Applications of anthropology seminar 2
Meeting user needs
Thursday 25th June 2003; ©Sarah Pink, s.pink(at)lboro.ac.uk
Seminar 2 was a one-day event attended by approximately 20 participants on 30th June 2003. Participants included representatives of the ASA, RAI, C-SAP, postgraduate students, freelance applied anthropologists, the MOD, DFES, Industry, development communications and academia. Its focus was on 'Meeting User's Needs': in short to explore the kinds of skills and substantive research needs of users of anthropological research and to consider where the gaps in existing networking and training provisions for anthropologists lie. The day was divided into two parts - the morning for presentations and the afternoon for workgroups and a final discussion session. In the morning presentations were given by Stella Mascarehnas-Keyes (Department for Education and Skills), Paul Collinson (Ministry of Defence) and Adam Drazin (Trinity College Dublin). In different ways each of these speakers spoke about their experiences of working as anthropologists outside academia in the public or private sectors, the sorts of research they had engaged in and the skills required for this. In the afternoon, working with ideas from these presentations, a list of skills (attached) that had been identified though an analysis of seminar participants questionnaire from Seminar I, and importantly, their own personal experiences, participants were asked to respond to a set of questions (attached) designed to inform our knowledge about the issues this seminar was based on, which were:
- Research and consultancy needs of users of anthropology: how might academic departments and researchers meet these and what networking and contact services might facilitate this.
- Workplace skills that organisations employing professional anthropologists require of their staff.
- Internships and linking projects such as PhD studentships.
- Training and updating anthropology departments might provide in current anthropological methods and theoretical developments.
Finally each work group presented the results of their discussion to the seminar and the day ended with a general discussion based on the day's work. Below is a summary developed from some key points made in the presentations, the findings of the work groups and the final discussion. This has been synthesised with data on skills from the Applications of Anthropology Questionnaire and some key insights from seminar 1. I should note that the ideas presented here are not my own but are collated from points made by the speakers and participants. Although it has been tempting to write this as a list of recommendations, at this stage this has not been my intention: my aim has been to represent the range of ideas that has emerged from the previous seminars as in-put into the discussions of the final event.
Research and consultancy needs of users of anthropology:
- There are many 'big' projects within public sector with large amounts of funding available but anthropologists never bid for these contracts. Bids are usually made by sociology departments. PhD studentships are often part of these projects and can provide a visual source of training. Anthropologists need to start bidding for such contracts.
- Organisations need to work with anthropologists with the ability to produce the best research available within the possibilities offered by the existing resources and timescale. But not necessarily the 'perfect' project that anthropologists in universities want to produce.
- The civil service privileges economic research, statistics and then in the social sciences quantitative followed by qualitative work. Anthropology needs to be promoted in the civil services, showing that it can provide the in-depth and in-context data that is needed in wider projects and that cannot be provided by the other disciplines. In such work anthropologists will probably collaborate with other disciplines.
- In industry anthropologists are needed (amongst other things) to provide insights that recognise actual practice and context (cultural, social, ethnic etc) in ways that quantitative, psychology and market research methods do not.
- In industry (probably also relevant to the public sector too) doing research means creating a product, whereas academic anthropology emphasises training and process. This idea of research as a product explains how research is disseminated in many organisations - as a 'commodity form'. In this form research can easily move through the organisation.
- To communicate anthropological research in industry or the public sector a range of methods of representation are needed, not written word ethnographic writing but visual diagrams, bullet points, tables, PowerPoint, photographs, multimedia etc.
- In organisations the value of ethnography is often measured in terms of time - there is a time/value trade off. An anthropologists need to convince the client of the added value they will be able to provide if given more time to undertake the work, rather than simply arguing that with more time you can produce a better ethnography as one might in academia.
- Public and private sectors are using visual anthropology methods in a range of ways: as visual ethnographic methods; for the analysis of images and visual cultures; and to present and disseminate ethnographic findings within organisations
- Research must have practical utility. In particular policy makers are hoping for predictions
- Evidence-based policy needs to have an audit trail behind it - particularly important in the public sector
- There is a growing demand for anthropology across government and in the private sector but anthropology needs to market itself better
- To respond to the needs of public and private sector organisations anthropology needs to define 'research and investigation' in a wider sense
Workplace skills that organisations employing professional anthropologists require of their staff:
Those provided by an anthropological training
- Academic credentials
- Experience of planning research
- Experience of doing fieldwork and research skills such as participant observation, interviewing and sometimes designing and administering questionnaires.
