Small independent inventors have several cost effective tools available for refining ideas and preventing the waste of limited resources. We have already addressed inexpensive prototyping, which is one such tool, in an earlier article. Pilot studies, which are sometimes referred to as pilot tests, pilot experiments, or pilot programs, are another method to explore an idea. Learning the flaws in an idea early can prevent the waste of time and money later.
Pilot studies are preliminary small tests of an idea. Think of them as a trial-run or rehearsal. They are done to test the feasibility of an experimental design or to test concepts and procedures before committing extensive resources to a larger study. Pilot studies are also great for debugging the material you want to use in the main study and for testing the planned study schedule. They should be done early enough in the process so that you have time to correct any problems that you find (and you will usually find something wrong with your plan).
Pilot studies should replicate the conditions of the main study as closely as possible. For example, if you want to do the main study online (e.g., an online questionnaire) then do the pilot study online too. If you are doing the main study in a specific facility, use the same one for the pilot study. This will help you determine if your planned infrastructure is adequate.
Pilot studies are great for testing the procedures you intend to use in the main study. Often you will find out that something you want to do will not work because it is too complex or it does not provide you with the feedback you feel you need. So by replicating the envisioned study as closely as possible, you will find out where problems are likely to occur before you commit your limited time and hard earned money to a project. Then you can fix the problems.
If the pilot study involves people, then you should make sure that the sample used for the pilot study and the main study have similar characteristics. However, do not use the same people for both studies. You do not want to compromise the results of the main study because the people who participated in your pilot study have had a chance to practice (the new people to the study will not have had similar practice time).
Many organizations use pilot studies—they are especially useful whenever making a large purchase. For example, here is a story about a police department’s pilot study. They did it as part of their decision-making process regarding a large technology purchase.
Pilot studies are useful tools for the independent inventor. Tell us what you think about them and share your experiences with them!
Image Credit: New Jersey State Library mLibraries pilot program by New Jersey State Library (Featured Image).