Hindsight is 20/20.
We often tell ourselves this as we look back on failures and see how we could have done things better, but sometimes we move onto the next thing without remembering to think about our past mistakes. This can be especially detrimental in development work, when our actions and decision can have a major impact on people’s lives.
So, how can we actually learn from our collective failures? It turns out there are at least two great resources that we can use.
EWB-USA has a working database of lessons learned, compiled from the technical reports that chapters are required to submit throughout the project cycle. These lessons vary from very technical (ways to save time when installing pipes) to logistical (advantages of using walkie talkies) to social (ensuring that translations of instructions are done thoroughly). This is a great resource for EWB teams looking for specific advice, as the database can also be filtered by project location and lesson category.
EWB-Canada have taken this a step further, compiling an annual failure report showcasing failures of different categories from their projects, and the valuable lessons learned from these episodes. There is even a failure-sharing online platform spun off from this initiative: admittingfailure.org. Here, you can browse failure stories and submit your own to share with others.
It’s time to embrace and harness our 20/20 hindsight, rather than shrug it off as an afterthought. We need to take advantage of the fact that one person’s hindsight can help another’s foresight. Let’s open up the conversation about failures so that we can move ahead meaningfully and continue to innovate in development.