJournal is a great example of heavy users of Skype providing constructive feedback both positive and negative, observations and ideas. They're even writing poetry in the form of a Skypku :)

Are marketers listening and engaging in dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Are marketing departments afraid of this? I think they are.

Blogs may be one such tool available to us - there are so many more that can reveal and understand the motives and the process of emergence in conversations as they manifest in conversations between marketers and users. I met Jim McGee in Chicago last year and we had a lovely discussion about how blogs might change the nature of market research and how the notion of oral culture in organizations might help explain the relatively slow take up of blogs in the firewall. From his post after our meeting :

"In the marketing research context, blogs are a disruptive technology. Instead of having to generate data by way of surveys or focus groups with whatever artifacts the process introduces, blogs provide direct visibility into customers. Instead of having to connect potentially artificial samples back to the actual market, now you have to filter real market behavior, interpret it, and make sense of it. That presents two challenges to market research functions. First, market research staff have to develop new skills. Second, management of market research needs to spend some quality thinking time what to do with access to this new kind of market data.

The opportunity that blogs introduce into the marketing research equation is to create the opportunity to identify and run multiple micro-experiments in the market. Those that succeed get the resources to scale, those that fail to generate some useful data are quickly shut down. There are challenges, of course, especially given how quickly ideas spread in a connected world, but that should be offset by the speed with which experiments can be identified and run. Worth thinking about."

Almost a year ago, I had recruited participants for some usability testing focus groups through my blog. Am now working with some clients, where we are building news aggregators of target audience blogs. And involved currently in a project where we are evolving a sms-blog research interface as a research tool for participants, in the Twitter convention. And we even have proof of concept now .. a recent article in the Economic Times talks of how blogs are boosting sales of bikes. Keeping track of blog conversations replacing traditional market research survey methods! Giving rise to a new breed of blogo-pologists and the field of netnography!

"What started as platforms to share passions and frustrations of bikers are now being tracked by corporates to fine-tune their offerings. Instead of tedious market surveys and data crunching, companies now get reviews within hours of product launch, courtesy blogs. ìThe first review of our latest Pulsar was on our table within three hours of its launch in Chennai thanks to bloggers,î Bajaj Auto VP (marketing-two wheelers) S Sridhar told ET. A dedicated team at Bajaj Auto now regularly tracks discussion-boards and review section of blogs and online biking groups and provides feedback to companyís marketing and product development group."

Much better than having professional respondents in a conventional focus group or unwieldy questionnaires which are filled up so superficially isn't it?

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Social discovery, presence, "party-line", RSS for people with not much to say, potential for use in saving lives during disasters, publish on the go, ambient intimacy (link found in a comment at Ross Mayfield's post on Moodgeist, Skype and Twitter IM Overlay], the future of presence, push technology, keeping track of yourself and friends, a false sense of "I'm connected", microblogging and Twitter-only blogging, group or public IM system, swarming and smart mobbing, blogging on 'crack' ..... these are some of the words I've been seeing associated with Twitter in many blogs.

Om Malik links to WebWorkerDaily which has come up with a list of eight ways Twitter can be useful professionally. More mashups and applications such as Twittervision and Twittersearch would be useful. Here's a wiki on Twitter with a listing of comments and views, user stories, mashups and applications, complaints and wish lists too.

I wanted to share some of my feelings on Twitter .. and how for someone like me, I'd like to use it. This post isn't intending to join the hate it or love it debate, rather, to explore and share ideas on what applications and areas Twitter could be used for.

Yet I find myself hesitating to put up too much there, and I began asking myself the question, should I? Like danah, I feel perhaps it takes a certain type of personality to use it. While I enjoy reading updates from some of my closer friends, I find myself wondering whether people would really be interested in what I am eating or doing or feeling at different points in time during the day. My close friends may be, and its making me re-evaluate and 'select' and 'choose' friends more carefully than I do with other social networking sites. For fear of spamming those that aren't in my close circle.

I'd love to have layered messaging at Twitter .. where my messages can be sent out to a few folks, likewise, I receive messages from a few too. I couldn't be bothered to set up private groups for this .. I'd like that control with me.

I'd also love to be able to bring it into my own space, my social network, my own blog, rather than use it as a stand-alone service. I'd like to marry content I publish along with the 'what I am currently feeling/doing' stuff, rather than scatter them across URLs.

Twitter for me, unlike blogs is not so much about conversations. Its more about keeping in touch, or as Liz Lawley says, its about stories told between updates. Then, I do get these updates on the presence or status messages of my close friends on what they are doing, and where they are on my IM clients.

Although I come from an SMS-friendly culture, I had to turn off Twitter from my mobile phone ... I was getting too many updates there at odd hours of the night, and I often found myself not even reading them. Its also a pain to delete them all.

Then there's a practical problem .. I'm not sure how much I would be charged for an outbound Twitter SMS from India. So I find myself preferring using the IM client.

Still it has a strange fascination for me. Like Andy, I feel it could be a powerful tool during disasters.
Its also got the potential to increase sociality in groups of people working together. .. a virtual office or project space.

I also see it as having lots of potential as a research tool. Set up a private group, get real-time voices on a subject or topic. In fact, I'm currently launching into a qualitative research study with a client where we are experimenting with an SMS-Blog gateway to collect real-time updates and answers to research questions among a segment of youth ... and a private group on Twitter would have been just ideal, except the participants would be unwilling to pay for international outbound messages. I'd much rather get responses from participants in real-time, and within the framework of where they are and what they are doing than a cold questionnaire or a forced group situation. Add MMS to it, and you get much richer data. More agile and much cheaper than doing ground ethnography. With the potential to get large numbers in too for statistical validation for a quantitative research exercise.

