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:

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,...
When the First Step is a Failure…

When the First Step is a Failure…

Published on: Dec 14 2015 by Wayan Vota - 1 Comment
Last Thursday night, we had the 5th Annual Fail Festival DC, and by the tweets and photos it was an amazing event. Woven into the fun were several strong lessons...
Why Do Evaluations of eHealth Programs Fail?

Why Do Evaluations of eHealth Programs Fail?

Published on: Dec 09 2015 by Guest Writer - 1 Comment
Much has been written about why electronic health (eHealth) initiatives fail. Less attention has been paid to why evaluations of such initiatives fail to deliver...
MERL Tech Lessons Not Learned in International Development

MERL Tech Lessons Not Learned in International Development

Published on: Oct 26 2015 by Guest Writer - 4 Comments
The world has made several commitments to water and sanitation, starting as far back as the 1970s, and leading up to the recent Sustainable Development Goals. Also...
Throwing an ICT4D BRCK at Hard Education Problems

Throwing an ICT4D BRCK at Hard Education Problems

Published on: Sep 23 2015 by Wayan Vota - 19 Comments
Congratulations to BRCK on their launch of BRCK Education yesterday. The Kio Kit is certainly a very cool hardware solution that has key innovations for educational...
3 Reasons Why Your Next Online Community Idea Will Fail

3 Reasons Why Your Next Online Community Idea Will Fail

Published on: Jul 13 2015 by Wayan Vota - 10 Comments
As the initiator of three successful websites, EduTechDebate, OLPC News, and ICTworks, I am often asked to help others create online communities. Now they can be...
Stop Reinventing the Flat Tire with Custom Software Development

Stop Reinventing the Flat Tire with Custom Software Development

Published on: Jul 10 2015 by Guest Writer - 9 Comments
News flash: most nonprofits are terrible at software development, open-sourcing is not a sustainability plan, and constantly re-inventing the wheel is a poor way...
Fail Festival 2014: Failure Happens and Flowers Grow From It

Fail Festival 2014: Failure Happens and Flowers Grow From It

Published on: Dec 15 2014 by Guest Writer - Comments Off on Fail Festival 2014: Failure Happens and Flowers Grow From It
At a typical development meeting, the person responsible for an epic fail would slip into a trapdoor and be consumed by sharks with freakin’ lasers. Yet at...