Failure Freedom: A guide to supporting researchers through developing a failure freedom culture

2019-11-20T15:37:15Z (GMT) by Ursula Kate Hurley Davina Whitnall
As we work towards better mental health across the researcher community, failure freedom – the ability to feel comfortable with failure – is a critical element to supporting and enabling resilience and positive mental wellness.
Fear of failure is embedded in the life experience of many people. Carolyn Jackson (2003) argues that a fear of failure can lead directly to poor behaviour and disengagement by young men in schools. In “Creative” practices however, failure is a necessary part of the creative process. It is embraced and explored rather than avoided (see Naray-Davey & Hurley, 2014). A “fail fast” approach is also typical among entrepreneurs, particularly in the US (Babineaux and Krumboltz 2013, Hall 2007). Here the mantra helps identify which products or services are likely to succeed in the long term and avoids wasting time.
‘Failure Friday – Helping Postgraduate Researchers to recognise, it’s OK to fail!’
The Failure Friday Campaign is about forming, framing and fulfilling the needs of the researcher community. It provides a platform to openly discuss failure rather than to hide it. In the Higher Education Sector and within Research in particular, failure is often hidden (see the current debates around replicability in scientific research). We rarely hear about the research that didn’t work, the fails and lessons learnt do not emerge but knowing this information and talking about it openly could be a real game changer! Not only would it save the research community from repeating mistakes, wasting time, money and resource but an openness about failure could support better mental health within the researcher community. Openly failing and talking about failure and the lessons learnt is not only an inherent part of research but helps to remove the pressures of perfectionism and anxiety around performance.
‘Failure Friday’ is a University and Community-wide campaign developed by The University of Salford as a co-created intervention to support researchers’ mental wellness. The emphasis of the campaign is to create an open environment where researchers feel able and confident to discuss all aspects of mental health, pressures of the doctorate or research environment and get involved in dialogue connecting with others. Various ‘Beta’ models of the support campaign have been developed such as PGR wellbeing workshops, ‘re-gain your lunch hour’ and online resources such as the ‘Healthy Mind Platter’: https://youtu.be/GK2AxrSgQK8. Building on the success of these models, a larger community-based initiative has been developed to involve the broader academic and student community, local communities and groups in Salford and other partners as an agency for change. Involving the wider university community and local city community is important in breaking down barriers to access to support and to recognise that mental wellness goes beyond just the academic aspect of university life. The consultation work undertaken involved listening to and working with our PGR community, the wider University community and local Salford City community through Salford City Council, 3rd and 4th sector partners including voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. ‘Failure Friday’ provides a fun, creative and open space (either physical or virtual) to explore self-care approaches, active failing, discuss failure and be open to failing as part of a self-help approach and strategic pathway to success.