I'd love to know, what areas or applications you feel it would be useful for?

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

.... has been a great year for me in many ways. Rob, in a recent post, wonders:

"2007 - When enough people leave Plato's cave?
I wonder - Will enough people leave the cave and experience the sunlight to cause a Tipping Point in 2007? Will Life 2.0 take hold? I think so!"

I think so too - and its not just me - I think I had left the cave a few years ago. The nice thing is I see I am not alone in the sunlight - and people from all spheres of life are beginning to see. Clients, friends, family, acquaintances and so many unknown faces that are beginning to bask in the same sunshine. I have been guided by some, have guided others - and still found my own little spot.

This year has brought a certain convergence in my 'traditional' qualitative research work and blogging and social media. More of my research work is in the area of tech and social communication - mobile phones, software development - and I've been able to use my research skills and marketing experience in bringing about workshops on how brands and companies could build communities through conversations that empower their customers to infact become their marketers. And, as in the last few years since I began blogging, much of the new and exciting work is coming in because of my blog connections. I really am looking forward to engaging in more of these conversations and I've already got some projects lined up for 2007 that are exciting.

Looking back on 2006, I thought it would be nice to do a recap (even just for myself) on how its unfolded - and give thanks for all the people I've had the opportunity to meet, and for the projects I've worked on this year, the conferences and unconferences I have attended.

It started off with the Brand 2.0 workshops I conducted with Stuart - thanks Vamsi from Starcom and Rajeev at Western Union for trusting us and giving us this first opportunity. More Brand 2.0 in 2007.

I attended BlogHer earlier this year in San Jose - a wonderful experience.

Thank you Liz Lawley - for inviting me to the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium in May.

I've also been so fortunate to be part of a pure Open Space Meeting coordinated for NPR by the amazing Rob at the New Realities Forum in Washington DC in May. The agenda was set completely by participants - if I remember right, there were more than 300 participants. However, it had a core theme - a very clear objective - and was really well-organized in terms of a lot of care taken in figuring out the venue, the rooms, making it easy for people to navigate through the free-flowing structure, and run by a real maestro in Johnnie Moore, who Rob describes as "an exemplar of calm courage and astonishing presence" which is a really perfect description of Johnnie. Thank you Rob - and Page and Dana from NPR, for allowing me into this amazing space you have created and for trusting - we hadn't met face-to-face until then! A picture named blogcamp.jpg

I was part of a large team that helped organize BlogCamp India in August - here are my reflections

The other area that my blogging has taken me into is activism of sorts - which started in December 2004 with the tsunamis blogging efforts - and this year, we formed collectives and groups to battle internet censorship and help out when we had the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai. Here are some links: MumbaiHelp blog and wiki. The Bloggers Collective was formed and we fought against blogs being banned, against censorship, and demanded our right to information.

A picture named kh2 (1).jpgOn research projects, I've done some interesting work for Unilever this year - have spent many days in rural India, facilitated a creativity session for one of their product groups, and I think (I hope) managed to sell them the idea of doing Brand 2.0 workshops :). I'd also say here I have thoroughly enjoyed working regularly with Pat and Lizzie at Social Solutions Inc and Gerald Lombardi at GFK-NOP through whom I've enjoyed working with Dean Gaylor, Chai Ki Lim and Sharon Asker at HP, who had come down to India. Also through SSI - I've done work for Kraft.

Some of my new clients this year - Nicole-Anne Boyer, a colleague from Worldchanging got me to do a learning journey and a few sessions with a bunch of French retailers here in Mumbai. Smita Pillai and Sanjay Gupta of Vistakon for whom we did a study, where we merged approaches from ethnography and more traditional motivational research. In November, Stuart Penny and Jude Rattle from Flow Interactive UK contacted me through my blog, and I did a small study on cell phones for them.

Its all paid really well - and most importantly has been a lot of fun! Thank you all for making this year a really fun and productive one.

For me its also been a year of change - with joys, frustrations and disappointments too. Many many thanks to my family and friends for supporting me through a really busy and somewhat difficult year.

End of mush :)

Looking ahead to 2007:

  • More Brand 2.0 workshops where I'd like to involve more collaborators and facilitators. Am currently talking with Euan Semple about a possible series in April this year in Mumbai.
  • A fall-out of the Global Voices Online Summit and a meeting with the awesome Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala- has resulted in the setting up of a pilot outreach programme in rural India where the objective is to get a person from a village to prepare a story about any aspect of life in his or her village every day (25 days a month) and post it.A picture named Smalldina123.jpg
  • Developing further on my series of cultural insights and trends
  • A consulting gig for an MSM publication in India that would like to go Web 2.0. This would include research as well.
  • I'm going to be in Indonesia for 10 days beginning Jan 20th to facilitate the Open Publishing Track at Asia Source II - Free and Open Technologies for NGO's and SME's. This is an initiative of the UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme.
As I bring in the New Year at my place in Khandala ... I count my many many blessings :). A very Happy New Year to all.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Stuff that's caught my eye recently:

  • Delete Your Bad Web Rep - bad idea I think .. we leave traces of ourselves when we put ourselves online. Against my belief in transparency and the open web. There's always good and bad .. and to hide the bad .. hmmm .. paranoia?
  • Alec Saunders on creating a meme through blogging:

    "In 12 months time, we've managed to insert an idea, which now has apparently a ton of currency, into a very old industry. We haven't relied on large marketing budgets, or heavy lifting PR campaigns. Instead, using just blogs and conversation, we set out to cause a change that would produce an environment that would be more conducive to our success, and the success of hosts of other companies like ours.

