Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Equity & Research Operations: Generation Focus Founder Joanna Beer


Generation Focus is an EPIC Equity Partner, providing direct support to EPIC Equity Council programs that advance equity and create ​collaborative ​space​s​ for our community to ​embed equity within our work. Generation Focus is also a customer research firm that provides strategic Research Operations, targeted Participant Recruitment, and essential Customer Discovery to clients around the world. We talked with company founder Joanna Beer about her work in research operations and her commitment to equity.

How did you get interested in research ops, and how has your work changed since you founded Generation Focus?

I got into research ops completely by accident. Around 2017 I took part in a couple of research studies as a participant, and I was really inspired by what I experienced. It wasn’t all positive, though. There were many things I thought could have been improved. Mostly, it was the participant experience. Something about it just felt off. And so that’s how I decided that I wanted to get into this business. I wanted to help conduct research that was human-centered and left participants feeling good.

A lot has changed since then. Research ops is now taken very seriously as a profession. That’s been really exciting for us as a ReOps company, because when I started, most people didn’t know what research ops was. And now it’s this really growing, dynamic space. The technology has also changed, with a lot of it going completely online since the pandemic. There’s also a lot more of a focus on the way people interact with technology, and all the little nuances that entails.

What does equity mean to you, and how does it intersect with ethnography?

Equity is all about fairness and inclusion. For our work in research operations, that means that treating everyone like they matter. We started this company with the idea that people who participate in research matter. Equity is part of our lifeblood.

We’re also a diverse team and we all really value honesty, open communication and fairness. So it’s completely organic to us. And that’s why we love being in a space where equity is valued, professionally and in a business setting.

If you’re going to research people, people have to matter to you, not just as research participants but as diverse humans. That’s what equity means to us and how it intersects with ethnography, because ethnography focuses on the way people understand their own experience and on social relations between people.

Also, when we do ReOps well and treat people like they matter, we get better data and better results. So this human-centered perspective is good for business. In addition to everything else, equity is good for business!

How has equity informed your approach to research recruitment? What are some considerations for equity in recruitment?

It’s really important to respect research participants and try to see things from their perspective. And that’s what distinguishes us. We really value our participants. We value their time. We value them as people. It’s built into every corner of our business.

There are a lot of research companies that view participants as just a means to an end. They’re using a database. They’re just sending out mass emails, getting people’s information. Extracting data. The participants are just as much of a product as the end results.

But for us, we’re building a relationship with every person that we’re doing research with. We won’t do any research without first getting to know the participant. Participant recruitment should be inclusive and accessible, and the entire process should be convenient, ethical, and respectful for participants. They should feel valued, and that means caring about equity and the ability to work with people of different ethnicities and race, genders, abilities, religions, nationality, and worldviews.

We do this firstly because we enjoy it. We also do this because we want to ensure great quality for our customers. So sure, connecting with participants as humans takes more time. But the end product is just better. It’s a win win.

Generosity is also important. It’s not only valuing the participants’ time and making sure that they have a great experience. It’s making sure that they understand what’s expected of them and paying them generously for their time. We want them to feel valued as human beings and also as respondents. So it’s a two-tiered approach. We want to provide a great service for our clients, and we want to provide a great service for our participants.
The experience is better when everyone feels valued!

How can ethnographers and researchers most effectively advocate for equity?

We have to be realistic, and we have to see things from the participants’ point of view. A lot of researchers conduct their studies, or they recruit for their studies, with no regard to what the process is like for the participants, and how they contact and speak to people. They might completely waste people’s time with long screeners or questionnaires. They may pay respondents poorly. Being “in touch” with research participants and seeing things from their point of view is key to the research being equitable. We want to make sure that people are valued and feel valued.

We see the participants as the experts. Our clients are experts in research, but we see our research participants as experts of their own experience. And we really value them and take their expertise seriously.

Why do you support the equity program at EPIC?

I really love being part of the EPIC community. It’s very high quality, in terms of the content. And the people at the conference are so intelligent and knowledgeable. As someone who doesn’t have a traditional education in ethnography, I’ve been able to learn so much. It’s a really fascinating place. And it’s very welcoming to people of all backgrounds. You really can just feel that diversity is valued.

The EPIC crowd is inspirational. I’ve really appreciated how welcoming the community is, and that there’s a space for developing the careers of researchers and anthropologists. This is a really exciting community to be a part of.

Is there anything else you would like to convey to the EPIC community?

Just to express my gratitude to the EPIC community for creating a space for ongoing learning, inspiration, support, and career development. I truly appreciate how welcoming the EPIC organizers were the first time I attended an EPIC conference. I’m excited to continue to be part of this vibrant community for years to come!


Joanna Beer

Joanna Beer, Generation Focus