Failure happens. This is a community and a resource to encourage new levels of transparency, collaboration and innovation across the for-purpose sector.
It is painful for civil society organisations to acknowledge when we don’t meet our goals and objectives; it is just as painful to worry about how funders will react to such failure. The paradox is that we do everything we can to avoid these pains even though we all know failure is the best teacher and we have to be open and talk about our failures in order to learn. More than that, openly acknowledging failure is often a catalyst for innovation that takes our work from good to great.
To address this conundrum we need a paradigm shift in how civil society views failure. We think this starts with open and honest dialogue about what is working and what isn’t, so Admitting Failure exists to support and encourage organisations to (not surprisingly) admit failure.
1. To concede as true or valid <admit responsibility for a failure>
2. To allow entry <admit failure into the organization, allowing a safe space for dialogue>
Fear, embarrassment, and intolerance of failure drives our learning underground and hinders innovation.
No more. Failure is strength. The most effective and innovative organisations are those that are willing to speak openly about their failures because the only truly ‘bad’ failure is one that’s repeated.
These tools include manuals and practical guides for project managers and trainers working mainly in eastern and southern Africa.
- community-based environmental health promotion
- promoting health in rural communities
- school and community health clubs.
Convening and Facilitating Rapid Action Learning Workshops for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G)
These guidance notes intend to inform and support all who seek to sponsor, convene, facilitate and report on Rapid Action Learning (RAL) workshops anywhere in India and to contribute to the quality, sustainability and timely implementation of the national Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G) campaign (this translates to clean India mission).
They are primarily for districts convened at divisional level but can also be adapted for blocks at district level and drawn on for workshops at state and national levels. They draw on the approach, methods and lessons learnt so far through previous RAL workshops in India.
This blog originally appeared on the Institute of Development Studies website.
Do we really need debiasing, yet another word? Yes, unless anyone can improve on it, because we need a word to describe a rigorous discipline we development professionals need for grounded realism. This has been coming on me slowly. But now explorations and ‘aha!’ moments in India have accumulated and combined into an epiphany. For me, things will never be the same again. Let me explain.
The biases of rural development tourism
The biases of rural development tourism are old news. These are biases in brief rural visits from urban centres. They were a collective discovery and articulation at IDS in the early 1980s. They have now receded into the mists of history and been largely forgotten. Few in later generations of development professionals have heard of them. But with rapid change, they are now more relevant than ever.
The biases are spatial (main tarmac road, roadside, accessible from an urban centre…) , project (special villages and places where there are projects, good things to show, contacts…..), person (males, elite, adults, government and NGO staff….), seasonal (during the dry season, not the rains…), professional (questions and curiosity limited to specialised professional mindsets and interests) and diplomatic (being tactful, not inquiring about sensitive subjects) and (an addition since the 1980s) security (confined to places considered safe, and limited to those accessible in daylight….).
The biases interlock and reinforce each other to exclude those people who are most remote, powerless, vulnerable, poor, stigmatised, discriminated against – those whom the SDGs are not to leave behind. With the intensifying capital trap – being stuck in a capital city or urban centre by meetings, emails, visitors, demands for accountability, reporting, and the like – the biases combine now more wickedly than ever.
And there is a new distorting influence to add: competitive campaigns. This is high profile campaigns in which districts and organisations compete to achieve, and to be seen to have achieved, more than others. This last bias is striking with the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin in India, the impressively massive and hugely ambitious campaign driven by political commitment and priority which seeks to make rural India open defecation free by 2 October 2019.
Systemically, with almost every brief rural visit, there is a special reason for where the visitor is taken, who is met, what is said and what is shown. This is most brazen with atypical model communities such as the Millennium villages in African countries. It is also manifest in visits to successful projects, or where the Government or an NGO works or has contacts, somewhere easily accessible and so on. This leads to a scattered archipelago of islands of special cases and contacts that are seen, studied, quoted, and then quoted again and again back and forth by visitors, with the authority of their personal experience of rural, or for that matter urban, reality.
