Failing in public -- one way to talk openly about (and learn from) 'failed' projects

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failure is not (only) child's play | image attribution at bottom I had the good fortune to participate in the recent FAILfaire event in DC organized by the MobileActive NGO and the innovations team at the World Bank Institute. What's a FAILfaire, you ask?  In the words of the organizers:

"While we often focus on highlighting successes in our field, it’s no secret that many projects just don’t work – some don’t scale, some aren’t sustainable, some can’t get around bureaucratic hoops, and many fail due to completely unanticipated barriers. At FAILFaire we want to recognize the failures: the pilots that never got anywhere, the applications that are not delivering, the projects that are not having any measurable impact on the lives of people, and the cultural or technical problems that arise."

Here are the respective event wrap-ups from both WBI and MobileActive.

While investigations into 'failure' like this to promote learning are increasingly common in some parts of the private sector, the public sector has been, for the most part, quite reluctant to engage in this sort of thing (the bureaucratic incentives for doing so point in the wrong direction for most public officials and civil servants). Hopefully last week's event provides some additional 'courage' for organizations active in international development to permit their staff (as well as those NGOs whose activities they often fund) to participate in and benefit from such learning opportunities, both within the walls of their own institutions, and publicly as well.


Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post ["failure is not (only) child's play"] comes from Flickr user KimNavarre via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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