    And that, my friends, is why blogging is powerful."
  • Computing, 2016 - What won't be possible: "The new social-and-technology networks that can be studied include e-mail patterns, buying recommendations on commercial Web sites like Amazon, messages and postings on community sites like MySpace and Facebook, and the diffusion of news, opinions, fads, urban myths, products and services over the Internet. Why do some online communities thrive, while others decline and perish? What forces or characteristics determine success? Can they be captured in a computing algorithm?

    Social networking research promises a rich trove for marketers and politicians, as well as sociologists, economists, anthropologists, psychologists and educators. "This is the introduction of computing and algorithmic processes into the social sciences in a big way," Dr. Kleinberg said, "and we're just at the beginning.""

  • Am enjoying playing with Twitter and iLike ... first impressions - both are really easy to use, and fun! Twitter is amazing .. am currently experimenting with an SMS-Blog interface on a research project and I see lots we can do with a Twitter-like application. I see lots of potential for online campaigns and disaster information/relief as well.
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Wow .. this is just fantastic.  The folks at Savage Minds have set up an open access wiki on anthropology journal articles and papers, and have created a discussion list and IRC channel for those interested in anthropology to hangout at:

Learn about the issue
openaccessanthropology.org is now up and, while it's still very much a work in progress, it is the best place to go for an overview of the issues - and will get even better as we all help grow it.

Sign up for updates
There is an Open Access Anthropology group which people are using as a mailing list - you can sign up today to share your ideas or just keep up to date with what is going on. So far the list is not very high-volume, so you won't be drowned in email if you sign up.

Join the conversation
We've started an IRC channel where thereís been a fair amount of chat about OAA (although really it is just a place for anthropologists to hang out in general). It's #savageminds on irc.freenode.net. If you are unwise in the ways of IRC just go to IRC at work type in a nickname, for 'server' put irc.freenode.net and for 'channel' put #savageminds and then you should be good. If you are looking for an IRC program, we recommend GAIM (PC) or Colloquy (Mac).

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Friday, November 3, 2006

A picture named virtual dna.JPGNow gathering information from your customers gets more interesting than the usual boring survey formats!

A bit Western-centric in its options ... still, I had fun checking out MSN's Discover Your Visual DNA test ... which uses "technology from Imagini, a "web-based tool that captures the visual preferences of consumers". Discover Your Visual DNA is a personality test with a twistÖit shows how your choices compares with thousands of other people. There are some hidden gems of consumer insight in all of the sections (ex: my travel, my style, my lifestyle)." [Chris Portella at Three Minds]

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I discovered and enjoyed a series of qualitative user research reports by Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase, who takes some amazing photographs and blogs them with observations at Future Perfect. [link via Chetan Kunte via Adaptive Path]

Interesting to read about informal repair cultures in India and China ..

A picture named Nokia_RepairCultures_vFinal-thumb.jpg"What sets these locations apart from cities in more 'emerged' markets? Aside from the scale of what's on sale there is a thriving market for device repair services ranging from swapping out components to re-soldering circuit boards to reflashing phones in a language of your choice , naturally. Repairs are often carried out with little more than a screwdriver, a toothbrush (for cleaning contact points) the right knowledge and a flat surface to work on. Repair manuals (which appear to be reverse engineered) are available, written in Hindi, English and Chinese and can even be subscribed to, but there is little evidence of them being actively used. Instead many of the repairers rely on informal social networks to share knowledge on common faults, and repair techniques. It's often easier to peer over the shoulder of a neighbour than open the manual itself. Delhi has the distinction of also offering a wide variety of mobile phone repair courses at training institutes such as Britco and Bridco turning out a steady flow of mobile phone repair engineers. To round off the ecosystem wholesalers' offer all the tools required to set up and run a repair business from individual components and circuit board schematics to screwdrivers and software installers."

Not so different from what I had described in this series on culture of business in India.

And more - some observations and insights into non-literate communication practices - wow - this is a staggering fact -
"Everyday many of the 800 million non-literate people in the world use phones and mobile phones to communicate."

"We noted that textually non-literate users of public call offices often took a scrap of paper with a phone number scrawled on it to the owner and asked them to dial the number. This system is open to errors caused by inaccuracy, either because the number was not clearly transcribed, or simply because the paper on which the number was written was worn and faded from being carried.

User interface designers often talk about the user's mental model of a system, and how it maps to the reality of how a device actually functions. It is typical for designers to use metaphors such as the 'desktop' or 'soft keys' to support the building of an accurate model. Textually non-literate users will not have access to textual cues, so their mental model may well be poor. Whilst a poor mental model is not a problem within a limited range of (rote learned) tasks, if and when errors occur users may adopt the wrong strategies to correct the problem. Designers use a myriad of audio, visual and textual cues to support the user's understanding of how the mobile phone works. Literate persons are able to quickly absorb (and subsequently ignore) this textual information and apply the knowledge in practice. A positive outcome reinforces their understanding of how the system works and helps build an accurate mental model. Textually non-literate people are required to make assumptions for the textual prompts based on how the device responds to their actions. A plausibly positive result is sufficient to believe that is how the system works regardless of how well it maps to the actual system."

A picture named mobile-essentials-02-thumb.jpgThere's also a brief report on 'Mobile Essentials - Field Study and Concepting' (download paper, 0.4mb). The paper introduces three interrelated ways to understand human behaviour - centre of gravity, point of reflection and range of distribution.
"The second idea is the Point of Reflection - the moment when leaving a space when you pause current activities turn back into an environment and check you have the mobile essentials. Typically this involves looking at the Center of Gravity, sometimes tapping pockets, sometimes speaking aloud. Not seeing the objects where they are supposed to be (the Center of Gravity) can be a sign that they are already carried."

