Practical Insights on Failure

failure in international development

Failure is the f-word in international development. Unspoken in polite company, yet a reality we all must face.

Failure in International Development

We often work in failed states, in market failure economies, on intractable problems that have stymied others for decades, if not centuries. How arrogant or foolish of us to expect success 100% of the time?

But if you read our project reports, we have “uneven successes”, “lessons learned”, and every other euphemism we can imagine just to keep from saying one simple word: failure.

Project Failure Examples

We are on a mission to make failure acceptable in development discussions. There is great value in examining our mistakes and learning from failure as we go beyond the easy and the simple.

Let’s navel-gaze at where we have all gone wrong in international development:

Why ICT4D Projects Fail Even With Community Engagement

Why ICT4D Projects Fail Even With Community Engagement

Published on: Sep 24 2020 by Guest Writer - 1 Comment
Successes in development projects are often reported but failures, however minor, are typically omitted from many types of reports. This is not a helpful practice...
Fail Festival DC is Dead. Long Live Failure!

Fail Festival DC is Dead. Long Live Failure!

Published on: Nov 08 2018 by Wayan Vota - 18 Comments
Way back in 2009, we organized a Twitter Chat on Failure with Michael Downey moderating the freewheeling discussion. Born from that conversation was Fail Faire,...
9 Lessons Learned in Rolling Out Dimagi’s Mobile Device Management Pilot

9 Lessons Learned in Rolling Out Dimagi’s Mobile Device Management Pilot

Published on: Nov 01 2018 by Guest Writer - Comments Off on 9 Lessons Learned in Rolling Out Dimagi’s Mobile Device Management Pilot
Enumerators, who are people like you and I, like to download Candy Crush, Facebook, YouTube videos, mobile screen savers, to their mobile phones, and use up significant...
9 Lessons Learned From Failed ICTforAg Interventions

9 Lessons Learned From Failed ICTforAg Interventions

Published on: Jun 06 2018 by Wayan Vota - Comments Off on 9 Lessons Learned From Failed ICTforAg Interventions
The potential for ICTs in agricultural development is almost endless and numerous applications are being developed and deployed. However, whilst everyone would...
In ICT4D We’re Principled, But Are We Practiced Enough? – Your Weekend Long Reads

In ICT4D We’re Principled, But Are We Practiced Enough? – Your Weekend Long Reads

Published on: Feb 17 2018 by Steve Vosloo - 2 Comments
Starting with the Principles for Digital Development, we now have principles for many development sectors,and principles for cross-cutting themes, including principles...
Surprise! Esoko’s Agricultural Market Prices Are Private Sector Failures

Surprise! Esoko’s Agricultural Market Prices Are Private Sector Failures

Published on: Jan 04 2018 by Wayan Vota - 15 Comments
We’ve all heard of Esoko, the ICTforAg company specializing in market prices for farmers. Starting in Ghana in 2007, then expanding across West Africa and...
Why Our Cash Catalog Was A Failure

Why Our Cash Catalog Was A Failure

Published on: Nov 30 2017 by Guest Writer - 3 Comments
The Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network (ELAN) works to improve the effectiveness and impact of digital payments in humanitarian response. Within this...
The Top 10 ICT4D Project Failures Will Surprise You

The Top 10 ICT4D Project Failures Will Surprise You

Published on: Nov 15 2017 by Guest Writer - 3 Comments
What day-to-day failures do you expect to happen most in your ICT4D projects? Laptop theft? Viruses? Outright malfeasance? I worry every day about the risks to...
Well That Was a Failure

Well That Was a Failure

Published on: Oct 26 2017 by Wayan Vota - 3 Comments
In early 2015, I had a brilliant idea. I thought we could use sensors to have an impact on hypertension, which is a leading cause of heart attacks, stroke, sepsis,...
Lessons From a MERL Tech Confessional: It’s All About Assumptions

Lessons From a MERL Tech Confessional: It’s All About Assumptions

Published on: Oct 31 2016 by Guest Writer - Comments Off on Lessons From a MERL Tech Confessional: It’s All About Assumptions
It’s been said that good science is the art of getting less wrong over time. Maybe the same principle applies to the use of technology for monitoring, evaluation,...