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Ethnography Meets AI: The Dawn of Enhanced Sensemaking

The fusion of artificial intelligence (AI) with the rich, qualitative insights of ethnography is heralding a new era in understanding human behavior. At the EPIC conference, this synergy, particularly through natural language processing (NLP), was brought into focus, revealing a future where AI not only collects data but also helps us make sense of it.

The Power of NLP in Ethnography

Natural language processing allows us to parse through vast textual data, identifying patterns and sentiments that might escape even the most meticulous human analysis. When combined with the ethnographer's nuanced understanding of context, NLP can elevate the insights derived from social data, providing a more comprehensive view of consumer behavior and cultural trends.

Practical Applications (Sources)

The integration of AI into ethnographic research is not just theoretical; it has real-world applications that are revolutionising businesses across various sectors. Here are some practical examples of how sensemaking AI is being utilised:

  1. Healthcare: AI is being used to analyse patient interviews, feedback, and social media to identify trends in health concerns and patient satisfaction. For instance, an AI model might analyse thousands of patient narratives to uncover common issues in post-operative care, enabling healthcare providers to adjust protocols and improve patient outcomes.

  2. Retail: Retailers are using AI to sift through customer reviews and social media chatter to understand consumer preferences and pain points. This can lead to more targeted product development and marketing strategies. For example, an outdoor apparel company could use AI to identify a trend in customers seeking eco-friendly materials, prompting a new line of sustainable products.

  3. Urban Planning: Urban planners are leveraging AI to process community feedback from town hall meetings and online forums. This helps them understand residents' concerns and priorities, which can inform the development of public spaces. AI might reveal a community's desire for more green spaces, influencing the design of a new park.

  4. Human Resources: HR departments are using AI to analyse employee surveys and feedback to enhance workplace culture and retention. AI can identify underlying themes in employee sentiment that might not be immediately apparent, leading to more effective engagement strategies and policies.

  5. Marketing: Marketers are employing AI to dissect consumer behavior and trends from social media data, enabling the creation of more resonant campaigns. For example, AI could identify a surge in interest in home fitness, prompting a company to launch a targeted marketing campaign for its home workout equipment.

  6. Entertainment: The entertainment industry uses AI to analyse audience reactions and reviews to inform content creation. Streaming services, for instance, might use AI to determine which genres or themes are resonating with viewers, influencing the production of future series or films.

  7. Non-Profit Sector: Non-profit organisations use AI to understand the needs and responses of the communities they serve. By analysing social media posts, community feedback, and donation patterns, they can tailor their initiatives to better meet the needs of those they aim to help.

In each of these examples, AI acts as a powerful tool for distilling large volumes of qualitative data into digestible insights. However, the true value lies in the combination of AI's analytical power with the ethnographer's interpretive skills. This symbiotic relationship ensures that the insights gained are not only data-driven but also deeply human.

EPIC's Vision for AI in Research

The EPIC conference showcased how AI could be a game-changer for ethnographic research. By automating the initial stages of data analysis, researchers can dedicate more time to interpreting the findings, crafting narratives that resonate with businesses and consumers alike.

Precog's Role in Advancing Sensemaking AI

At Precog, we're not just using AI; we're shaping it to fit the needs of ethnographic research. Our approach ensures that AI tools are designed with an understanding of the complexities of human behavior, making them invaluable allies in the quest for deeper insights.

Implications for Business Strategy

The implications of sensemaking AI for business strategy are vast. It enables companies to move beyond mere data collection, venturing into the realm of strategic foresight. With AI-powered ethnography, businesses can anticipate consumer needs, identify emerging trends, and make informed decisions that give them a competitive edge.


The convergence of AI and ethnography is more than a technological trend; it's a transformative process that redefines how we understand the world around us. With Precog's expertise, businesses can navigate this new landscape with confidence, turning complex data into compelling stories that drive strategic success.


(1) Dave, M., Patel, N. Artificial intelligence in healthcare and education. Br Dent J 234, 761–764 (2023).

(2) The Drum, How brands & retailers are putting the AI in retail, How brands & retailers are putting the AI in retail | The Drum

(3) Peng, Z.-R., Lu, K.-F., Liu, Y., & Zhai, W. (2023). The Pathway of Urban Planning AI: From Planning Support to Plan-Making. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 0(0).

(4) SHRM Foundation, Using AI to Improve Engagement Surveys, Continuous Feedback, Using AI to Improve Engagement Surveys, Continuous Feedback (

(7) Tomašev, N., Cornebise, J., Hutter, F. et al. AI for social good: unlocking the opportunity for positive impact. Nat Commun 11, 2468 (2020).


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