Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Caitlin Grady, PhD Candidate in the Ecological Sciences and Engineering Program at Purdue University and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
It is well-known that, unfortunately, many development interventions worldwide have failed to provide benefits to the communities in which they are implemented. One can find failed projects from funders such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation in Africa, or failed digital villages in South Africa, or a campaign that donated computers to villages without power, and the list goes on. The possible reasons for these failures are numerous: some suggest that it may be due to a lack of local perspective from program implementers, others speculate that it may be the result of trying accomplish too many things things on much too short timelines, or perhaps it is due to one of the hundreds of other reasons outlined in both scientific inquiry and popular press.
If a quick Google search can find a number of resources on failed projects or programs, why are we still making million dollar mistakes? I reflected on this at The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014. As a Next Generation Delegate, I had the opportunity to represent a youth voice at the Symposium. Several of the speakers provided new and interesting technological advances or solutions to our complex global food challenges, yet there was little discussion about mistakes and failures of approaches in the past.
I suggest that we should talk openly about previous failures, project planning, local perspectives, follow through, and continued monitoring and evaluation. Let’s make room for failure in international development. This means embracing experimentation and learning from past failures. Some development organizations have already taken this step - Engineers Without Borders, for example, publishes Failure Reports, noting that “development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes.”
We can learn from previous failures, but only if we lower the “costs” of failure in our current social environment within the development community. Together we can change the discourse and start to make significant progress on working to bring basic human rights and needs to all.