Great stuff ... and no wonder then that Nokia is always stretching the boundaries of mobile phone usage in India. All images here are from Nokia and Jan's blog ... thanks for sharing these reports and observations ... it is is not what most 'corporates'
believe in or do.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

This is the last in the series of Cultural Insights for doing business in India. Just wanted to say these observations are based on learnings over 18 years of doing qualitative research in India. It's interesting to see how some things have changed, while others remain constant, over generations.

Part 4. Technology Perspectives

  • Technology adoption doesn't always follow trends in the West
    • India is leapfrogging the PC stage - cell phones are becoming our gateway to the internet
    • From no cameras to cam phones - digital cameras are being squeezed out
  • 4.5 million cell phones are added every month, 95 million subscribers in March 2006, 200 million projected in 2010; landlines a little over 50 million
  • Most turn off power to hardware when not in use to save electricity, and avoid power surges due to fluctuations. Less of an 'always on' perspective in India.
  • Belief that cost of technology is dropping - so no point planning purchase in advance.
  • Little DIY - cheap service is available
  • Assembled goods and second hand goods are freely available from the grey market
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  • Upgrading is not a natural habit - the average consumer is not tech savvy, and technology products are usually used until they break. (Exception being cell phones, esp.among youngsters as they can be a status symbol).
  • Upgrading often needs to be driven by buy-back/replacement schemes offered by
  • Choice of brand and model often made by price/discounts/deals
  • Celebrity endorsements rampant for tech products - playing on image and low role of product or features
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  • Trend towards 'all-in-one' gadgets - e.g. cell phone + camera + mp3 player. PCs play multiple roles, for instance as the household DVD player, communication medium, gaming system, etc.
  • Trend towards laptops which is the fastest growing segment - costs dropping, mobility, status associations are key drivers.

The complete series:

Part 1. Culture of Business, Service and Consumption
Part 2. Attitude towards Rules and Regulations
Part 3. Value for Money Equations
Part 4. Technology Perspectives

Many thanks - to all those who have commented and linked to this series of posts - I love the conversations around these issues - keep them coming - and I will add my two-cents shortly!

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Continuing the series on Cultural Insights from India ...

Value for Money Equations

  • The Indian phrase is - 'paisa vasool' - equivalent to 'bang for the buck'
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  • Indians don't mind spending large amounts on premium cars, cell phones, big houses, land, etc.; but it should be visible and overt to all. For instance we buy the latest technology equipment, but 'squirm' when we have to pay for software.Software is assumed to come free with the machine.The worth of the software is 'intangible'- others can't see it, and Indians don't understand what they are paying so much for. Regular software like Windows, Office, etc. comes free loaded with every machine (usually pirated). Indians also buy pirated CDs for as low as $2 rupees. The attitude is, why pay when it comes free. If you pay for standard software you are a fool.
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  • We will buy the most expensive box of mangoes for hundreds of rupees but will haggle with the vegetable vendor over a 2 cents reduction on the price of potatoes.
  • We will happily spend $9 rupees on the movies for a family of four, but complain bitterly when the 'cable guy' wants to raise the fee for his offering of over 120 channels from $6.5 to $9 a month.(Only when there is a cricket match on TV, would we be willing to dish out the money!)
  • We pay for a DVD player, but balk at the price of a DVD, buy cars worth $6600, but stop using the authorized service center after the first 3 free services.
  • We religiously sell old newspapers and magazines, and even empty bottles and plastic containers every week, in order to recover even a little of the money spent buying them.
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  • We are accustomed to squeezing maximum value out of products and services - we don't often replace appliances until they break, and always expect that little extra from the banker or vegetable vendor.And the service culture dictates that we are used to getting it.
  • Size matters - when buying gifts for others people like to buy things that are large in size. My field guys always tell me that gifts to respondents must be large in size - and prefer giving a large ugly flower vase, for instance, over a more tasteful and equally expensive smaller vase. Brides are laden with layers of gold jewellery, even though that discreet diamond pendant she really wanted to wear was more expensive. This does not apply however to computers, printers and cell phones where small is expensive.
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This is the second in this series, the first post on Culture of Business, Service and Consumption is here.

Attitude to Rules and Regulations:

  • No rule is absolute, everything can be worked around, finding loopholes in regulations is perceived as smart
  • Paying hard earned money to government as taxes is considered dumb.
  • Attitude towards wealth - Goddess ìLaxmiî resides in your house in the form of wealth; if you please her and are attached to her she will flourish, if you let her "slip through your fingers," she will desert you.
A picture named consumption6.JPG
  • Bribery is rampant everywhere: from acquiring a birth certificate to getting into a good school - it is 'commission,' almost like a service charge paid to the concerned person for doing your work
A picture named consumption8.JPG
  • This type of approach to rules and regulations has deeper cultural roots; Brahmins had to be paid 'dakshina' - fees to conduct rituals to invoke the gods, they were 'brokers' to reach God
  • Indians paid 'lagaan' - taxes in the feudal system, which went first to the Rajas and then the Moguls and British
  • Hierarchies are important to Indians - but at the same time, knowing how to work around them and the system is considered smart and right
I'd love to have your adds on this series ... examples, insights, anecdotes would all be wonderful to read and collate!

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Monday, June 12, 2006

My colleague Shubhangi and I put together some cultural insights on a recent project for an International Client. I thought I'd share some of these on my blog ... obviously, any reference to the Client's product has been removed. These are our views, and while, by no stretch of imagination are complete, they try and hopefully go beyond what your Business Etiquette manuals tell you about doing business in India :). Guilty on the images that are all 'stolen' off Google images and Flickr.

