A One-on-one with Brigette Metzler | by Faten Habachi | researchops-community | May, 2023

Brigette Metzler

I wanted to interview Brigette because of her involvement in the ResearchOps community, she is one of the most inspiring people I have ever spoken to ♡.

Brigette has been co-chair of the ResearchOps community for several years, which has now grown to over 15,000 members (and it’s still growing).

Today, in addition to her work with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as a ResearchOps lead, Brigette is pursuing a PhD on “how do parental leave policies parents to share unpaid work a little more equitably, and does this improve women’s ability to participate in paid work?”

🎙️ How do people describe you?

I’m not sure! Probably a workaholic, probably nice? I often get these kinds of comments after giving talks, but I’m not sure why. I try not to jump to conclusions. I try to imagine what motivates others, to see the hidden things that motivate people. In life it’s not usually binary.

⏲ What is your daily routine?

I think children and family come first, then work, studies, friends and family, and finally myself. I go back to the values that my mother and father have taught me, which is that each of us changes the world, so we might as well try to make a difference in how we do it.

🧐 How did you get involved in research?

By chance! I was asked to work in quantitative research, but I could see that it was not the data that researchers wanted, but the means to make their data structured, searchable, discoverable and reusable. As I started down this path, other problems emerged: sharing research, having research tools, recruiting researchers, ensuring the safety of all — participants, researchers, organization. Making the spaces safer is probably the thing I’m most focused on. I’m not sure I succeed all the time. I try. I learn. We are getting better.

➿ What are the links between all your professional experiences?

I like to connect people and things.

I really like to see people shine — I had a boss at an early age who, I noticed, could always spot what made a person special. I wanted to learn to do that. I think I’ve managed to do that a bit over the last few years.

💼 How did you come to work in the public sector?

I started with fine arts. I did photography and art history. Then I thought, “Oh, I’m going to get a job and make some money”. So I worked for a company, a professional photography lab. This was before digital, when it was all chemicals, film, darkrooms and so on. We did a lot of advertising work and different art work.

And I ended up becoming a business manager. So I studied management. We had 16 employees. And then the digital revolution came along. It was hard, too hard at the time, to know what to choose, where the industry was going to go, and what we should do? Also, the technology was incredibly expensive at the time.

So we invested in digital technology and I started working with Photoshop.

I ended up working in an IT helpdesk for a hotel chain. They were open all the time, so I started to work on a degree in international relations, which I could get in the evenings while working.

I also studied Italian and then I wondered how I could get a job in that field. So I started working as an Italian language speaker for the Australian government and then I followed a winding path. I then trained other people in that work, in how to use the systems and how the legislation works. And, working on my degree, I realised that a lot of international relations is about understanding government and understanding how that system works, the politics and who’s attached.

So I have improved in this area. I also taught people how the computer systems work. I really enjoyed seeing how computers work. You know, if you’re a Gen X person, you are more at ease — you know how digital tools work, because you had to know, growing up. Seeing things that weren’t designed for the people who use the systems is probably the first time that I thought, why isn’t the system designed for people?

And when I started my PhD, I thought I’d better learn a bit more about data analysis. At work I was told, “Sure, you can become a data analyst”.

So I did in parallel with my PhD, and then I accidentally switched to data architecture (how the structure of data is organised).

Then I moved on to what I really use every day now, which is metadata management and ontologies. It’s sort of about understanding the structure of the data, but what is the relationship between the data elements? And how do you get computers to understand that.

While I was working, I realised that the work we were doing on making sense of the work of government was about integrating systems and processes deep into the structure.

And I realised that if we want to change government, if we want to transform it in any way, we cannot use the same tools or the same structures that we have always used, otherwise we will always get the same thing.

Often full of meetings! When I started in the department, there were only a few people in user research, and we could easily talk about all aspects of their work, what they were thinking, etc. Now we have 34 teams and I am not able to do that anymore. So there’s usually a ReOps meeting, then a meeting for the two biggest teams we work in, then sprint-type meetings for groups of research teams or to deal with requests that come in, and in the afternoons I tend to like to work on the deep stuff: the ‘big operations’ — the things that really help to impact the business.

This can be strategic — meeting with adjacent teams or people working on different projects, researching our users, designing structures for qualitative data, building the library, writing the manual, etc.

🍀 When you are not working, what do you do?

I like to pick two moments a day for myself.

I’m a bit of an introvert, so these two moments of solitude a day are really important to me.

In the morning, I start with a bit of yoga, facing the sun and doing about ten sun salutations.

Then I like to take a good hour walk in nature, every day, I’m lucky because where I live I’m surrounded by nature, forests, rivers and streams are a ten minutes walk away.

That’s usually what I do after work. I like to spend time with my family and talk.

🤓 If you weren’t working in the domain of ResearchOps, what would you be doing?

I would work in the field of social policy. My long-term goal is to finish my PhD and go to work for the OECD (in Paris maybe!) and work on gender equality and public policy. That, or be an author.

