Anthropology and Technology: How Does Going For a Walk Relate to App Development?

ZoeBagnall
Published on February 10th 2020
A woman looking at her phone by the lake
Anthropology and technology don't immediately seem like topics that come hand in hand, but if you replace the word anthropology with humans, the relationship between the two might start to make more sense.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines anthropology as: "the study of the human race, its culture and society and its physical development."
As people's daily lives have become so linked with technology, working in the sector means thinking more about the impact of what you're creating on groups of people.
At Candide, we are continuously making changes to the app that are informed by people's experiences and by observing their journeys and behaviours.
A woman having her photo taken
Pippa, Head of Growth at Candide
Pippa, our Head of Growth arrived at Candide with a degree in anthropology. Having previously worked at The National Trust she's interested in how people navigate spaces in nature.
While observing people making their way around a National Trust property, she noticed how people move around the gardens and house in patterns. This might be determined by their age, whether they have a family or the reason they've visited.
She says, "People coming into a digital space is exactly the same."

Qualitative or Quantitative?

Ethnographic researcher, Chad R. Maxwell wrote in Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments, that "analytics is often focused on reporting, prediction, and modelling, but the human implications and meanings are lost on the audience."
At Candide, we want to analyse how people interact with our app without just relying on data. By directly observing their behaviour and language when they start conversations, we notice trends in the app without needing to study data. The qualitative information we find is often more insightful. When we see new trends we then put our heads together and discuss how we can encourage positive behaviour which is beneficial for the community.
At the moment, we have a group of users who are really into carnivorous plants. We haven't looked at graphs or numbers to find this out. We've just observed people's posts and comments in the feed.
A close up of a light
We've noticed carnivorous plant lovers in the app and we want to help them to build their community
We want to find out more about how groups like this would prefer to experience our digital space, so our 'socialising' team have come up with some questions about how they might want to interact within the community. For example, do people want to see more posts about topics they're interested in or do they want to see more posts from other people they interact with?
When we're testing some of these ideas, we'll use a process called MVP (Minimal Viable Product). This means rolling out a development quickly so that we can get feedback from people before making any changes.
We could do this using A/B testing (giving two groups of users different features) before comparing the engagement. Or, we could layer the changes and see if engagement increases.
We know that we can't just rely on traditional quantitative ways to understand users. A balance between the two seems to be the most useful approach. So, we often hold focus groups and interviews to find out the differences between how communities interact with gardens and spaces around them.
We've learned that there is often a bigger picture that technology can't always piece together for you. By looking through an anthropologist's lens, we remember to look outside of our technology at the communities we're growing.

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