Visiting these islands is better than not visiting at all. But it results not in representative ground truth but in a take-off through repetition into sustainably biased myth. The expanses of sea between the scattered islands are overlooked, unvisited and unexplored, but are many times larger, and more typical, than the islands. Even those who demand representative rigour in statistics are themselves through such visits systemically vulnerable to grossly unrepresentative views of reality. And all this is accentuated when there are competitive target-driven campaigns.
How to offset bias
We need a systematic, timely and cost-effective approach offsetting the biases and for finding and exploring the seas between the islands. Here is what, again and again, I have found works astonishingly well, and far better than one might suppose.
- Ring fence a day. Take a day’s leave if necessary. Do not have any government or NGO person with you – just a driver, perhaps a colleague, and (in my case usually) an interpreter.
- Hire an unmarked vehicle.
- Drive out from your urban centre in any direction for 15-20km.
- Turn off left or right and drive for 5-10km.
- Turn left or right again and stop anywhere, perhaps a poor or typical village or other settlement.
- Wander around on foot, meet people, explain who you are and your interests, notice and ask about things, be friendly and interested, ask what people would like to show you, seek out those we might not meet – women, children disabled, low status, living on the fringes, key informants like teachers, local representatives, masons, health workers and so on.
- Tea shops can be brilliant. Go to a tea shop and chat. A male bias can be expected, but discussions can be immediately frank and revealing. You can carry out quick order-of-magnitude surveys based on people’s knowledge of different villages and other questions.
- Follow up on offers to show you things, or take you to see people or things.
- Go to several contrasting places during the day.
Discover the unexpected
Using this approach here is a tiny sample of what I have stumbled on in India. All happened to be in States or Districts that had been declared open defecation free (ODF). Except for one that was affluent and exceptional being on a main road, all were very far from ODF.
- A community of 40 Dalits in government-constructed housing with no toilets. In one was a pregnant woman with both legs paralysed who had to pull herself with her hands and crawl to a road and cross it to defecate. The only toilet in the whole community was just being completed, having been constructed by a woman entirely from her family resources.
- A mason who boasted that he had demolished over a hundred twin pit toilets (the cheaper and more sustainable type favoured by Government) and replaced them with more expensive and less sustainable septic tanks. This was good for his income but bad for the owners of the toilets.
- A village where a number of toilets each bore a painted statement that the government incentive money of Rs 12,000 had been spent on their construction. All were raised up because of seasonal flooding. They had walls but neither roof nor door nor pit! One was used for urination and stank.
- In a relatively affluent roadside village, beautifully decorated toilets. A mason said the absolute minimum for a toilet was Rs 80,000. A woman with no toilet said she could not afford this. She had to practise OD. The mason had never constructed a twin pit toilet which should cost less than the Government incentive of Rs 12,000. No way was a septic tank an option for the poor woman.
- A village with 175 households, 35 defunct toilets built by an earlier programme, and about 14 septic tanks entirely paid for and built by their owners. In this village it emerged from conversations with the village head, then with a group of men and then separately with a group of women, that they knew nothing or had barely heard about the SBM-G campaign, then near the end of its fourth year. No one had ever come to the village to tell them about the campaign. They had never heard of twin-pit toilets.
The point of these is not to denigrate the programme but to illustrate how the vast sea can differ from the scattered archipelago normally visited.
A challenge to all development professionals
So let me invite all, yes all, development professionals who see this to look in the mirror and be wary of visits which systemically reinforce misperceptions and generate and sustain myths. Ring fence days for you to ground truth through de-biasing. It is fulfilling, informative, fascinating and fun, to explore, to meet people casually, to wander, observe, ask, listen and gain new insights. Every single de-biasing visit I have done has made me wonder – will it happen again? Will I learn anything new this time? Will there be aha moments? Or will this be a wasted day? And every time, every single time, I have been startled and provoked by unexpected revelations. This has always happened. The insights have been intense and memorable, and the implications for policy, practice and research significant. The use of time has been extraordinarily cost-effective.
