Qualitative research and the built environment
Most people live and work in some form of built environment setting, as not only the buildings but landscaped outdoor environments and even parts of the transport system, count as elements of the built environment. For many people, on an average day, almost all their time will be spent in surroundings influenced by human design (ONS, 2006).
However, it is unusual to stop and think about the feelings inspired by these environments; or, how the technologies and products used everyday influence individual thoughts, feelings and motivations; or, how the individual impacts upon the environment for others. Consciously, it is probably not something often considered, nevertheless, it is widely recognised that cues in the environments in which time is spent have a psychological impact and an emotional influence (Butterworth, 2000).
As well as this, if environments have the power to affect on an emotional level, then this is a factor which needs to be included in all work done in construction, planning and design. This is the component the social research teams add to projects and a large part of this is through qualitative research.
 What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research covers a spectrum of highly useful methods which can add valuable insight to projects and businesses. These methods range from face-to-face interviews to focus groups and workshops.
Qualitative research is initial, exploratory research. Less rigid than quantitative research, it opens up discussions and encourages free speech around topics. This allows the early discovery and inclusion of emotions, opinions and trends.
Critically, it is not just about finding out what people think, but why they think it. Talking through opinions in a ‘free’ space allows true motivations and feelings to be drawn out. This gives more depth to answers than a more rigid, quantitative survey response.
 When should qualitative research be used?
Qualitative methods can be extremely valuable in many situations, including developing new products, designing new spaces or even coming up with marketing initiatives. However, it is important that these methods are used at the right stage of a project and for the right reasons. These research methods should, more often than not, be used at the early stages of a project as a free space for collecting feelings, values and opinions.
Additionally, to get the most out of findings, it is essential that qualitative research is conducted well. It is surprisingly easy to influence respondents by providing them with options or including personal opinion through tone of voice or the phrasing of the questions. There is value in utilising the skills of trained researchers who have learnt to ask questions in an independent way.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Airtightness of energy efficient buildings.
- Anatomy of low carbon retrofits: evidence from owner-occupied superhomes.
- BRE articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- BRE National Solar Centre.
- Building Research Establishment BRE.
- Design for deconstruction, BRE modular show house.
- Pre-demolition and pre-refurbishment audits.
Featured articles and news
RSHP unveil their involvement in a boundary crossing which will provide a new entry point into Hong Kong.
With PFI currently under the spotlight due to Carillion, this introductory article explains what they are.
Estimates suggest that up to 30,000 small firms could be at risk of non-payment as a result of Carillion's collapse.
Sir Oliver Letwin to lead an independent review into the delays in the delivery of housing.
As Carillion collapses, read our article explaining insolvency in the construction industry.
43,000 jobs at risk as Carillion declares insolvency..
1961 saw the publication of three important books about urban design that remain relevant today.
Next week the planning fee increases by 20% and new fees are introduced.
How the transformative power of BIM and other digital technologies can be used to gain a competitive edge.
Relevant events and relevant matters are terms used in some contracts, but knowing the differences is important.
Government release statistics showing how many people are now on the property ladder due to Help to Buy schemes.