by Stephen Jones for BPD Water and Sanitation
In December we blogged about learning from failure in sanitation, based on thought-provoking discussions at a workshop organised by the UK Sanitation Community of
|Poor sanitation in |
Credit: Pippa Scott
Stephen Jones and Nicola Greene have also co-authored a shorter commentary piece based on ideas in the discussion paper: Crossfire: Can ‘admitting failure’ help the WASH sector learn and improve its work?, published in the April 2013 edition of open-access journal Waterlines.
by Stephen Jones, Nicola Greene, Andrés Hueso, Hayley Sharp and
Ruth Kennedy-Walker, April 2013
This paper explores the idea of learning from failure in the sanitation sector. The recent trend of ‘admitting failure’ in aid and development forces sanitation practitioners, researchers and policy-makers to ask if we can and should address failure more openly in order to improve our work. The ideas in this paper developed from discussions at a workshop on ‘learning from failure’ convened by the UK Sanitation Community of Practice (SanCoP) designed to kickstart this debate.
We first discuss the concept of failure itself and identify different approaches to learning from failure relating to sanitation. These include acknowledging past failures in order to learn and adapt, and planning for ‘safe’ future failures through deliberate experimentation and innovation. We also argue that a series of further steps are required: understanding relevant previous approaches to learning from failure in the sector; recognizing different types of failure; seeking different actors’ perspectives on failure; and framing the debate about failure constructively rather than negatively.
In the second part of the paper we examine different practical examples of how actors in the sanitation sector have tried to learn from failure, to assess how this happened and what changes resulted. In the final section of the paper we conclude with suggestions for how individuals and organisations working in sanitation and international development more widely can learn from failure. We also propose the UK Sanitation Community of Practice (SanCoP) itself as one example of a ‘safe space’ in which people can meet to discuss and learn from failure.