What is the history of the ResearchOps community?

ResearchOps Logo

Well, it’s a long story: Kate Towsey obviously started the community. Holly joined the same day, and then I joined four days later. Today, we’re over 15,000 members.

So far we are an active community, with three global projects:

1. To define what research operations are

2. To look at how researchers’ skills can evolve over their careers (this project was led by Tomomi Sasaki and Dave Hora, I had little to do with it)

3. The Research repo project evolved into a programme of work with several mini-projects — the consent form generator, the governance database, the minimum viable taxonomy!

There have also been smaller projects: the inventory; the tools survey; the translations of the work into other languages; the publications; the ResearchOps conference; our calls to the community… the list goes on!

With 15,000 people and 62 countries represented it is important that everyone is represented and now we have to work out as a community where we want to go and what that might be in the future.

⌛️ How much time are you investing in the community?

That’s a good question — it depends.

Some weeks a few hours, others, especially when I’m not at work, 40, 50 hours… I would say my average is 10 hours a week. I’m very strict that it doesn’t interfere with my work time — that separation is essential, but I’m less strict than I should be with my study time…

I really hate duplication of effort and not learning from our past experiences.

I think I have very high expectations of my leaders, and that can be difficult. I am not afraid of difficult conversations. On the other hand, working in a very hierarchical organisation (government), I have developed skills to give space to my team members to do what they need to do, and to have time to learn, etc.

🔮 How do you see the future — for you, for the design community, for the ResearchOps community?

I think the community is great, but we need to work to make it a community at scale. We need to do a better job of telling the story of the community, of all the work done for free by thousands of people in the profession. We need to do a better job of connecting people and supporting them — growing our people as we grow the profession.

To do this, we also need to become legitimate and sustainable. It is not sustainable for a small group of people to do this on top of their work and family life. We need to get on with it, starting with the community to re-establish a common and shared vision, and then work to make it possible to build a team of people who work with the community to implement it.

I think this is an interesting question about the future of the profession. I see that ResearchOps doesn’t just apply to user research or design research — it should be transferable to all research (indeed, the term comes from medical research).

The same goes for research — Holly was telling me the other day that research shouldn’t, doesn’t belong in design, and I think she’s right.

A lot of this conversation about democratising research is coming from design. You don’t see designers saying that design should be democratised! (Or you see the conversation about everyone being a designer, but we all know how that goes).

User research has a place in policy, in strategy — it should precede design — you don’t design anything without doing your research, do you? So I hope we can have that conversation and look a bit further into the research areas.

Design research is quite simply one field of research, but the approach of centering people can, and is, applied in so many other fields. I realise I have a particular point of view here that others may not — user research goes far beyond design, when it comes to government. The public service is a natural home from which to explore all the ways in which we can use a human centred, or life centred approach. The work is serving people, and so user research can be applied from the very beginning — as we are trying to work out how best to help people thrive — from policy design and development, through to product and service delivery.

If I step outside government for a minute, though, and consider where design research occurs in the private sector, user research should be happening before there even is a product.

We know this already — so many people talk about this in a much more articulate way — just look at Indi Young’s Problem Space Research.

User research is not only about design. It is — what should this company do? Who do we serve? In what way? Where? When? These are not design decisions. These are existential decisions for a company. These are strategic decisions.

Now I mentioned the democratisation of research. That’s a symptom, I think, of the way many people think of research being in service of design. Research is, at its most simple, learning. We all learn, and we all ask questions, and so it seems natural that we should imagine we should all do it. And it isn’t wrong, we do all do it in some way or another.

But it is wrong to imagine that it isn’t a skillful activity, and that anyone should be able to do it well. I’ve been a researcher of some form or another for over a decade, and if you include study at university, then I’ve been a researcher for almost two decades. I still don’t consider myself a skillful researcher.

So, in my opinion, research pervades our lives, and it limits us to think of it only from the perspective of design. And it is something we all do, and should do, and good research matters, and it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The intentional, careful, generation of new knowledge is powerful, can change lives, and should not be underestimated.

🇮🇹 If you weren’t in Australia, where would you be?

In Italy. Without a doubt. My grandfather was born there and I feel at home there. I would also like to live in France, Germany, Canada and Scotland one day.

To follow and contact Brigette:

Brigette’s Linkedin profile


Interview with Brigette on Nodes of Design: https://anchor.fm/tejj/episodes/Nodes-of-Design76-ResearchOps-by-Brigette-Metzler-e15i2ih

More about the ResearchOps Community (mainly resources in English):

The leading community for Research Operations — ResearchOps Community

ResearchOps is the people, mechanisms, and strategies that set user research in motion. It provides the roles, tools…researchops.community


Listen to the podcast: https://researchops.podbean.com/

Read Brigette’s publications:

Brigette Metzler — Medium

Read writing from Brigette Metzler on Medium. researcher, counter of things, PhD student, public servant…into…brigette-metzler.medium.com

Read the full article here

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