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3 October 2006 / erikduval

Open Research

And, finally, there was the workshop on openness in research that I helped organize at the EC-TEL conference.

Most conferences and workshops report on success stories only. This is somewhat perplexing:

* Isn’t research supposed to deal with challenging approaches?
* Aren’t we supposed to take risks?
* Doesn’t that imply that things should occasionally not work out as hoped?
* If nothing ever goes wrong, then maybe we are not taking enough risks?
* If things do occasionally go wrong, then why do we never hear about those failures in conferences and workshops?

More importantly: what can we learn from failures in E-Learning projects? How do we utilize failures to improve our work?

The funny thing is: I’ve rarely gotten more positive reactions on anything I have helped organize. It seems like everybody agrees that this is an important issue. Yet, the number of submissions was surprisingly low. To those who did submit: THANK YOU – you deserve a medal of openness! Several people remarked they felt it would look a bit funny on their publication list to have a paper in a workshop on failures…

The discussions at the workshop were VERY interesting (no, really!). If we care about disruptive innovation, then maybe “users suck” is not a bad attitude: people can be so conservative and we shouldn’t always give in to their first reactions. Oh. and by the way, users most of the time don’t know what they want anyway.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that users are not important. It just means that things are a bit more complicated than just asking them what they want! We can find out what works by analyzing what they do – much in the same way that we can observe where people walk in a new campus in order to find out where to put walkways.

The one thing I still don’t understand is why we, as a community of researchers, seem so reluctant to share our failures… If we try something and it doesn’t work, doesn’t that present a great opportunity for learning? The issue is of course that we so seldomly analyze why things failed. In fact, we often don’t analyze successes very well either! Maybe I have too optimistic a view of how things go in other domains, but it seems to me that this is much less of an issue in medicine or physics?

Of course, the papers will be openly available shortly 🙂 on the What Went Wrong wiki, where you can also contribute your own ideas and materials. We’re contemplating how to continue this conversation beyond the workshop meeting, so drop me a note if you have any ideas on how to do that…


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