How to get the most from exploratory research

How to get the most from exploratory research


Apr 24, 2014

Share It

There’s nothing more exciting for a market researcher than learning something unexpected and new from a respondent—and often the initiatives that uncover the most surprising insights are exploratory in nature. Often thought of as a preliminary step within a larger research process, at iModerate we consider exploratory research to be an important element of any qualitative project. A typical exploratory study occurs when there is no clearly defined problem or hypothesis—this means the researcher has freedom and flexibility to adjust and adapt the study along the way. Good exploratory research has the ability to unearth new ideas, take surprising twists, and shape your thinking in ways you would not have imagined—that’s why taking an exploratory mindset can help you get the most out of any qualitative work, preliminary or not. Here are our best practices for conducting exploratory research:

Remove all assumptions
If you approach your research thinking you already know who your customer is, then you may miss an opportunity to find out who they really are. Any assumptions about audience, demographics, or what you expect to find in the data can keep you from discovering something you didn’t expect. Remember to keep an open mind, be curious, and let the findings come to you.

Be willing to kill your darlings
Just as a writer must be willing to cut his or her favorite scene to improve a novel as a whole, researchers must accept the fact that their research may negate their favorite hypotheses. Exploratory research doesn’t have to be entirely without hypothesis, but it does have to be flexible enough to allow for changes and improvements as you go. Be ready to accept new points-of-view throughout the course of your study, and be prepared to probe further on findings as they arise.

Ask innovative questions
Exploratory research is often designed to tackle more nebulous, unformulated subject matter—without concepts to test or stimuli to present, exploratory research gives you the opportunity to get creative with the types of questions you ask. Instead of asking directly about a person’s thoughts on a particular topic, craft questions that will get at their experiences and personal identity. Check out iModerate’s ThoughtPath framework for some ideas.

Let your respondent be free
As with any qualitative work, make sure your methodology does not apply any influence or color to the respondent’s feedback. Anonymity, convenience, and a moderator/interviewer who is free of judgment or bias can help a respondent feel comfortable and ready to share. Give your respondents a space to be open and honest, and you will find out what’s truly on their minds.

Our research work with iModerate over the past several years has developed into a true partnership. Their unique fusion of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies in a single study has offered new insights into key topics and markets of interest for our organization, which in turn, we are able to quickly turn into action steps. They are flexible, responsive, and extremely engaged in the entire project process, from conception and design to final data processing and delivery. They have even gone above and beyond by volunteering their time, resources, and expertise to assist with a special target market project on women. iModerate has their finger on the pulse of the research industry and consistently provides creative suggestions and solutions to enhance our current work. This ultimately allows us to provide our leadership with the strategic insights and opportunities that helps us to advance the common good.

Kristin Thomsen, Manager, Market Research, United Way Worldwide