“This is (not) who I am.”

Reflections for 2022

In my family, every other Christmas is our “personal Christmas,” instituted when my siblings and I began to have other requests for our holiday presence and Mama Menanteau (a retired teacher who thrives on order) wanted to ensure we all got on the same page.

I like to use these “personal Christmas” years for an international Winter Holiday. This year (despite much consternation), I decided to forge ahead, undergo the testing protocols, and travel to Belgium. The trip recharged my batteries because it spoke to my essence: I am an adventurer and a connector.

Let me explain . . .

In another life, I must have been was a funky art historian. I love to immerse myself in art collections — large and small, institutionally-sanctioned and community pop-ups. The sociologist in me is excited to learn history, customs and belief systems through art. The educator in me loves adapting these learnings into stories to share with my nieces and nephews. The researcher in me infuses art inspirations into my research engagement exercises.

Brussels’ Magritte Museum left me thinking about identity. (An aside:  Regrettably, today when we speak of identity, our minds immediately go to identity politics. It pains me that such a natural and supremely personal human need to explore, clarify, and declare identity should be politicized.) Surrealist René Magritte’s famous 1929 work “The Treachery of Images” (a.k.a., “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”) has puzzled many. This is where I feel in his surrealist rigor, Magritte was encouraging us to look at this piece using the KISS Principle* (*keep it simple, stupid). Simply, the painting is a representation of a pipe, not a pipe. So true. 

Similarly, in the time of Covid, many may utter, “this is not who I am.” We may find ourselves not being the best version of ourselves, or we may yearn for our old lives and our old selves. (Pauline Boss’s concept of ambiguous loss fits aptly here). How can we take life by the horns (my theme for 2022, BTW) and forge forward to regain the “I” we feel we’ve lost due to our new reality?  

As an adventurer and a connector, I’ve continued to safely forge forward in small and big ways and to hold onto what makes me who I am. Even if it’s just taking a Friday afternoon to visit the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg or attend a community theatre production, it fills the soul.

How about you? What are your “essence words?” Or, what is your theme for the year?  Or, how do your passions inform your work? The connector in me would love to hear! ❤

Inclusive Research & a Box of Chocolates

The world may be divided into two camps:

  • Those who treat themselves to a single chocolate each day, relishing each delightful experience, and
  • Those who plunge into their box of chocolates, no holds barred, reveling in the glorious choice of flavors.

Which one are you?

Whichever type you are, I invite you to savor this gift I’d like to give you. It’s a gift of knowledge about an important and relevant topic:  Inclusivity in Research.

If you prefer “one-chocolate-at-time,” I’m sharing bite-sized videos (1-2 min.) with tips on how to write inclusive discussion guides — from Introduction to Group Dismissal:  

But first, a little background on my passion for this topic…

For my “all in” friends, you can take in the entire video in one sitting by clicking the button below (…and finish off that box of chocolates as you do).

Either way, I hope you find this series helpful as we all seek to be truly inclusive in our research!

XXOO -Alicia

P.S. What kind of chocolate-eater do you think I am? Send me an email and I’ll tell you!

Research Deeper

Elevate your Research with a Sociological Approach

However you come to research — whether as an agency, client or moderator– you know that the value (and rich beauty) of ethnographic (qualitative) research is its naturalistic approach. In “ethnos” or “in context” projects,  we study people in their near-natural settings, attempting to understand the meanings they attribute to things, language, symbols, relationships, as well as an exploration of  rituals, practices, and social environs.

As a Sociologist and a moderator, this is my passion:  discovering deep insights about real people in their worlds. And to be quite honest, I think it elevates the research I’m able to provide my clients. But in case you’re not a sociologist (or don’t have one on your team), here a few tips on how to delve into consumers’ behaviors and mindsets to uncover what really drives their decisions:

Here’s to uncovering those values and mindsets that drive consumers’ behaviors and decisions! If you need some help, I’m just a phone call away!

P.S.  And don’t think you can’t get these deep insights from online research – You can!  It just takes some innovation and creativity!

The Show Must Go On!

Special Spring greetings to you in the midst of these crazy times! I truly hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

I decided to have a little fun recently and created this 3-minute video to help us “connect” during this time of so much “distancing!” Enjoy the show!

Are you feeling AGILE?


Our clients tell us that they love that we always have a detailed plan in place for research, but are equipped to jump to a Plan B, if necessary. Given the anticipated economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, I’m here with the good news that we have a Plan C ready for you –

Here are a few ideas:

Wishing you and your family good health in these trying times. Please reach out to our team for any assistance you might need!  We can do this… safely!

Do you Love What YOU Do?

3 Easy Tips to Bring on the Love

“Do what you love; love what you do.” Great words attributed to everyone from Wayne Dyer to Steve Jobs. I try to live this mantra as much as possible, but the “Sunday blues” are real for all of us and NO job is perfect. It’s a job—not a hobby. Here are a few tips that I’ve found valuable to help spark that love in our jobs:

On a personal note…

I always strive to find the love in what I do — professionally and personally!

Fun News: I’ve even squeezed in some time to return to an “old love”…  musical theater! Later this month I’m playing a lead muscial role in the St. Petersburg City Theater’s production of the smash hit Mamma Mia!

Here’s to doing more of what we love!

