Bringing this back to development cooperation, I’ve observed quite number of failures occurring. I regularly encounter discussions on LinkedIn and at events where individuals don’t necessarily complain but rather engage in conversations about projects attempting certain approaches. Inevitably, someone chimes in, pointing out that development cooperation had tried these methods before, and they haven’t yielded the desired results. There is this feeling that development cooperation does not sufficiently study its own cases. Especially with personal interaction which seems to have the capacity to carry a lot of critical information no-one dares to put into writing.
Additionally, there are knowledge management processes in place, diligently attempting to capture all relevant information. However, a prevailing issue is that this wealth of information often goes unread. Even as new knowledge management approaches are introduced and discussed, there’s a concerning lack of acknowledgment or integration with the previous knowledge management systems.
In essence, within development cooperation, we find ourselves in a perplexing situation. Many failures stem from the tendency to ignore the knowledge acquired from past endeavors. Ironically, alongside these repeated failures, we also witness occasional “fail fairs” where the acknowledgment of failures is embraced as an opportunity for discussion and learning. Large organizations engaged in development cooperation are keen on encouraging discussions about failures to prevent their recurrence.
However, there’s a caveat to this embracing of failure. It often centers around what we can term Edmondson’s Type 2 Failures. These are the failures that occur when we persistently overlook established knowledge about processes and continue down a familiar, ineffective path. What makes this misleading is that these failures are presented as if they represent pioneering efforts into novel territories, ie. Intelligent Failures. While the projects might indeed be in new geographical locations and new tools, the underlying processes are far from innovative – they are well-trodden and have previously led to unfavorable outcomes.
This misrepresentation of Basic Failures as groundbreaking Intelligent Failures is, in essence, a disservice to the public. It creates a facade of innovation where, in reality, development cooperation often entails the transfer of existing practices from the developed to the developing world. This approach is far from innovative in its truest sense, and it does not foster the kind of innovation that local communities need. It’s attempted innovation transfer using ways that are anything but new.
In fact, the innovation in development cooperation should encompass not just the introduction of new equipment or tools but also substantial advancements in processes. It’s about rethinking how aid is delivered, the reasons behind choosing specific approaches, the locations of intervention, and the beneficiaries. Unfortunately, this aspect, the process innovation, often remains stagnant and largely unchanged.
To put it succinctly, there’s a pressing need for development cooperation organizations to reevaluate their delivery methods comprehensively. While there have been developments in overarching programming approaches and strategies, the day-to-day processes have largely remained untouched. From my perspective, this stagnation in process innovation is a critical concern that demands attention and communications plays a key role.
In summary, we must recognize that real progress in development cooperation necessitates more than just discussing failures; it requires a fundamental shift in how we approach and implement projects. It’s high time that we move away from the facade of innovation and genuinely examine our processes.