Changing the way we change the world

Mistakes to Successes: Learning from Errors

by Susan Davis, Executive Director

happy with the water system

Let your customers define success (photo by Susan Davis)

In August 2015, I was in Stockholm for World Water Week.  I was surprised and excited to see a session called “Mistakes to Successes: Learning from Errors” on the agenda. I joined the session and found the presentations and discussions so engaging that I forgot to take notes.  Fortunately, the organizers prepared a summary, which you can find here.

The objective of the session was to provide recommendations on how to improve organizational learning and sharing of learning on errors. One example of adapting from learning was how Helvetas used behavior change science to improve the safety of stored household water.

A word that is missing in the summary is “accountability.” Let’s be honest: in this world of scarce resources, a not-for-profit organization is generally going to do what it is required to do (legally) or paid to do. If it don’t get funding to do monitoring as part of the program work, it probably isn’t going to find any failures. And if it doesn’t get funding to resolve the problems found during monitoring, well, then it usually just describes those problems in a “lessons learned” report.

My favorite recommendation is “Let our customers assess whether the project is a success,” which I believe is the most important part of accountability.  But it is not enough to assess customer satisfaction. If customer satisfaction is low, it should be addressed if possible.

How is your organization changing mistakes into successes?

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