10 Tips for Successful Exploratory Research Across National Cultures

John Martinez Pavliga

Picture Credit: John Martinez Pavliga

By: Anne Orban

Exploratory research is distinct from developmental research in many important ways. When looking for new business opportunities, exploratory research is the starting point for discovering consumer-facing insights that transcend cultures which will lead to identifying big new areas of opportunity. Here are 10 tips for successful exploratory research across national cultures:

1. Ensure understanding of the difference between exploratory and developmental research.
Front end of innovation teams are more familiar with developmental research. This is typically conducted in central locations and designed to develop and test concepts with specific target consumers. Exploratory research can be done in a central location, but will experience the limitations of focus groups.

2. Train teams in the tools and techniques of ethnography for in-field immersion research.
Ethnographic tools and techniques are the mainstay for teams doing participant observation. Preparing yourself for this includes managing your biases and assumptions.

3. Avoid the culture trap of nationality.
Getting into the cultural weeds can really confuse cross-cultural exploration. Certainly, the French are different from the Germans. The Mexicans have a different language from the Brazilians – and so on. The key here is to understand exploratory discovery in terms of fundamental human drivers that transcend and underpin national cultures. Doing research for concept development is different. That’s when national cultures can be useful considerations.

4. Create starting hypotheses based on the project’s task.
Starting hypotheses are achieved by exercises designed to deconstruct and then flesh out understanding of the task. Alignment around the project task begins with a charter that is a clear and agreed-upon articulation of the project’s background, context for the company, desired outcomes, risks and assumptions, scope and boundaries.

5. Design research plan based on starting hypotheses
The research design and implementation plan must start with the strategic hypotheses that illuminate the task to determine the demographic and psychographic research guidelines. It is very important that all the elements of the research design be able to be implemented consistently across a range of geographies.

6. Develop immersion and discussion guides that provide a common framework.
Looking for patterns across multiple demographics and cultures requires a framework that can be implemented with consistency. That consistency is vital for data analysis.

7. Ensure that you use interpreters and translators effectively, and know the difference.
See 10 tips for using interpreters in international research, article by Anne in a 2005 Quirk’s Marketing Research Review.

8. Stay open to opportunities for impromptu field experiences.
Flexibility with the research design is important. Work to balance research discipline with openness driven by individuals’ passions and unexpected opportunities.

9. Insist on prompt debrief in an agreed-upon format.
Field notes and other observations must be transferred into a format that provides consistent record of insights and that can be shared. Creating these formats ahead of time is an integral part of the research design. Insisting on the discipline of debriefing, individually and as a field team, is vital to harvesting the value of exploratory research.

10. Always work the data using agreed-upon processes and with sufficient time for analysis and synthesis.
Ensuring enough time to thoughtfully work the data collected is vital to discerning patterns. These patterns will help generate new understandings that are essential to identifying data-supported big new areas of opportunity that can deliver desired outcomes for the project.

For further discussion contact Anne at aorban@innovationfocus.com

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