The utility of failure: a taxonomy for research and scholarship

Meredith Young
Soort article
Eye Opener
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Introduction Health professions education (HPE) research and scholarship utilizes a range of methodologies, traditions, and disciplines. Many conducting scholarship in HPE may not have had the opportunity to consider the value of a well-designed but failed scholarly project, benefitted from role-modelling of the value of failure, nor have engaged with the common nature of failure in research and scholarship.

Methods Drawing on key concepts from philosophy of science, this piece describes the necessity and benefit of failure in research and scholarship, presents a taxonomy of failure relevant to HPE research, and applies this taxonomy to works published in the Perspectives on Medical Education failures/surprises series.

Results I propose three forms of failure relevant to HPE scholarship: innovation-driven, discovery-oriented, and serendipitous failure. Innovation-driven failure was the most commonly represented type of failure in the failures/surprises section, and discovery-oriented the least common.

Conclusions Considering failure in research and scholarship, four conclusions are drawn. First, failure is integral to research and scholarship—it is how theories are refined, discoveries are made, and innovations are developed. Second, we must purposefully engage with the opportunities that failure provide—understanding why a particular well-designed project failed is an opportunity for further insight. Third, we must engage publicly with failure in order to better communicate and role model the complexities of executing scholarship or innovating in HPE. Fourth, in order to make failure truly an opportunity for growth, we must, as a community, humanize and normalize failure as part of a productive scholarly approach.


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