I'll be doing a series of posts on these:

  • culture of business and service
  • culture of consumption
  • attitude towards rules and regulations
  • value for money equations
  • technology perspectives
Here are the first two in the series.

Culture of Business and Service
  • Business is not a means of livelihood; business is life
  • The relevant God or philosophy is Krishna the pragmatist, not Ram the idealist. Krishna holds the philosophy that there can be several versions of the truth. Advocates running from the battlefield, in order to be alive to fight another day
A picture named consumption4.JPG
  • 'Juwari ramto bhalo, vyapari bechto bhalo' - the wisdom for the gambler is to keep playing, the wisdom for the trader to keep selling
  • Profit & loss are momentary things, if he stops plying his trade because of some loss he will. Thus even at times when profit margin is low they believe that to keep doing business, is life
  • Reputation and positive word of mouth are critical for success - and most transactions are done on this basis. Manufacturer speak comes second.
  • Indians are very enterprising in their approach to business and service . For instance, in summer in Delhi, people set out little carts selling cool water for 2 cents a glass. Or you can get any service delivered home - even vegetable vendors have cell phones today and deliver vegetables to the home
  • Indians also have a 'chalta hai' attitude: nonchalant, 'anything goes' - fatalistic Indian philosophy - because you cannot control your destiny, you go with the flow
Culture of Consumption
  • Traditionally business in India has been 'give & take,' and NOT 'the customer is king'. The customer had to accept whatever level of service was offered. Increasingly, however, service is becoming a powerful differentiator - products and organizations that enable 'any time, any where' service are valued - with a powerful tool being the cell phone. A picture named consumption3.JPG
  • Indians are NOT in the habit of 'DIY' - for the most part, consumers in India would rather someone else fixes things. Labor is cheap and abundant, and skilled too, without the formal qualifications.
  • Critical mass is important - Indians as customers tend to be followers by nature - there is comfort in buying products that are tried and tested, and friends and family know.
  • Always on access and personalized service is important for customers in India. The prevailing attitude is that "I'd rather call up my local photocopy neighborhood store and get 'acceptable' quality with great service (with pick up and drop off) than go to an impersonal large store to get it processed." Here are some visiting cards I have of my local cold storage, vegetable vendor, grocer, chemist, photocopier, furnishing store.
    A picture named consumption2.JPG
  • As customers, Indians have multiple touchpoints - there is almost always a cheaper alternative, and haggling is a rite of passage!
A picture named consumption.JPG
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Sunday, April 2, 2006

"One thing remains constant about our humanity - that we must never stop trying to tell stories of who we think we are. Equally, we must never stop wanting to listen to each other's stories. If we ever stopped, it would all be over. Everything we are as human beings, would be reduced to a lost book floating in the universe, with no one to remember us, no one to know we once existed" - Ruth Behar in an article called Ethnography and the Book That Was Lost

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Or web-ethnography. Corporate India analyzes content on blogs and online forums as a form of research:

Recently, Nokia India, through its research partner AC Nielsen ORG MARG, conducted web-ethnography (webnography) based on blogging sites and online discussion forum to get a feedback on its fashion series models.

ìBased on our findings of our regular market research on the fashion series models of Nokia and insights on youth, we tried to validate it with the qualitative research conducted through the content found on online blogging sites and discussion forums,î said Anjali Puri, director, Winsights AC Nielsen ORG MARG.

ìLargely the findings were validated and that too at a much lesser cost. So, now we are taking the research methodology of webnography to other clients too,î said Puri.

Through web search engines, the research firm used a simple methodology of finding relevant content in a natural context on online blogging sites and discussion forums. As these contents occurred naturally on the web, it was real consumer context as opposed to the contrived/constructed contexts of focus groups used in qualitative research.

After the content was collected, it was processed through the regular marketing research methodology. Then the respondents were identified and informed about their opinions expressed being used for analysis. But there were no questionnaire put up before them to maintain original views.

The pilot project research conducted by the research firm validated Nokiaís earlier findings on the functionality of its mobile phone model 7260 and 7280. Similarly, webnography also validated youth insights such as growing social consciousness found in earlier research. Ruchika Gupta, consumer insights manager, Nokia India said, ìWebnography could work as an early warning system and identified issues can be further taken forward for traditional research.î

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Charu is sick of Focus Group bashing, and feels, Don't Shoot the Messenger!

It's a debate that's been going on for years ... its funny .. I feel a little caught in-between ... as I do more and more ethnographic research, I'm getting less fond of focus groups. Still, traditional FMCG sort of clients rely heavily on focus groups as their preferred method, and I work with many such Clients.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Clients and Researchers don't really look at these tools as data collection tools but as ends in themselves. How many times have you heard the brand manager or the account planner say ... we've done the 'mandatory' focus groups. Both researchers and clients adopt one or the other method, depending on their own comfort levels, rather than the requirement or need from the project.

Focus Groups are a bad word among many anthropologists and ethnographers ... and Ethnography is seen as the latest hyped buzzword by many motivational researchers. It's about hybridization and we need to be flexible as researchers in adopting these tools ... I remember during a recent project that involved Ethnographies, there came a point when I felt a couple of quick focus groups might help our understanding of an issue ... luckily the Client, although a workplace Anthropologist, felt the same. We did them, and they added lots of value to the Ethnographic Study.

I'd rather think of myself as a Qualitative Research Practitioner or Consultant ... than a focus group moderator, or an ethnographer !

