A pilot study, pilot project, or pilot experiment is a small scale preliminary study conducted in order to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and improve upon the study design prior to performance of a full-scale research project. Pilot studies, therefore, may not be appropriate for case studies.
Pilot experiments are frequently carried out before large-scale quantitative research, in an attempt to avoid time and money being wasted on an inadequately designed project. A pilot study is usually carried out on members of the relevant population, but not on those who will form part of the final sample.
A pilot study is often used to test the design of the full-scale experiment which then can be adjusted. It is a potentially valuable insight and, should anything be missing in the pilot study, it can be added to the full-scale (and more expensive) experiment to improve the chances of a clear outcome.
In sociology, pilot studies can be referred to as small-scale studies that will help identify design issues before the main research is done.
Although pilot experiments have a well-established tradition in public action, their usefulness as a strategy for change has been questioned, at least in the domain of environmental management. It is argued that extrapolation from a pilot study to large scale environmental strategy cannot be assumed to be possible, partly due to the exceptional resources and favourable conditions that often accompany a pilot study.
- Hulley, Stephen B. Designing Clinical Research. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007, p.168-169.
- Billé, R. (2010) “Action without change? On the use and usefulness of pilot experiments in environmental management.”. S.A.P.I.EN.S. 3 (1)
- Haralambos, M.; M. Holborn (2000). Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. Hammersmith, London: HarperCollins Publishers.
- van Teijlingen, E. R; V. Hundley (2001). The importance of pilot studies. Social research UPDATE, (35).