Researcher Grill: Nicole Bacchus

An Instagram researcher talks bar crawls to build empathy, playing detective with execs, and how staying curious can spark innovation.

Facebook Research
Oct 23, 2018 · 5 min read

Researchers are used to asking questions. But what happens when the tables are turned? Here at the Researcher Grill, we gently grill a Facebook researcher — get it? — about their work and their life. Our aim is to introduce you to these fascinating people, give you a peek behind the scenes of different research disciplines at Facebook, and provide some tips you can apply to your own work. Bon appétit!

Name: Nicole Bacchus
Role: Product Research Lead, Instagram Live
Researcher at Facebook since: January 2018
Languages spoken: 4
Masters degrees: 2
Years of tech-house music fandom: 20
Years of being a “mom” to Beatrix Kiddo, my adorable Cavapoo: 2

You, in a nutshell:
Researcher. Innovation and service design practitioner. MBA. Boxing beginner. Exotic fruit enthusiast.

What’s your most unique research approach?
Conflict pairs — intentionally bringing together two people who have diehard opposing passions for competing products and services. Think Miracle Whip vs. Hellman’s mayonnaise. The intentional tension draws out some very interesting viewpoints!

Tell us about research that inspired you?
I once did research for a bank on a group of people we called “Strivers” — folks who didn’t necessarily have a large income but who had amassed a considerable amount of personal wealth through sheer financial savvy and austerity. I remember one woman in particular who’d paid off her massive student loan in 3 years by limiting herself to 1 meal out a month, and another who travelled abroad every year for pennies by engaging in some loyalty card wizardry. I was in awe of the Strivers’ dogged determination and resourcefulness to make the best of what they had and plan for the future.

Tell us about a time that research made you cry?
I worked on a project whose goal was to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the US. In doing ethnographic research with underserved populations, I learned that many women had been apathetic about taking steps toward preventing pregnancy, despite knowing it was not the right time in their lives for a baby. It was heartbreaking to hear that they felt that way because they could not envision a happy future, and felt they had very few other choices in life. Many told me that a baby would at least be a source of love in their lives. Hearing their stories was a sobering reminder of just how lucky many of us are to have grown up in different circumstances.

What’s the most innovative method you’ve use to share research?
In my former life as a consultant, I often had to share research learnings with large groups of clients at the executive level. Holding their attention was always a challenge, so I developed an exercise where I’d break up the room into groups and arm them with consumer stories, verbatims, artifacts from research, and video clips. Like detectives with a case, they would immerse themselves with the “evidence” and construct a persona and mini-presentation to report back to the group. I’ve always found workshopping findings rather than strictly presenting is the most effective method for participants to truly build empathy for the consumer.

Tell us about a funny research story:
I once did research to identify innovation opportunities in the wine and spirits space. I took my client and a research participant on a bar crawl and shopalong. Over the course of the session, the participant grew very fond of my client and me — somehow, asking him about his wine preferences had established a sense of camaraderie. He invited us to his Led Zeppelin cover band gig that night. I politely declined but later found out my client had gone to see him. By all accounts the band was pretty good!

What about a time when things went awry?
I recently did ethnographic research with in Brazil. My mother is Brazilian, and I was excited to flex my Portuguese skills. While I speak pretty fluently in social settings, I’d never conducted research in Portuguese. I was working with a local research partner, and the plan had been for them to lead the sessions based on my research design. But they encouraged me to lead the session in Portuguese so they could observe the questions I asked and how I went through my research activities. About halfway through, I realized how lost I was. Asking questions in Portuguese was no problem, but I quickly realized that young people in Brazil speak an entirely different language. Who would have thought that “uóts” or “zappy zappy” meant WhatsApp? Thankfully my research partners were able to put me out of my misery and take the reins.

What’s your most satisfying moment in research?
About two years ago, the world of legalized cannabis was just opening up. It struck me that there was a huge opportunity in this nascent market for insights and human-centered design, so I designed and hosted the first-ever hackathon for my former consultancy to explore this challenge. I organized the day so hackathon participants would have the opportunity to talk to users. As a result, the ideas that emerged were especially impactful and insight-driven. Fast Company covered the event, I published a thought piece in PSFK, and I was invited to host a similar workshop at an innovation festival in the Hague. It was tremendously exciting to see the impact my idea had created, and how directly connecting designers to consumers yielded powerful ideas in a space where insight was sorely needed.

What’s your favorite book, and why?
A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. As children, we are full of curiosity and instinctively question everything. But as time goes on, this “curiosity” trait is silenced, and having the answer is deemed more important than asking questions. Berger talks about the power of inquiry and asking “beautiful questions” — those that are ambitious yet actionable, and have the ability to shift the way we perceive or think about something. He posits that beautiful questions are the real key to innovation and are catalysts for change. I couldn’t agree more with the book’s premise.

What’s your favorite quote?
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” — Oscar Wilde

We’re always on the lookout for talented researchers like Nicole to join our team. See our open roles here!

Facebook Research

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Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

Facebook Research

Learnings from the people who study human behavior for Facebook

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