Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stop talking about Success or Failure and Start Learning

The word puzzle above represents my notes from yesterday's Society for International Development (SID) event on "Navigating the Results Paradox: Trade-offs Between Results and Learning." The only way I see a trade-off is if you perceive that a limited amount of time and resources forces you to decide whether to focus on M&E or on Learning.  This is a false dichotomy.  Doing M&E for the sake of demonstrating results (proof of success really, because no one is interested in proving failure) is missing the point.  The emphasis on labeling a project either a success or a failure is wrong if the point is to learn and improve.  All projects are on a continuum of success and failure.   Each successful project encountered things that didn't work as well as expected (small failures) that we can learn from. The compulsion to label things successes or failures and investments in "evidence" to do just that is misplaced.  If the compulsion was to learn, we would care much less about labeling individual projects and much more about what we learned from each individual product that allows us to improve the next one.  If you have to call everything a success, then call it successful because you learned from it (regardless of whether it achieved its intended objectives).  Stop talking about success or failure and start learning. Learn from results. 

That's what I wanted to say yesterday at the event but comments were not allowed, only questions. Next time I'll just phrase my comment as a question, something like this: "Don't you think that...[stating my opinion]?"  Here we go, that's technically a question.   I think the organizers of such events are afraid of long ranting/venting monologues by people in the audience.  I get that and I've been there but if you don't allow real participation from the audience, the format is quite rigid and you fail to leverage expertise of the people in the room. 

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