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Making Friends With Failure

January 16, 2011

I’ve been trying, at least as much as my less than desirable internet connection will allow, to follow along with the 2011 EWB National Conference Kumvana, through the #EWB2011 Twitter feed.  Seeing as I can’t be there in person this year, hearing the most thought provoking ideas and thoughts through the tweets of others will have to do.

One of the most exciting things I’ve found so far is the release of EWB’s 2010 Failure Report and even more importantly, a site, called Admitting Failure, dedicated to sharing failures between different development organizations, so that we can all learn from each other’s mistakes.  The failure report has only been out for a short time, but already it’s been pretty advantageous for my work in particular.

Followers of this blog will know that I’m working with the Mzimba District council to support their implementation of a water point monitoring process and this week the district has been working on their annual work plan for the funding organization that provides the majority of funds for district water and sanitation activities.

I was somewhat concerned this week to see a line item in the 2011 budget to their funding partner for water monitoring activities.  The idea behind the water monitoring process has always been that it is district led, and doesn’t require an outside funding source.  This is by design, as having a process that is not funded by an outside party, means that the district has increased control over what and how data is collected, the process is more likely to last into the future even if funding is removed and cut, and most importantly it demonstrates the district’s demand which will lead to resulting use of the system.  If they are willing to pay for it themselves out of their own limited budgets, it is more likely to be used, appropriate to their needs, and something that they can and will really use.

The timing of the failure report this year is especially serendipitous.    The first story in the failure report was submitted by my colleague in Malawi, Owen Scott, about a District monitoring program in Machinga, which went through a very similar discussion when implementing their process.  Now, I was aware of the challenges that happened in Machinga, but his failure report has given me concrete evidence of why this is not a good idea, and a tangible starting point for discussions with the district as to why relying on outside funding for these activities, when its possible without, may not be a good idea.  It was also a bit of a wake-up call, and reminder of what the effects could be. Having Owen’s story spelled out in front of me once again, not only reinforced my ideas, but provided a great sharing platform for others in my District to also learn from what happened.

Sharing failures with others doesn’t take away from our credibility, everyone makes mistakes.  The problem comes when you don’t learn from them.  The failure report has been out for approximately 48 hrs, and I’ve already found value in it.  Take that value and multiply it by the number of entries and lessons we can get by opening it up to other organizations, then by the number of people who will hopefully read the report, or visit the site, and then again by the amount of time into the future these lessons will be shared.   The possible effects are quite stunning.

So, in short,  I for one am making friends with failure; by bookmarking the for both future contribution of my own mistakes and learning from others, and hoping that the international aid and donor community will join me.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 16, 2011 9:34 pm

    When you learn from mistakes, it creates experience, which is invaluable, and as Thomas Edison once said; “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do, doesn’t mean it is usless”.
    Leaning is a never ending journey, so keep smiling and understand which road will take you to the target for which you are aiming.
    Love, Dad

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