So let me challenge all fellow professionals who are engaged with rural or urban development – in government organisations, NGOs, training and research institutes, academics, the media, and funding agencies – all who have the scope to do so – to de-bias. Let me challenge all who can to encourage or require others in their organisations to do likewise. Escape the cognitive trap and help your colleagues to escape theirs. Be a devil. Straight away ring-fence a de-biasing day for yourself. Be systematically rigorous. De-bias, enjoy and tell others what you did and what you learnt.
Inspired to take up the challenge? For a useful reminder, download and print A systematic approach to debiasing, instructions from Robert Chambers
This book recognises that there has been no systemic approach to building capacities of the functionaries of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI): it is an attempt to fill the gap. It provides 10 modules, together with a base model, each designed to meet the training needs of different functionaries in different tiers of the system. Providing a training roadmap, it includes trainers' notes, content flow diagrams, sketches, posters and games as necessary aids for imparting training to functionaries of PRIs who are adult learners keeping learning theory fully in mind. It gives details of different steps to be followed by the trainer and includes 20 posters depicting the 29 disciplines of the PRIs.
These facilitation cards are suggestions of activities that can be integrated into ongoing adaptation processes. It is important to choose appropriate process for the overall learning process that is being facilitated. The activities are grouped into 5 different categories and can be adjusted and mixed as needed. These are: Overall Process; Energizing; Exploring Contents; Planning, and Monitoring.
Facilitating “Hands-on” Training Workshops for Community-Led Total Sanitation: A Trainer’s Training Guide
This publication responds to the demand for guidance on how to conduct training of community-led total sanitation (CLTS) facilitators. The fast spread of CLTS to now over 40 countries means that the demand for good facilitators and trainers of facilitators currently outstrips supply. As CLTS requires a special kind of facilitation, it also calls for a different type of training of facilitators. Training always has to be hands-on, in real time, through triggering in communities and lead to emergence of open defecation free (ODF) villages.
The guide includes much useful information on how to organise and conduct CLTS training of facilitators, as well as how to follow-up, and thereby hopes to spread good practice. It is intended for immediate use by trainers around the world. It will also be helpful for those who manage and supervise trainers and facilitators in terms of giving them insight into the different ways CLTS facilitation and training work, allowing them to appreciate the flexibility, specific support needs and special ways of working that CLTS entails.
The Trainers’ Guide encourages trainers to innovate as appropriate and to add to the core principles and practices outlined in this manual.
An intentional focus on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) is key to sustainable and effective Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects.
This guidance is for staff of WASH implementation and research projects and organisations, who are committed to improving the practice of GESI in their projects and organisations.
What is this tool for? To support individual and collective reflective practice among staff on the extent and quality of gender equality and social inclusion work in their WASH projects and organisation.
Who should use this tool? Anyone working on WASH implementation or research projects that wants to improve (GESI) practice.
Who needs to be involved in the process?
- A Contact Point within your project/organisation/team to guide the process internally
- Staff and managers from across your organisation/team/project (maximum 20 people)
- A facilitator, ideally someone external
How long does the process take?
- For implementing WASH agencies, four x 2 hour workshops, plus 2 hours individual preparation and 2 hours preparation in pairs
- For research and learning WASH organisations, three x 2 hour workshops, plus 2 hours individual preparation and 2 hours preparation in pairs
This publication is also available in French and Portuguese:
- Outil d’autoévaluation de l’égalité des genres et l’inclusion sociale
- Ferramenta de auto-avaliação de Igualdade de Género e Inclusão Social
Watch the launch webinar here
The toolkit shows how participatory methods can be used to raise community voice, both through health research and by training communities to take effective action and become involved in the health sector. Generally, this toolkit aims to strengthen capacities in researchers, health workers and civil society personnel working at community level to use participatory methods for research, training and programme support. The toolkit uses experiences from different countries in the east and southern African region.
