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Ethnographic Methodology

Ethnography is a qualitative research method that aims to depict the culture of a people through participant-observation. Largely, this entails the anthropologist's direct engagement in a cultural milieu, the everyday observations of which are recorded as field notes. Field notes based on the anthropologist's observations are accompanied by semi-structured interviews and occasionally surveys to incorporate the variety of roles, activities and perspectives that make up the cultural phenomena under study.

Multiple methods of analysis are employed in order to understand the complex dynamics of building technological tools for communities from the ground up. Semi-structured interviews are a primary source of the data and information gathered in the process of building tools responsive to community needs. Personal interviews allow community members to voice their opinions and share their biographies in a safe space of confidentiality and empathic listening, while group interviews encourage collaborative storytelling about the community's origins and history, present issues and projects, and future visions and goals (as well as anxieties and fears). Focused discussions with community members are also a primary planning and implementation space, including sit-down brainstorming sessions aimed at raising issues and needs that could be addressed by our project.

Site: Oakland, CA


  • sudo room is a young hackerspace in Oakland, CA dedicated to transparency, social justice and the creative application of technology.
  • 510pen is an East Bay community mesh network, begun in 2009, that is being resuscitated via sudo room.
  • Oakland Wiki is a LocalWiki repository for documenting the infrastructure, communities, and history of Oakland.
  • The OpenOakland Digital Divide Group is a collaborative effort to coordinate the various organizations and individuals working on digital divide issues in Oakland.


  • Oakland Wiki meetups every Thursday from 7-8:30 at sudo room; history editathons every Sunday.
  • Mesh networking / 510pen meetups every Thursday from 8:30-10 at sudo room.
  • Upcoming OpenOakland Digital Divide meetups:
    • Thursday, February 7th at Sudo Room
    • Tuesday, February 19th at City Hall
  • Open Data Day in Oakland on February 23rd.

Other Methodological Approaches

Community-Based Participatory Action Research

Community-based participatory action research is a methodology that reorients authority horizontally, that is to say, the final product of community-based research is designed to facilitate alliances between local organizations that have vested interests in the community under study, rather than research designed to fulfill an institutional, governmental or corporate agenda. As such, community-based research tends to blend academic and activist agendas, ultimately producing something of value to the research "subjects" that is at once collaborative and politicized.

Conversation Analysis

Conversation analysis of group interviews will reveal the complexities involved in coordinating, managing, and delegating group activities and projects, as well as the communicative practices that shape decision-making and negotiations.

Actor-Network Theory

Recommended Reading

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