Sugar and Spice and Minnesota Nice

Reflections on Authentic Listening

As a native Minnesotan, I’ve heard the phrase “Minnesota Nice,” but never knew its origins. I submitted the question to MN Public Radio’s series, “Ask a ‘Sotan.”  A reporter reached out to me and to another sociologist, Prof. Lisa Waldner, who reflected on the historical and cultural aspects of “Minnesota Nice.”

You can hear the podcast here:  https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/11/21/ask-a-sotan-revisiting-minnesota-nice

While being nice may get you on Santa’s GOOD list, the phrase is often understood to mean polite to a fault or even passive-aggressive.  Waldner suggests that Minnesotans may use the positive implications of the reputation to sidestep difficult conversations about social issues.

So What?  As researchers, we often engage respondents in difficult conversations. To be truly effective, we must be more than nice – we need to have those authentic conversations that  get to the heart of the matter and reveal gold (truths) for our clients. The secret seems to be in HOW we listen, employing active and empathetic listening skills to seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Here’s a “nice” summary for you from PostivePyschology.com.  (I especially like #2. Make it about them, not about you or your next question)

Julian Treasure provides an interesting perspective in this TED talk on Five Ways to Listen Better: https://youtu.be/cSohjlYQI2A. If you want to jump right to his five tips, fast forward to 4:00, where he describes various practices that can re-tune our ears for conscious listening. Good reminders!

So whether you rely on mindful listening for your craft (like me), or just want to make your holiday conversations with family & friends more authentic, here’s wishing you a season filled with sugar and spice and LOTS OF Minnesota Nice!

WANTED: Wellness!

We are living in a wellness culture. More than ever before, we are people focused on living a life that considers our health to be much more than the absence of illness – it’s a holistic sum of our physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual health.  According to the Global Wellness Institute, the health and wellness industry has swelled to a staggering $4.2 trillion.

TREND: Generation Z says “We’ve got this!”

In a recent How America Shops report, WSL Marketing reveals that 80 percent of Gen Z (the oldest of which are 22 years old) feel they already know how to live a healthy life. 63 percent say looking better makes them feel healthier, and 50 percent of Gen Z women purchase products that make them “look healthier.” (Note: Millennials lead in spending on wellness trends, but the confidence expressed by GenZ-ers stood out to me. It’s like they’ve got it all figured out!)

I recently spent some time in France with my nephew, Victor, and his friend, Hannah, two of my favorite Gen Z-ers. Ever the researcher, I asked them what wellness meant to them.

  • For Victor, wellness is “having the physical and mental freedom to enjoy life however you want to.” They both go to the gym to support their wellness goals, and Victor says he focuses on staying hydrated and including necessary vitamins in his diet.
  • Hannah says, “I notice that I’m in better spirits after the gym and that it gives me an overall better mood. I will also spend money on myself doing my nails or a little retail therapy. If I feel out of sorts I’ll usually take time to myself to relax and get away from the world.”

As a Gen X-er, I’m right alongside these generations in their pursuit of wellness. Work and life have me fully challenged and stretched. But all this ‘stretching’ gets exhausting, so, like many of us, I aspire for balance. Yoga, kick-boxing, running and cycling are a part of my routine… always a challenge with a moderator’s travel schedule!

I realized recently that what I wanted was to find a benchmark of where I’m at so I can challenge myself to achieve the next level — whatever that may be.

So I embarked on a 10-day summer adventure where I cycled 50-70 km/day through France’s Loire Valley, hiked the rugged shore of Corsica and even tried my hand (and feet) at a little rock-climbing. And you know what? I surprised myself!

I felt whole, challenged mentally and physically, and I discovered I could certainly up my game physically. And what else can I do? I’m still figuring that out, but the possibilities are endless!

What have you wanted to just try out? Beyond work, how do you want to stretch yourself? I say JUMP . . . and you may surprise yourself, too.

Here’s a peek at my summer wellness adventure…

Place Matters

As researchers, we have a lot of theoretical discussions about the significance of place and how we imbue place with meaning. A social construction of people bound together because of where they reside, work or have a history, a sense of place can offer many insights in our qualitative research.

Recently, I attended and facilitated sessions at the Qualitative Research Consultants Association’s (QRCA) annual conference in Savannah, Georgia — a city brimming with a unique sense of place.

As a sociologist, researcher and member of the International Special Interest Group, I thought it was important for the QRCA’s annual conference to include a learning opportunity that would immerse us in a cultural experience beyond the architectural and culinary tours of this beautiful city. Thus – the Gullah Geechee Experience was born —  complete with historical storyteller, authentic Gullah Geechee dishes and an entertaining and educational dinner show.

I invite you to view a 4-minute peek at our immersion experience here:

A Personal Aside…

With the midterm elections this week, there are lots of issues in the spotlight. Other issues are getting less coverage, but are a serious challenge to respected and well-founded traditions.

One of these is an initiative to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The census determines how political districts are mapped — and many immigrants are already saying they won’t participate if asked about citizenship. As a researcher, I understand the importance of eliciting honest feedback from our respondents. Asking a citizenship question will negatively affect response rates, as posited by researchers versed in the topic.  (See this New York Times article.) My own experience affirms this:  research facilities are telling me they’ve seen a decline in Hispanics willing to participate in research.

Fear silences their voices . . . and we need to hear.

The months ahead will invariably prove to be as tumultuous as the last 48. I can only hope we continue to fight for truth, rigor in our field, respect human rights, and promote the belief that there is value and beauty in our diversity.