Researchers Reflect: Failure as the Root of Innovation

This blog post is part of Researchers Reflect, a new series where we embark on the journey of a design researcher at the Innovation Hub. Each post will spotlight a different design researcher’s experience, stories, and learning moments throughout the course of their research.

Written by Sanskriti Maheshwari, Senior Research Assistant for Transforming the Instructional Landscape

Sanksriti is wearing a blue shirt, standing outside

When the University moved its operations online during Summer 2020, I took a chance and applied for a work-study position with the Innovation Hub. When my application was accepted, I was extremely excited. Like many students, I was trying to stay connected to life at the university, and my position with the Stories from a Distance Team gave me just that opportunity.

Over the next few months, my colleagues and I developed weekly programming for Stories from a Distance to provide UofT students and staff an opportunity to meet one another, engage in conversation, share experiences, and exchange resources to help support one another during the pandemic. My team and I quickly took notice of how our programming was unable to reach the number of people we had hoped for. While that was a discouraging realization, if there is one thing I learned at the Innovation Hub, it was the importance of embracing failure and thinking creatively about how to solve the problem. This is one thing I will forever carry forward with me.

When Failure Leads to Ideation

A navy blue arrow looping around itself and pointing to the left

My team and I embraced this failure of ours and pivoted to a new direction where we began focusing more on the people than the problem. We conducted qualitative research – for what ultimately became The Digital Connectedness Project – to pinpoint the shortcomings of digital communities. Through centering the participants in our research, we were able to understand what students are truly looking for in communities and how student leaders can facilitate this need. In addition, we ideated ways that staff and student-facing members of UofT can support students virtually.

I stepped into this research without much experience with conducting interviews, hosting feedback sessions, or even coding qualitative data. However, I was still given the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I knew I had the skills to connect with others and ensure students were supported in our research process – and that’s something I continue to carry with me throughout my work. Through “failure” we were also able to gain a deeper understanding of why connection was so difficult during these times, and how we might all contribute to meaningful virtual connections.

When Ideation Supports Growth & Change

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Fortunately, I’ve continued my work at the Innovation Hub in a research capacity and have continued to apply skills I gained from Stories from a Distance to three other projects – Rotman Commerce, Health & Wellness, and Transforming the Instructional Landscape. I am now working as a Senior Research Assistant, which would not have happened without these experiences. Experiences that have helped me grow professionally to challenge my own biases, think outside the box, and most importantly to voice my opinions because they mattered. Knowing that the work we do at the Innovation Hub is making a difference at the University and I am a part of that change has truly been a unique, and enriching experience for me – one that I will forever cherish.

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