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Errordiary: A citizen science project for research, teaching and public engagement

Key points

  • Our Errordiary website provokes people to think about human error by juxtaposing funny, frustrating and fatal examples of error from the media and the public’s own experiences.
  • It has been used to raise awareness about issues related to human error, resilience and blame culture with healthcare professionals, people with diabetes and the public.
  • It provided the basis for building a vocabulary of different kinds of resilience strategy.
  • It is being used in at least three different universities to teach human error in psychology, computer science and human factors, as well as to train researchers and practitioners to identify resilience strategies.

Funny, frustrating and fatal errors
Our Errordiary website (www.errordiary.org) combines: a live stream of funny, frustrating and fatal errors from members of the public with a stream of their ways of avoiding making mistakes and a discovery zone. It aims to:

  • raise awareness about the ubiquity of human error,
  • promote a culture that learns from error rather than hides it,
  • educate people about ways to avoid making mistakes, and
  • bring research, teaching and public engagement closer together.

We are developing Errordiary to be the leading international hub for human error research, teaching and public engagement. We strongly believe that we should learn from error rather than trying to hide it, that errors are not always the fault of the individual, and that changes to technology and the environment it is used within can reduce the likelihood of error in the long term for everyone. Although the website is couched in terms of human error, that is only for rhetorical and engagement purposes. The term is overused and too readily satisfies people who are looking for a cause for an incident or accident. Stopping at human error fulfills the need for blame, providing a scapegoat. However, it masks important factors that contributed to the accident along the way. For example, were people overworked and in stressful conditions; did they have the right knowledge, support and training; was the technology they used well designed and user-friendly; was there a good safety culture; and were appropriate procedures in place to catch mistakes? By collecting examples on the Errordiary website we hope people will be prompted to think about the diverse range of errors, what contributes to them and how to reduce them.

It is widely accepted that “to err is human.” Avoiding error is human too, but we don’t talk about that much. The idea of ‘Resilience strategies’ has been suggested to capture the things people do to help them avoid error: whether leaving their umbrella by the front door so they don’t forget it, tying a knot in a hanky to remember something, or setting a reminder on their phone. Examples have been collected and explored through Errordiary.

Helping people understand error
The ways people avoid making mistakes, collected through Errordiary led to our developing an initial vocabulary for talking about different resilience strategies which we are gradually improving. For example, setting a reminder on your phone is an example of cue creation. Having a spare phone charger at work is an example of resource management. We then worked with pharmacists to explore how people might use these different types of strategies to help them avoid making mistakes when taking their medication. Researchers outside of our group have taken this forward by recognising resilience strategies for specific conditions, e.g. tuberculosis treatment.

Errordiary has been used to enhance teaching about human error in psychology, computer science and human factors at several UK universities. A lecturer from Hong Kong has also expressed an interest in using Errordiary for teaching.

We have used Errordiary to raise awareness around human error and resilience strategies with medical professionals, people with diabetes and the public through an engaging workshop. At the end of 2013 we also ran a competition to engage a broader audience. Traffic to the site increased from about 2,000 unique visitors over the 100 days before the competition, to more than 6,000 over the same period of the competition. Before the competition 71% of survey participants said that a reason they use Errordiary is because they know people within the project. After the competition this dropped to 47%. 85 new members created Errordiary accounts during the competition.

In 2013/4 we gave presentations based on Errordiary in two different hospitals to medical professionals and medical academics. These presentations raised awareness of human error, resilience strategies and blame culture. In both medics reported that much of the information presented was interesting and new to them. One doctor explicitly said,

“I will be running a session on error and resilience strategies in my clinical practice, inspired by you!”

See also ...

  • Persuasive games
  • Blame culture
  • Resilience

Key People
Dominic Furniss, Jo Iacovides, Charlene Jennett, Sandy Gould, Sarah Wiseman, Anna Cox.

Wiseman, S., Gould, S., Furniss, D. & Cox, A. (2012). Errordiary: Support for Teaching Human Error. The Contextualised Curriculum Workshop at CHI 2012

Furniss, D., Back, J. & Blandford, A. (2012) Cognitive Resilience: Can we use Twitter to make strategies more tangible? Proc. ECCE 2012.

Furniss, D., Barber, N., Lyons. I., Eliasson, L., Blandford, A. (2013). Unintentional Nonadherence: Can a spoonful of resilience help the medicine go down? BMJ Quality & Safety.

Jennett, C., Furniss, D., Iacovides, I. & Cox, A. (2014). In the MOOD for Citizen Psych-Science. A session at Citizen Cyberscience Summit 2014.

Gould, S., Furniss, D., Jennett, C., Wiseman, S., Iacovides, I. & Cox, A. (2014). MOODs: Building Massive Open Online Diaries for Researchers, Teachers and Contributors. CHI Work-in-Progress. Poster.

Iacovides, I., Cox, A. L., Furniss, D., & Myketiak, C. (2014). Exploring empathy through sobering persuasive technologies: “No breaks! Where are you going missy?” Demonstration presented at the 2014 BCS Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (BCS-HCI 2014), Southport, UK, September 2014. (Abstract only.)

Iacovides, I. & Cox, A.L. (2014). Designing persuasive games through competition. Paper presented at the Workshop on “Participatory Design for Serious Game Design: Truth and Lies” at CHI Play 2014, Toronto, Canada, October 2014.

Furniss, D., Iacovides, J., Jennett, C., Gould, S., Cox, A. & Blandford, A. (2014). How to run an Errordiary Workshop: Exploring errors and resilience strategies with patients, professionals and the public. Third Resilience Health Care Net Meeting, Hindsgavl Castle, August 12-14 2014.

Jennett, C., Furniss, D., Iacovides, I., Wiseman, S., Gould,S. & Cox, A. (2014). Exploring Citizen Psych-Science and the Motivations of Errordiary Volunteers. Human Computation.

Sujan, M. & Furniss, D. (2015). Organisational reporting and learning systems: Innovating inside and outside of the box. Clinical Risk, 0(0), 1-6.

Iacovides, I. & Cox, A.L. (2015). Moving Beyond Fun: Evaluating Serious Experience in Digital Games. To appear in the Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York, NY, USA, ACM. Honourable mention.

This work was funded by a UCL Public Engagement Beacon Bursary Grant, the EU project Citizen Cyberlab [Grant No 317705], and the CHI+MED project which  is supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council  [EP/G059063/1].