The exploratory research phase can often be the most daunting. You are furthest away from the problem and don’t even really know what the problem is! A useful analogy here is to think of being in a dark room with a blindfold on. You need to feel your way around and work out where the edges are and whether there are any objects in your way. How on earth can you do this in a research setting? Observation is a great research methodology for the exploratory phase and can help you uncover interesting insights to formulate hypotheses.
I came across an interesting post on this today by Design Researchers at Uber. They use observation in the field to help define what the problems are before designing solutions for them. It’s a short read and definitely worth checking out if you have time.