Tags: , ,

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Just read an interview with Ken Anderson, Manager of People and Practice Research at Intel. Two things he says that struck me as interesting, given that when I go to meetings and say I'm a qualitative researcher and ethnographer, people still wonder what or who an ethnographer is :

"Ethnographers function more as the canary in the coal mines... We're actually better at decreasing the odds of failure than increasing the odds of success. We can say, 'Warning, warning! A 44-inch box is not going to fit in kitchens in China. Don't go there.' We know where people in China feel their technology belongs, because we understand their values about the home. And we also know the physical constraints - you're just not going to fit a 44-inch box anywhere in anybody's kitchen. And if you do, they're not going to care because it's just for display. In urban China right now, technology is all about display. It's not about hiding it in the kitchen."

and ...

"Anderson still disagrees with the suggestion that ethnography ëhas hadí an impact on corporate culture. ëI think ethnography is having an impact on corporate culture. I still go to meetings where people say, 'What is ethnography?' And I go to other meetings where they say, 'Why should we care about how people live their lives?' I think that's still part of the change that's yet to happen.' But the future looks good, both for existing ethnographers and emerging hybrid ethnographer / project managers."

A picture named kitchen.JPG

Just to illustrate the first point he makes, try asking a housewife in a group discussion setting to describe her kitchen and then identify needgaps. And compare that with actually visiting her kitchen, taking photos of it, and then in that context, asking her some questions - its a whole different dimension that is open now. The picture here is from a middle income household I visited in Mumbai on a study. I've added it here with her permission.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Since today seems to be my day of linking, I thought I'd also shoot out this list of things that have caught my interest recently ... many are from bloggers I read regularly - Nancy for instance is a huge repository of resources. I've bookmarked many of them with Furl too.

Conversation as a form of social inquiry - emerging out of Goethe Kaplan.pdf (application/pdf Object)
The Individual is the new group
From Push to Pull

Some of these links are sooooo Web 2.0 ... yeah I know, I know many feel its just a buzzword or marketing hype. But I'm really ok with the term, it's easy on the tongue, it is more of an attitude than a technology, a renaissance. And, it is easier to explain 'social software' to the uninitiated, with some help of course :). . Jory des Jardins, in a comment here says :

"2.0 encapsulates both optimism and caution. It applies logic to illogical impulses to connect, share, and inform. It pulls the collective experience of kids straight out of college, with older folks (like you and me), and corporate older, older folks who are ready to move beyond the rules that have guided their careers. 2.0 seems to be this point of convergence. "

Web 2.0 sort of stuff I found myself playing with last week:
Face Recognition - My Heritage

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe

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Friday, November 25, 2005

I've set up a Bloglines account for the Global Consortium at Social Solutions on an aggregation of feeds around ethnography, anthropology, usability and user design and experience and some other feeds I thought might be useful. You can access it here. I leant heavily on Lorenz's hard work in setting up the Antropologi feeds :)

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nancy blogged my session - I enjoyed talking about the blog we set up for the Pitney Bowes project. I did run badly over time and wish i had had more time to talk about other social tools like VOIP, wikis, tagging etc that would be so useful for global projects of this nature.

I also discovered all full papers are available at the EPIC 2005 Website (pdf file).

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Using photographic data to build a large-scale global comparative visual ethnography of domestic spaces: can a limited data set capture the complexities of 'sociality'? Simon Pulman-Jones - GfK-NOP

This is a study I had done the India portion of the ethnographies through Social Solutions, and it's great to see how it was all pulled together.

"Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" Clifford Geertz

The survey is a visual documentation of consumer homes over 240 households in 12 countries, on an ongoing basis and is a multi-client. First start with a mapping of global consumer "value profiles along dimensions of Fun, People, Power and Tradition. Value segments that have emerged - creatives, fun-seekers, strivers, altruists, devouts, intimates. Interesting, altruists and intimates drop and strivers increase perhaps due to the economic boom in India and China.

The VSDS (Visual Study of Domestic Spaces). To do conventional ethnography would have been prohibitively expensive, so visual ethnographies were done. The study covered nine functional areas - food preparation, consumption, relaxation/leisure, sleep, "center", personal hygiene, home office,motor vehicle, maintenance. The images were coded then. They allowed an illustration of quantitative findings and data.

"the photograph in anthropology is as much a means of discovering information as it is of presenting that which has been founf ... a locus of dialoguing rather than as a source of information in itself." The value of the image in ethnographic fieldwork is here precisely in its intermediary

The value wasn't just in illustrating quantitative findings, but to reveal new things and throw up new hypotheses. The primacy of the visual data perhaps was different than what would have been achieved through narrative articulation of participants.

Risks - it can pull people out of their more social contexts, falling into the trap of physical spaces and material objects becoming the defining the individual.

Questions : does what you do become archaeology instead of ethnography? At what point in the process does this distinction happen? A - The method does have similarity with archaeology, and what we attempted to do is work with the virtues of that reality - that we don't have representations of narratives and experiences. We probably have a lot to learn from looking at archaelogical practices.

Q - what do you personally find most challenging working with data sets like this ? A - its a real challenge to abandon one's normal facility with manipulating narrative data sets. Recognise there are skills and knowledge sets in analysing visual data.

Q - mystified by what you did - there seemed to be a lot of information there that wasn't in the photographs - how did you get the detailing around the pictures? A - researcher notes.

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Jo Pierson, Bram Lievens & Pieter Ballon, Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication (SMIT) Interdisciplinary institute for BroadBand Technology (IBBT) Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Talking of e-paper project -- which is a handheld reading device, using e-Ink technology. How can a living lab setting based on ethnogrpahic principles be used in Sociality. A living lab - is TEP - test and experiment platform. Early in innovation process, and facilitates design. Characterisitics - the use of natural user envt, multi-methodological approaches and ethnographic methods.

