Ethnographic research in general is concerned with assisting technology development in various ways: by identifying technology shortfalls, discovering technology opportunities, generating requirements, evaluating technology, and so on. The basic premise is that if we have a deeper understanding of how work is organised in practice we can design support for that work more successfully. Ethnography comes in many guises, but the orientation of the XRCE team is ethnomethodological because we believe that this provides us with a deeper and more foundational understanding of work.
In practice this means that we do observational field studies, collecting various data: audio and video recordings, notes on our observations, screenshots, documents and other artifacts. We then analyse these to discover the methods by which people organise their work, and how they understand it and reason about it, with a special focus on the role that technology plays in those practices.
Ethnography is central to cooperatively develop ideas and requirements for technology innovation grounded in deep understanding of work activities. Based on this we concern ourselves with technologies that will need to operate successfully as a part of socio-technical systems in the real world, and as such we are interested in technologies as an element of services. Our development process involves ethnographic research, cooperative iterative development involving computer and social scientists and end user involvement throughout. As such we seek to develop technologies that are needed and fit well with the organisational processes and work practices of our customers.
Pioneered at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the early eighties, teams later formed at our global research centers. Research teams conducting ethnographic studies can be found in several of our research centers: PARC, USA ; Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE), France; and Xerox Research Centre India (XRCI).