Anthropologist Sally Applin on the automation of qualitative methods

Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. Anthropologist Sally A. Applin argues that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding of the ethnographic toolkit, and an over-reliance on the principles of Bauhaus, Six Sigma, and Science Fiction.

People are creative and prefer to take agency when we are trying to solve problems, cooperate, and engage with the world. The metrics-based ‘automated process’ pattern is building a world that will be easy to automate initially, but that may be—and already is in some instances—ineffective and potentially dangerous as brittleness and inflexibility increases, and human agency decreases, limiting our options and choices for problem solving and cooperation.

(Frankly, I could hardly recognise Experientia in Sally’s description of current practices within design firms. Luckily we are very different. And we are proud of that.)