Phases of living lab -
1.Contextualisation - desk research with broad focus, technogical and socio-economic scanning. Hoovering, picking or selection criteria that solves the lack of clarity between the 'who' and the 'what'
2. Concretisation - initial measurement - fixed components like demographics and ICT adoption and usage, and variable components - reading profile and news consumption. Then simultaneous and phased introduction.
3. Implementation - Spotting and Digging - Direct analysis - more technical analyses and now ethnographic methods being incorporated too. And Indirect analysis - focus groups, in depth interviews, self-reporting techniques
4. Feedback - Matching phase - ex-post measurement - survey methods, identifying changes in user behaviour, and to look at changes in the level of social structure and motivations, so recommendations can be made in an iterative process.

The value of this approach :

Individual company -- helps to structure 'fuzzy front-end', multimethodological approach, sociality and unpredictable uses thrown up, and how this all affects home, work and on the road life. At another level, when looking at a cluster of companies, you can assess pre-competitive setting and work better to systematic innovation.

Question - What pitfalls in the project ? A - how to define a living lab, and how to select cases were challenges. Also how to combine and link together quantitative and ethnographic methods.

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Brinda Dalal & Pat Swenton-Wall, PARC Inc. & Xerox Corporation.

Spirit of Gift in Business - how does it emerge in business settings, and what rewards as a result. They speak of ethnography in Service Encounters. How it transforms the scope and definition of our work. Evolution of Methods and Tools - visual representations connect better. Portfolio consists of a library of icons in a graphics toolkit. They are even being used in ways the developers hadn't envisioned.

Conclusions ... representations help put people back into the forefront. They embody a common referent that be shared by the customer and employers. They provde more than expected on behalf of both the customer and the companies we work for.

Update: I met Brinda in the hallways ... and she asked me weren't we together in Sociology class at St. Xavier's in Mumbai, and I must say I didn't initially recognise her, and then suddenly I had this vision of this beautiful girl with long flowing hair, always in loose kurtas, interesting earrings, and a wonderful smile.  And she was right here, shorter hair, and more 'corporate' looking, but still the same eyes and smile :). It is such a small world !

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fieldwork and Ethnography in Design - The state of play from the CSCW Perspective

Dave Randall, Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Mark Rouncefield, Department of Sociology, Cartmel College, Lancaster University & Richard Harper, Microsoft Research Cambridge

We are rushing in all sorts of ways in our lives. We are confronted with a world that disagrees with us.  Other ethnographers work differently than us - and it is their right.  Different people do different types of work.  Some positions :

- Anthropologists have no monopoly on ethnography

- The body-politic of ethnography - some are disciplinary, some are nascent

- The kind of chaos and possibilities it throws up

We need to grow up and face the fact that if corporate life has funded ethnography for the last 20 years, we have to recognise that ethnography has become a hybrid - some may agree with some methods, others maynot.

With this powerful introduction, the speaker took us through CSCW .

He shares case studies that reflect that we cannot define fieldwork because we dont have a particular analytical tool anymore.  They are emergent tropes, they are interdisciplinary.

The foci in CSCW is design but in a broad encompassing way.   Let it emerge.  I AGREE :).  Its a good message for all practitioners.

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Nina Wakeford sets off the session on Methodology with a discussion around Us vs Them - academia and workplace anthropology.  Interesting perspectives - I enjoyed her talk.

Methodology - ways of surviving experience models.  Methods are just not for others - but resources we can draw on ourselves.  We can begin to engage in different ways.  She talks of subjective realities and false objectivity.

"The term traditional ethnography makes me shudder, as much as the term family tradition does" - got a big laugh from the audience.

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Jeannette Blomberg in her summation of the workshops yesterday talks of the notion of hybrids  - Hybrids are here now.  "In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse and in daily practice we find outselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras" - Donna Haraway

She ends her summaries with a call to recognize our hybrid subjects and hybrid identities - and celebrate our commitment to the ephemeral, situated orderliness of everyday practice.

One-minute summaries of the workshops from convenors :
 - Business Ethnography for BoPs (details here)
- Working the Process - Anthropological Approaches to designing and evaluating organisational work processes - focussing on the relationship between work practices and sociality in the context of global workplaces.  Unpacked the process of work process. Many issues related to crossing boundaries and many stakeholders involved.  Conclusion - study of work process needs to be trans-disciplinary and there needs to be language developed for sharing work and results.
- Object Sociality - Researching Living things - How we could conceptualise objects in terms of being social with them.  Looked at some Marxist traditions and theories that address this.  Shared personal stories and observations around this.
- Collaborating across social, organisational and disciplinary distances - The focus was to address how can we do better collaborations, and what challenges.  Design game using video clips were reviewed and make sens of the work, and pulling themes  out.  Then drew maps.
- Holy Hanging out - exploring spirituality and religion in an organisation. The boundaries between culture and religion aren't to broad - we need to study them and communicate them.  Have public conversations about them. Is a huge business opportunity.
- Distributed Sociality - doing online and offline work --- started by preliminary remarks on background, distributed people on three tables and asked them to get to know each other. Issues -- how to get informed consent from an avatar, whats happening to participant observation as we move from offline research as we move to cyberspace. 
- The Sociliaty of Fieldwork - a conversation that spiralled and scaled to a lot of things --- what happens when you see people cry - start off by listening then counselling, how do ou explain truth in different contexts, recruiting people like dressing up like a hedgehog, how do you explain
- Defining the Impact of physical spaces on social interactions - there was diversity in the group, and how we could still think together.
- Framing ethnographic Praxis for Innovation - co-developed ideas around the Innovation space.  Theories of innovation, how is it constructed, how do people participate, how do we engage in it. Co-developed a visual model to begin to map out the space.

