Failure Reports: learning from our mistakes
Engineers without Borders (EWB) Canada believes that success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means sometimes failing. Launched in 2009, the Failure Reports embrace the idea that it is important to publicly celebrate these failures, which allows others to share the lessons more broadly and create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking.
At less than 30 pages each, The Failure Reports readily embrace the notion that it is important to learn from ones mistakes – and tell others. In an age if information abundance EWB believes that knowledge that flows from direct experience (both good and bad) should be shared so that others are not doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Without accountability and transparency such contentious issues within partner countries, EWB have taken the approach of leading by example in professionalising failure reporting.
The reports take the form of one or two page testimonials that relay the activity, the mistake or failure, why there was a failure and the learning lessons for the future. What began as a conference is now a fully funded organisational report. In the 2011 report there are nine individual reports in total plus a response from the co-CEOs of EWB responding to staff and volunteers on organisational priorities.
Engineers Without Borders Canada is movement of engineers driven to create meaningful and lasting opportunities for Africans by tackling the root causes of why poverty persists. EWB envisions a world where the next generation of Africans will have the same opportunities as Canadians today.
Big Ideas in this Resource
- Success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes.
- It’s important to publicly celebrate these failures which allows us to share the lessons more broadly and create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking.
- By creating a culture that is open to failure, and that celebrates the thoughtful articulation and sharing of those failures, we create the conditions for greater impact in our work
- Having that conversation across organizations all of a sudden puts failure in a different light. There’s no blame; it’s about recognizing how complex the problem of doing development is and that we have to continuously be trying to improve and that means recognizing where we’re failing and improving on that.
The report suggests two ways of approaching the stories and learning lessons provided:
First, ask yourself: How am I going to apply these lessons?
If you are creating change elsewhere:
- How can I apply these lessons, in my organization, in my context?
- What is relevant or similar to situations I’ve faced?
Second is to go back and read the 2008 and 2009 reports.
- Did we learn from them, or are we making the same mistakes again?
- If so, why and what needs to change?
What about in your work, as you reflect on the past: Are you making the same mistakes again?
Engineers Without Borders, Canada official website
Launched in 2011 by EWB three years after their failure reports, the Admitting Failure website is a place where aid organisations can post flawed ventures in the spirit that the benefits of disclosure outweigh the risks. For more see https://www.admittingfailure.com/