Epic Fails: Learning from the Past to Do Better in the Future

You are here

29 Jan 2020

Epic Fails: Learning from the Past to Do Better in the Future

In research we tend to only present on and/or publish our successes as they are so integral to our career progression. Yet not everything we attempt is successful: no matter how hard we try, some of our research and developments fails. Projects that develop research data infrastructure are often prone to a higher risk of failure, as technology is changing so rapidly and unpredictably, whilst the change of research culture is slow. Edwards et al. (2007) emphasized the value of honestly reporting failures “to supporting long-term and comparative learning across the varieties of cyberinfrastructural experience” and recommended that “through the disciplined and even-handed study of failure, funders and proponents of cyberinfrastructure must learn to stop hiding the bodies”. New trends in biochemical research and publishing show increased attention to sharing of negative results from early clinical trials (Kevin Kelly, “Speculations on the Future of Science”). What we need is a free and blameless environment that encourages honest reporting of where things went wrong. It is time to bring the skeletons out of the closet and showcase Epic Fails that you know about (particularly your own) in software, data infrastructures, samples, software delivery, services, etc. and build a portfolio of lessons learned from these stories that will inform the future, and ultimately contribute to accelerating progress in the development of research data infrastructure and informatics.


Click on the poster image to enlarge

Name & surname: 
Kerstin Lehnert, Lesley Wyborn, Erin Robinson
Scientific Discipline / Research Area: 
Domain Agnostic
Columbia University, Australian National University, Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP)
  • Esther Plomp's picture

    Author: Esther Plomp

    Date: 30 Mar, 2020

    I do not see a poster attached to this post? Would love to have a look!

  • Lesley Wyborn's picture

    Author: Lesley Wyborn

    Date: 01 Apr, 2020

    It is now up - be brave - add your Epic Fails to this document: https://drive.google.com/file/d/18D22n76m93osbOgOUAgnV5ApBqCJyU49/view

  • Patricia Herterich's picture

    Author: Patricia Herterich

    Date: 03 Apr, 2020

    Dear Lesley,


    Thank you so much! This is sooo useful, we need to talk about failure more. I'm wondering if you're planning to write up some tips for others on how to facilitate a session like this. It can be quite hard to create a safe and welcoming space, so documenting how you approached running this session would be super helpful.


    Many thanks,


  • Lesley Wyborn's picture

    Author: Lesley Wyborn

    Date: 03 Apr, 2020

    Hi Patricia

    This was one of the easiest and most humourous sessions I have ever run. It was very well attended, and hence showed that there was indeed interest in the topic. Kerstin, Erin and I started the session by giving short presentations on some epic fails of our own and then we opened it to the floor for people to present theirs. Everyone was so animated and engaged - it was actually a hard session to 'manage' because so many people kept wanting to stand up and present their own failures. We also provided post-it notes at each table so that people could present 'anonymously'. As the session progressed not everyone could get a chance to speak, so we then asked everyone to use the post-it notes. We started to see patterns emerging in the types of failures so we also steered the conversation to determining what were the main categories/types of failure (which are the headings used in the poster). We then set up A0 post-it sheets around the room, one for each category/type and then asked everyone to put their own post it notes under the appropriate category/type. Finally, to keep the humour going, we blocked the exits and no one was allowed out until they had put up at least one post-it note: more than a few attendees put quite a few notes up.

submit a comment