Wednesday 8 May 2013

Learning from Failure in Sanitation (Part II )

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
Antananarivo, Madagascar
Credit: Pippa Scott
Practice (SanCoP), of which BPD is one of the convening organisations. Following on from this, five SanCoP members have co-authored a discussion paper:
Learning from failure: lessons for the sanitation sector. We presented the paper at the most recent SanCoP workshop, held at University College London in April 2013. Below is an abstract. We would love to hear your feedback and ideas using the comments feature below. 

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.

For examples of 'failure' in sanitation and also water projects, see this ongoing blog from Improve International.

Abstract from 

Learning from failure: lessons for the sanitation sector

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.

1 comment:

  1. This is interesting. Sanitation has always been a problem to those of us in the Water and Sanitation Sector. However, once when we lamented that sanitation was a failure to a visiting WB team, we were told that if we could even get one person to accept to build a latrine, it was a success! Interesting indeed!