The Outcome Mapping manual was published in 2001. While still the go-to document for the basics on Outcome Mapping, the implementation and adaptations that individuals and groups have made with Outcome Mapping around the world on a gamut of different initiatives and programming provides a wealth of useful information for practitioners.
The OM Practitioner Guide aims to bring together all of these tips, tricks and nuggets in applying OM that have occurred since the manual was published.
The key audience for the OM Practitioner Guide is OM practitioners and facilitators that ideally have already read the manual and / or attended a training; they have already decided that OM is right for them and they want to use it, or already have begun to use it and would like guidance and ideas on activities, formats, specific tools or other adaptations of the methodology. The OM Practitioner Guide will build on the original manual to provide concrete examples of complexity-oriented planning, defining and monitoring results, and planning evaluations.
The OM Practitioner Guide will:
- Encourage the use and adaptation of OM by drawing on the experience of the broader OM community to showcase real-life examples that demonstrate non-linear use of OM stages and steps
- Be a reference guide that builds off existing resources and experiences in order to bring to the community practical examples and theoretical summaries that come from those examples
- Contextualize OM through nuggets / examples of use, remembering that OM is very amenable to contextualization and shaping itself into ways that are appropriate for different needs and contexts
- Build up the experience of using OM for monitoring and for evaluation (specific tools and formats, processes, challenges, tips for data collection, data analysis and sense-making, storage and organization), especially combined with other frameworks and tools
The OM Practitioner Guide is an ongoing collaboration amongst all OM Practitioners. The majority of content (nuggets) of the OM Practitioner Guide is in English; we encourage practitioners to contribute in other languages.
Participatory Adaptation Handbook: a practitioner's guide for facilitating people centred adaptation to climate change
This book has been compiled by a group of practitioners from South Africa, Ethiopia and Germany, and draws on their collective experiences in supporting local communities in adapting to increasing climatic variability and change. It aims to meet the widely expressed need amongst practitioners for a comprehensive tool that will support practical adaptation interventions.
The approach taken in this book is rooted in Participatory Action Research (PAR), which recognises that the people who are affected (in this instance) by climate variability and change are not only primarily responsible for determining and implementing responses within their own enterprises and communities, but also have a right to do so. If they are enabled to do so with the benefit of suitable technologies, accurate information, state of the art predictions and supportive institutions, they are far more likely to do so in ways that are effective and appropriate.
The book is organised into discrete sections to make it easy to access and use the information and tools that will be best suited to needs and requirements at different stages of conceptualising, planning and implementing adaption processes and interventions.
A team of researchers from the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) knowledge hub at the Institute of Development Studies, WaterAid and Praxis adopted an Immersive Research Approach (IRA) to try to gain in-depth understanding of ground realities and community perspectives relevant for the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G). They sought to learn and be open to emerging findings, while keeping a focus on behaviour change.
This note describes what they did, what they learnt, challenges they faced, and lessons and guidance for its use by others.
Visualisation in Participatory Programmes: how to facilitate and visualise participatory group processes
This manual has been written for the trained facilitator of group events. It is designed to reinforce concepts and techniques learned in training of facilitators and trainers in participatory group processes. VIPP is not wedded to a particular framework or academic discipline in problem solving, planning or training. Rather it is a set of tools that can be applied to just about any group process as long as the intention is to make such processes more participatory and democratic.
This is a manual for facilitators and trainers involved in:
- Planning and revising projects and programmes
- Communication materials development and story-line planning
- Putting research into action
- Community-level development work, including pra/pla
- Training workshops
- Training of facilitators and trainers
- Curricula development
- Running conferences and information markets
- Management, human-resource planning and team building
- Business meetings