Admitting Failure

Admitting Failure

"There was a reason no one in the sector was talking about their failures already: development work is largely donor-driven and donors tend to stop funding people and projects that fail. This is not Silicon Valley - the risk aversion in the sector is palpable, stifling innovation and driving learning underground."
--Ashley Good, Admitting Failure and Fail Forward Venture Leader, writing for the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) M-Prize.
What Is It? 

Failure happens, but EWB believes it doesn’t need to be so hard to talk about. Walking the walk of the Admitting Failure and Fail Forward Ventures, EWB invests in a learning and innovative culture by sharing stories of failure - from across the organization - publicly each year.

Admitting Failure is a practice of embracing, talking about, and publishing programmatic and strategic failures. Since 2008, Engineers Without Borders Canada has published an annual Failure Report, populated with strong reflections on misaligned expectations, misplaced intentions, and incorrect assumptions.

The stories are shared - and celebrated - across the organization and distributed widely through EWB’s networks and outreach activities. Inspiring conversations, further reflection, and always learning and innovation, the Reports have evolved beyond the written communication to become a cornerstone of EWB’s culture and way of working.

Why Is It Important? 

One of the biggest barriers to organizations achieving their potential impact is that they do not want to admit that they have a program or service that does, or did not work. Ineffective practices and mistakes are repeated time and time again.

It is painful to acknowledge when we do not meet our goals and objectives, and just as painful to worry about how funders will react to such failure. The paradox is that we do everything we can to avoid these pains, even though we all know failure is the best teacher - and that we have to be open and talk about our failures in order to learn.

More than that, openly acknowledging failure is often a catalyst for innovation that takes our work from good to great.