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  • on 03.08.2013
  • at 11:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Let’s make a success of failures 0

Unsuccessful development initiatives offer vital lessons — but only if we are open about failure, says Ben Taylor.
I was recently involved in a public declaration of failure. An innovative development programme I ran didn’t come close to meeting its targets, so we shut it down. And we went further, publicly declaring that the programme had failed and striving to share lessons from the failure as widely as possible.

Embracing failure can be uncomfortable, but it plays a hugely valuable role in the learning and improvement process. We need to be more honest — and more encouraging of honesty.

The Maji Matone story

Our idea was a simple one: to give people in rural Tanzania a means of using their mobile phones to report broken down waterpoints — handpumps, wells and standpipes — and to work with the media to put pressure on the government to get the problems fixed.

The initiative, called Maji Matone, was run by a small Tanzanian NGO, Daraja, in partnership with Twaweza, an independent initiative focusing on large-scale change in East Africa. Additional funds came from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). It met a clear need: nearly half of the waterpoints in rural Tanzania were not working at the time, and even minor breakdowns can go unrepaired for months or years. [1]

We received a lot of attention. Our approach ticked the right boxes: citizens’ participation, transparency, technology, innovation, accountability and the use of mobile phones. I was invited to conferences all around the world to talk about it and we got considerable media coverage before the programme had even started. [2]

Sadly, the reality did not live up to the promise. Rather than the 3,000 text messages we had expected in our pilot, we got 53, despite our best efforts to promote the service.

continue reading on SciDev Net

By Ben TaylorSciDev Net 

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