In Focus: Exploratory Research
An exploratory study is typically carried out when there is no clearly-defined problem or hypothesis. When properly conducted, good exploratory research can facilitate the discovery of new ideas and concepts. Often taken as a preliminary step within a wider research process, adopting an exploratory frame of mind can help deepen the findings of any qualitative research. Brands that are looking to conduct research that is exploratory in nature however, should be wary of three common pitfalls:
Entering an exploratory research project with preconceived notions or assumptions can mean turning a blind eye to opportunities that may present themselves. These assumptions are often unconscious and can relate to anything from the audience, demographics, research findings, etc. Whilst it can be difficult to accept emerging findings that deviate from one’s pre-formulated hypotheses, good exploratory research requires an open mind in order to digest potentially new pieces of information or ideas that may arise.
As exploratory research typically tackles abstract or unformulated subject matters, the general approach should be to encourage creativity- both in the questions posed and subsequently the answers. Here, researchers have room to craft unique questions or design activities that have the possibility to dig deeper and stimulate respondents in a way that encourages them to openly and willingly discuss their experiences, thoughts, personal identity, etc. Simply asking questions in a straightforward manner will likely lead to straightforward responses.
Finally, in keeping with the main objectives of discovery in exploratory research, it is paramount that respondents are made to feel comfortable with expressing ideas, thoughts or opinions- even if they potentially appear out of the norm. The moderator or interviewer plays a key role in erasing any feeling of judgement or bias, as well as reassuring the respondent that all the information gathered will be collected and analyzed in a way that preserves their anonymity.
It is important to remember that exploratory research is not designed to lead to conclusive answers, but rather to help clarify the scope and nature of a problem. This can either result in the proposal of possible solutions or more likely lay the groundwork for subsequent stages of research. When conducted properly, exploratory research has the power to provide researchers and brands with a wealth of innovative and unforeseeable insight as relevant to their brand.