One of many posts on my Readiness Assessment. As a reminder of the ground rules, this is a solo assessment, so while I’m allowed to think out loud on my blog, I can’t ask for or get (intellectual) help. Cookies and emotional support are, however, welcome.

Let me try tackling a smaller question first. What's the relationship between RTR and ethnography?

The answer I came up with last night surprised me. I used to think "ooh, I'm doing an RTR study, I'm doing ethnography!" And then I realized that none of the RTR projects I was doing were ethnographies; they were all narratives, focused on interviews, focused on the stories individuals were telling about their lived experience. We might use ethnography as a way to spark the unspinning of those narratives -- an ethnography can give you a dataset for people to bring their various lens to, a launching pad, a common thing that affords conversation. (Clearly I need to articulate what the hell an affordance is.)

(Okay, clearly I need to read about phenomenography more. Maybe RTR is actually an extension of that paradigm. I'll look into that when I write about RTR as paradigm.)

Ethnography happens before RTR begins. It is how we figure out the techniques and practices of transparency that are then employed in RTR projects. It happens before the RTR project. It's the groundwork that's already been done by every anthropologist or sociologist who's ever studied a Free/Open Source/Culture/Content project -- what do these people do? How can we do it too?

Let me try to follow the thread of my thinking here. It happened when I read Chapter 15 of (Creswell, 2008):

Q 473: Ethnographic designs are qualitative research procedures for describing, analyzing, and interpreting a culture-sharing group's shared patterns of behavior, beliefs, and language that develop over time..

Q 473: You conduct an ethnography when the study of a group provides understanding of a larger issue. You also conduct an ethnography when you have a culture-sharing group to study - one that has been together for some time and has developed shared values, beliefs, and language. You capture the "rules" of behavior...

(Forgive my messy citations. They'll all snap into place in the final paper version. If you want a specific full citation, just ask in the comments and I'll add it in.)

RTR is good for looking at unstable boundaries -- where old cultures are blending and mixing, where new people are being initiated into that blend and mix, where everything's topsy-turvy. Where those shared values, beliefs, and languages are still emerging. We can't write about "the way things are" because they aren't there yet. (Actually, it's good for creating unstable boundaries. It's a monkey wrench you can throw into the works to see what happens.)

(Yeah, you can see my thoughts here are still maturing.)

We can use ethnography to look at the (stable!) cultures being blended before we blend them -- if we're looking at creating a ratatouille of woodworking and yoga, we can look at ethnographies of woodworkers and yogis to use as tools (artifacts, even) to help us understand the backgrounds each collaborator might be coming from, to help us unpack the narratives of their experiences as they report them, once they start using radical transparency techniques. (I need less clunky words for this. RadTransTech sounds like a web 2.0 startup, and that's not what I want.)

And we can use ethnographies that have been done on stable communities that developed -- and have a stable practice of -- radical transparency techniques, to tell us what to do. It's all about setting the stage, knowing the ground rules, being able to articulate them, before we start (ground rules are what keep the space safe).

Okay, so another section I need to write: what are the practices? All the people (Biella, thank you) who have studied stable communities with established cultures and norms of "default to open," what have they found?