The Royal Academy of Engineering appoints Cranfield University to conduct learning from failures study and survey 

We would like to inform all of our Members and supporters about a new survey, ‘Learning from failures’ from Cranfield University’s School of Management, at the Cranfield Safety and Accident Investigation CentreOur Member, The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), has appointed Cranfield University to design, conduct and analyse the results of this Delphi study and survey and produce a report on the findings. This study and survey is supported by the RAEng and is part of their Safer Governance of Complex Systems Programme.  

Learning from failures

Cranfield University’s project aims to learn from safety incidents where harm has been done and an investigation or inquiry has been conducted, with recommendations for change. In the cases where changes are not implemented and similar events occur again, the study will ask why these incidents reoccur.

To address the gap in understanding, Cranfield University are conducting a two-step study. An initial Delphi study will be followed by a short survey involving experts from different sectors around the world having either direct experience of investigations and the subsequent implementation of recommendations or with professional interest (e.g., regulatory, legal, academic) in the subject.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has appointed Cranfield University to design, conduct and analyse the results of this Delphi study and survey, and produce a report on the findings.

The Delphi Study

The Delphi study involves participation in three linked 90-minute on-line workshops scheduled for 18th and 25th May and 6th July 2023.

The first (18th May 2023) will elicit reasons for the occurrence of incidents (i.e., reasons for failure) through a facilitated process of comparing three incidents which you have personal knowledge of.

In the second (25th May 2023) Cranfield University will review collectively these reasons and generate descriptions that are their polar opposite – key factors for safety / incident-free operations.

During June, these key factors will then be independently ranked on-line by each participant in the workshop for their importance and ease of adoption. The outcomes of these two rankings will be reviewed individually and revised if needed in a second round of on-line ranking.

The on-line ranking will be designed so you can complete it easily on your smart phone, tablet or your PC.  You will be able to access it by an internet link, which they will send to you. Depending on the number of factors identified in the workshops it shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes to complete.

A final workshop (6th July) will explore with participants reasons for the observed rankings produced by the two groups of experts, and for any differences between them. 

The Short Survey

The final agreed list of key factors for ensuring incident-free operations in complex systems developed from the Delphi Study will be incorporated into an on-line questionnaire available via an internet link, which Cranfield University will send to a different group of participants for validation. Depending on the number of items this should take no more than 30 minutes to complete. Individuals will be asked to rank the factors in terms of their importance and ease of adoption and provide appropriate contextual explanations for their choices. They will also ask you to indicate your expertise, experience, sector, and location from options provided.


  1. What is the purpose of this study?

The aim of this project is to build fundamental insights into learning from failures by collecting data from a diverse panel of experts by means of a modified qualitative Delphi method. A subsequent survey with a larger population of respondents will verify these findings. These will contribute to a written report that informs decision making and action that prevents or limits the recurrence of safety incidents globally.

This forms part of a larger programme of work on the safer governance of complex systems funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering

  1. Who will take part in this study?

Participation is invited from those with experience of investigating incidents, accountability for implementing recommendations or expertise / interest in responding to incidents.

Our definition of ‘incidents’ is inclusive and broad, covering a wide range of occurrences. These may include safety incidents resulting in fatalities and life-changing injuries. Additionally, Cranfield University would like to include incidents that adversely impact critical infrastructure or business processes leading, for example, to temporary loss of functionality, reputational damage, or similar. The incidents, however, should be considered to occur within a ‘complex system’.

  1. How can I take part?

Send an expression of interest to Colin Pilbeam (colin.pilbeam@cranfield.ac.uk) or Mike Sutliff (mike.sutliff@cranfield.ac.uk) by 10th May 2023 indicating:

  • Either your availability for all three workshops or interest in completing the survey,
  • Either your direct experience of investigations and implementing changes in response to untoward incidents or your professional interest in the subject,
  • The geographic location(s) and sector(s) of your experience / expertise.

Based on your experience, expertise, sector, location and availability you will be invited to participate either in the workshops or in the survey.

Those invited to participate in the workshops will be sent emails containing links to the three on-line workshops (Zoom meetings) scheduled for 18th and 25th May 2023, and 6th July 2023.

Those invited to participate in the survey will be sent an email containing the link to the survey in early / mid-July 2023 with an anticipated closing date of end of July 2023. The survey will be supported by Qualtrics under licence to Cranfield University. Your responses will be automatically uploaded to Qualtrics and only visible to members of the research team at Cranfield University.

  1. Will the information obtained in the study be confidential?

The on-line workshops will be conducted following the Chatham House rule. When completing the survey, you will not be required to provide any details that may identify you, such as your name or organisation. Survey responses will be stored securely. All original data (computer files, hard copy) will be destroyed three years after the end of the study.

Your participation in this study, and any information that you provide, will be treated confidentially. Cranfield University will abide by all relevant sections of the Data Protection Act 2018, and guarantee conformity with its principles.

Information gathered will be used only for the purposes of this study and the dissemination of results.

  1. What if I have questions or would like further information about this study?

If you would like to discuss this study in more detail or have any questions during any stage of the work, please contact the members of the research team:

Prof David Denyer (Principal Investigator): David.Denyer@Cranfield.ac.uk

Prof Colin Pilbeam (Co-Investigator):  Colin.Pilbeam@Cranfield.ac.uk

If you would like a copy of the final report of this study, this can be provided electronically on request.

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