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Nirmal Sethia starts by framing the agenda, with a Peter Drucker comment - "Business is a social organ". And then attributes the genesis of thinking around BoP to C.K. Prahlad. He shares his ideas on Business Ethnography - there is much excitement but little experience - three sorts of traps --- greed, ignorance and glamour.

How can Business Ethnography help .... to help businesses steer clear of the traps. Slave of greed - engine of growth, victim of ignorance to vehicle of innovation, captive of glamour to agent of good. An important partner in all this is Design.

We need to be sensitive to improving the lives of the poorest populations with our products and services.

The ultimate user-researcher is Gandhi ! "He understood the masses and the masses felt understood by him" Kamla Chowdhry. Having more versus being more.

Goals for today .... to start a conversation on the Role, Value and Strategy for Business Ethnography for the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Jeff Smith - who has spent 28 years in product design and development takes the discussion further. Talks of ethnography adding a dimension of "conscience-ness" to business strategies and decisions.

Darrel Rhea CEO of Cheskin - Innovation through Research in Underserved Markets. Business ethnography facilitates design processes, and design is about creating value for human beings. BE - therefore is the search for value. Value lives in the experience of users. So the question is what are the most highly valued experiences? They are those that are meaningful - in the sense that it helps provide a sense of value for you as a human being. Levels of value differ .... economic, functional, emotional, status and identity and at a deepest level, provide us with a sense of meaning. Stickiness is higher at the level of meaning.

Traditional market research methods work well for commodities,goods and services, but are weak for experiences. That requires a sense of cultural context. So what is meaning ... we require an explanation of the world to help us decide to act. Meaning provide's a contruction of reality. Which provides us a view of the world or framework for understanding what we value, believe, condone, desire. Its the sense we make of reality. How we tell the story of our lives ... we live for them and sometimes die for them. We need to listen to people's stories.

Historically, the constructions of meaning have been shared through religion, govts, family, mass movements for instance. In the modern world however, the construction of meaning is becoming more personal - the value of govts or religion are being broken down for eg.Markets are devolving into niches as well.

Case study - Patrimonio Hoy - very interesting case of how the cultural practice of the 'tanda' (rotating credit association) was used as the platform for Cemex.  Reminded me so much of the ITC e-choupal project which is resulting in a sustainable improvement - economic and socio-cultural - in the lives of farmers in India.

Erica Seidel, Pitney Bowes talks of the ethnographies we conducted in India, and shared lessons from building a BOP Business for Pitney Bowes and the India Post. And the challenges having started the project very broad and unfocussed, to the challenge of making a business case for value propositions, to getting favourable responses from the senior decision-makers at India Post.

Great Question --- What lessons can you bring back to the top of the pyramid from your experiences at the bottom of the pyramid.

We then had a short break and split up into two groups, to discuss Role, Value and Strategy for business ethnography for B2C and B2B organizations.

Some of the issues thrown up at these sessions that reflect role, values and strategy :
- can a framework be developed within the bottom of the pyramid markets rather than imposed from the outside
- do we need to look at B to C (business to collectives rather than customers) and B to G (business to government)
- the need to look at formal and informal structures
- not much research available on these markets through traditional market research - the need for ethnography
- business considerations - palatability by using the right terminology when selling it within your organisation, applicability across markets, translating it into a business model, how do you get buy-in from your organisation
- distributing vs generating wealth, listening, learning, serving
- entrepreneurial traits, creativity and flexibility - to be able to assert solutions on the fly
- what's the starting point, and the need to engage local thought leaders early in the process

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I hear you Nancy ! I'm a practitioner, and there maybe some great stuff here .. but it's all lost on me, as I am not engaged to listen.

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Have met some bloggers at EPIC 2005 - Steve Portigal, Simon Roberts who I bumped into in the hotel corridor, and who recognised me from my blog, and Nancy - who I missed at BlogHer and am thrilled to see here at EPIC. She's blogging this conference LIVE.

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Grass roots campaigning as Elective Sociality (or Maffesoli meets ësocial softwareí): Lessons from the BBC iCan project - Stokes Jones, Lodestar

Am excited to be listening to this paper ... Lee Bryant had spoken of how he used social tagging for the BBC at Reboot7. .

Pre-history of the project :
- record low turnout in 2001 British elections
- quantitative research showed - apathy among voters widespread

The original brief : develop a unique interactive community in which people can make a difference in civic life. To participate in democracy.
Focus : Biased towards the local, and biased towards action.
Why research : belief that the site's success would depend on how well it met campaigner's needs.
Research focus : defining iCan's space - grassroots campaigners.
Methodology : indepth incontext interviews and capaign office tours, gathering oral histories of specific campaigns, etc
Deliverables : results expressed processes, priorities and needs of campaigners.

The Questions for the iCan system conceptual model : what is the journey between being a passive user and an active user ? A : iCan is the journey - using online journals and blogs among other things.

Conflicts : need for concept testing - unsung moments needed to be supported on the site - needed communications tools, a campaign blogging tool. Designed a prototype to be tested among target audience - 5 campaigners and 5 sympathisers - asked them a battery of questions and user journeys. Result - its too ambitious, it looks more difficult than campagining actually is. Only one thought the website would encourage them to start a campaign. The bias towards 'comprehensiveness' needed to be re-thought.One of the big learnings was that what they ended up with was a one-stop shop -- and that was overwhelming.

The problem - research had perhaps ignored this - "experiencing the other is the basis of community" Michel Maffesoli. Campaigners were getting something out of the community, far beyond the primary objective of campaigning. They threw back to elective sociality - unite and divide based on community affinities, which is voluntary, affect-based, about strong ties and based on local ties.iCan protocols then supported this model.

What a story !

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