Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

EDULEARN11 conference, Barcelona (Spain), on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July, 2011


The Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) technique is a well-established “key tool” [1] for risk assessment and management in the field of engineering that has been ‘borrowed’ extensively in recent years by other areas such as the field of medicine, chemical process industries, and the automotive industry, where it has been utilised as a quality improvement tool. In a very structured way the FMEA enables a team of individuals to assess and manage risk by clarifying potential failures or problems with the product, service or process under review, highlighting the effects or consequences of those failures, and agreeing procedures to be put in place to either eliminate the occurrence of those effects or mitigate the severity of their consequences.

In the absence of a standardised risk assessment strategy in the field of higher education (HE) and research, this paper details a study undertaken at a HE institute in Ireland that ‘borrowed’ the FMEA technique and modified it for use in the field of HE and research specifically, in order to evaluate its potential role and value for the field. Once modified in ways that supported the epistemological assumptions of the borrowing discipline, the technique was used to carry out a risk assessment of the strategies in place at the institute in question to implement its elearning initiative. Subsequently, how the research process itself ran, as well as the type and quality of the data the technique helped generate, were analysed in depth.

The key finding of the study emerged as the high level of reflection that the modified FMEA technique encouraged unexpectedly amongst the participants. It provided them with a rare and invaluable opportunity to reflectively analyse the strategies in question, which led to significant outcomes for them. This in turn led to the design of the Failure Mode Effects Reflective Analysis (FMERA) qualitative research technique for the field of HE and research, which holds huge potential for the field in this era of great change and need for continuous quality improvement. This paper will introduce the technique and provide practical recommendations for its use.