- Experience of analysing large bodies of data
- Anthropologists are not trained in the team work required but do tend to have good interpersonal skills, which they can build on for this
- The ability to develop in-depth project-specific knowledge
- The ability to generalise from micro to macro
- Anthropologists do not have business/public presentation skills but do have academic presentation skills and sometimes teaching experience that can be built on
Those not necessarily provided by anthropological training
- Teamwork skills and experience and work in interdisciplinary teams
- Project design and management (managing budgets, staff, and time) and producing research to cost, quality and time (doing depth analysis in short time frame)
- A broad familiarity with qualitative and quantitative research methods. Applied anthropologists need to be able to use a lot more methods than those provided in their anthropological training: surveys; case studies; action research; secondary data analysis; SPSS/NUDIST/AtlasTi
- Skills needed for working in organisations such as: decision-making within organisations; negotiation skills; working with a solutions focus; strategic thinking
- Report-writing skills and the ability to communicate information to non-academics in short, informative and easily digestible packages (anthropologists are not good at providing bullet points, but they do have the ability to synthesise complex information, which can be built on). Other forms of communication to enable the dissemination of research within organisations: visual, multimedia, exhibition (these are not conventional to academia as a whole but are central to visual anthropology)
- Anthropologists need to be able to provide information to a range of non-academic audiences including: powerful decision makers who have no background in the area they are working in; technical colleagues (scientists, engineers); policy makers; management; marketers, advertising executives. This often means being able to producing actionable conclusions based on research that can be directly translated into the agendas of (for example) policy makers, marketing departments or product development and design
- Further communication skills are needed to be able to extend this by promoting anthropology more publicly: media - TV and Radio - skills are needed so that anthropologists can play a greater role as public commentators in the media.
- Prediction skills: anthropologists are not good at prediction, but training in prediction involving an exercise that produces hypothetical answers could be provided
- Anthropologists need to be able to identify policy and/or design/development implications and communicate theses appropriately
- Outside the academy anthropologists need to be able to report on research on a continuous basis - not at the end, we need to be able to pull out implications earlier as the research develops
- Applied anthropologists need good networking skills whether employed in or outside an organisation in order to: gain new contracts; commission projects; raise the profile of anthropology within organisations and in the public sphere
- The ability to promote and 'sell' anthropology both to and within organisations: defining anthropology to clients, demonstrating the utility of 'the anthropological perspective', arguing the case for ethnographic research and being able to defend methodology choices.
Links and support
- There is much scope and enthusiasm for developing partnerships with academics within industry and the public sector (e.g. MOD)
- Joint PhD supervision is a possibility and already a reality in some cases for public and private sector
- Internships and PhD studentships are available
- The MOD has joint grant scheme with the ESRC
- Anthropologists within organisations already tend to work with their own networks of sympathetic academic anthropologists who they collaborate with
- Internships exist in the UN, MOD, FCO, NGOs and industry etc, and elsewhere but there should be more of these - anthropology courses should be structured to allow for more internship possibilities at undergraduate and postgraduate level
- Brunel has integrated placements into its undergraduate anthropology degree - we might learn from this
- There needs to be more support for freelance anthropologists - they might be working from home in inadequate conditions, their work might be irregular, they need to be able to make the initial contacts, find the business, and to learn how to work within a business framework.
- Support and links may be generated through mentoring systems, alumni, resources, databases, networks and contacts
- Contacts and connections may also be established through case study modules, placements and visiting practitioners
Training and updating anthropology needed by students and academic and applied anthropologists
- As yet academic departments have not taken on board providing training for postgraduates students: it has largely been provided by GAPP courses
- A UK Master's degree in applied anthropology should be developed. However there are some limits, as anthropologists in University posts don't usually have the background to provide this training.
- Anthropology could be promoted as a post-doctoral subject for people from other disciplines
- Summer schools updating in method and theory should be offered by university departments/academic organisations for applied anthropologists
- There should be more interdepartmental communication and cooperation for the provision of training (both for academics, students and anthropologists outside academia)
- Training is required for freelance anthropologists (and anthropologists developing consultancy work within academic departments); they need business skills to support them in developing their consultancy profiles; knowledge of competencies required by employers; training in processes for bidding and managing research contracts outsides academia; understanding of institutional structures and how to negotiate them;
- Media training is needed so that anthropologists can become competent public commentators (e.g. anthropologists need some media skills before feeling confident that they can adequately represent their discipline (and their own work) on tough TV programmes like News Night)
- We need to produce more positive messages about anthropology for public domains - are anthropologists really so bad at team work
- We should keep in mind that academic anthropologists also have to work in institutions, these are increasingly being run on a business model and academics, usually with no training are having to participate in this - for example in providing marketing materials for selling courses and giving recruitment presentations
- It is sometimes hard for anthropologists to demonstrate the contribution they have made to a successful project, but it is easy to show what a project has lost by not having an anthropologist: there are plenty of cautionary tales about - e.g. the Ashanti Stool and the Bosnia propaganda blunder: the job of the anthropologist can be to inform the client about people and their beliefs so that they will not accidentally be insulted. A good way to convince a client what they need an anthropologist is to contact them just after they have blundered so that they can the benefit of using an anthropologist next time.
- How do we communicate new theories or advances in anthropological research arising from applied anthropological work? We need more publishing outlets that will reach academic and non-academic audiences. For academic audiences Anthropology in Action is one outlet and the new Berghahn Book Series in Applied Anthropology (set up as an outcome of this seminar series) is another. We need to seek publishing outlets that reach wider audiences so we do not only preach to the converted.