Water Currents: Learning from Failures

Water Currents: Learning from Failures, April 23, 2019

Many international development projects have unintended negative consequences. Without post-implementation evaluation, these unintended consequences can go unnoticed by almost everyone—except the people who were supposed to benefit from the project. Even with evaluations, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals are often reluctant to share poor findings due to perceived repercussions. However, allowing others to learn from mistakes could help to prevent the same problems from happening again. learning

Several organizations, including USAID, @FSM_Fail, Improve International, the World Bank, and others, are pushing to change this attitude toward failure. They see learning from failure as a way to improve the success and sustainability of programs and projects in the WASH sector.

This issue features articles that talk about failure, how to identify and avoid future failures, and the role of finance in mitigating failure. It includes case studies from Tanzania, Nigeria, and Nepal, as well as studies that discuss learning from failure in rural water supply and urban sanitation systems. Also highlighted are studies that looked at both success and failure, including the first four (in a series of six) ex-post evaluations that discuss factors that affect the long-term sustainability of USAID WASH projects. A special thanks goes out to @FSM_Fail and Improve International for contributing content and reviewing this issue.


Learning from Failures – Overviews
Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-Ups: Sharing Failures in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene ProgramsEngineering for Change, August 2018. Until a culture of sharing and learning from failures is more widely instilled in the WASH sector, practitioners will continue to make the same mistakes, possibly at the expense of those whom the programs are designed to benefit. This article describes how a “failure event” raised awareness of this topic.

The Nakuru Accord: Failing Better in the WASH SectorUniversity of Leeds WASH Blog, January 2019. In July 2018, an event at the Water Engineering Development Centre Conference in Nakuru, Kenya, “Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-ups: A WASH Game Show,” (mentioned above) inspired a call for WASH professionals to publicly commit to sharing their failures and learning from one another. The Nakuru Accord is that commitment.

Opinion: Want to Improve Development Outcomes? Anticipate the Failures. Here’s HowDevex, February 2018. This article discusses “premortems,” a strategy in which a team imagines that a project has failed, and then works backward to determine what can lead to failure in order to address the issues before projects start.

Read the complete issue.

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