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Last edited 13 Jan 2016
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.
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