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Approaches to Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis

We were recently invited to speak to a class of entrepreneurship students about how anthropology can help students of innovation add value to things.  We suggested the following:

OBJECTIVE: To equip you with a set of inductive observation and analysis tools you can use to improve your entrepreneurship skills.

METHOD: Introducing you to “the ethnographic method” through a explanation of what we call, “ethnographic opportunity analysis”.

BACKGROUND: This approach builds upon “the ethnographic method“, “induction“, design generally and “design anthropology”.

More detailed background can be found in the following articles:

Jon Kolko’s sold out book has a great chapter on Interaction Design here

More of Jon Kolko’s can be found here (use the html version to get all the test)

A article from Interactive Design that I’m still tracking down

SELECTIVE ETHNOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS: Qualitative Modeling For Work Place Ethnography by Maarten Sierhuis

ASSIGNMENT : 1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”, 2) analyze your notes, then 3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found.

DESCRIPTION: Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to observe something that already works; observe it in great detail; then begin to understand it in such detail that you can make concrete suggestions about improving it.  In other words, rather than looking for how consumers COULD use a NEW service/product, the goal is to observe how consumers DO use a EXISTING service/product with the intention of looking for opportunities to improve or “add value” to that experience.


1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,

2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,

3. Suggest some sort of innovation that will add value to it.

The best observations will be published on this blogsite.
We will use the following to assess the quality of the submissions.

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