Sanitation projects regularly fail. Sometimes this means that programmes do not achieve their stated aims; other times these failures are setbacks that can be rectified with sufficient reflection and action. In the worst cases, the purported ‘beneficiaries’ of these projects are harmed – sometimes even killed – through unintended consequences borne of admirable intentions. These tales of failure are rarely shared with the wider sector, in part due to a culture of covering up things that go wrong.
Here we present the results of a participatory project with over 100 field-based WASH professionals in four sub-Saharan African countries (South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). The project aimed to understand how and why field-based WASH professionals from a range of organisations, including governmental, non-governmental and private sector, believe failures occur, their experiences when discussing them within their organisation and the sector, and how they believe a culture conducive to greater public sharing and learning from failures could be nurtured.
The project methodology was a two-step participatory process. First, local data collectors developed a contextually appropriate data instrument, taking into account local attitudes to the language of failure. The data instrument was used by data collectors to conduct interviews and focus group studies with field-based WASH professionals. The data are currently being analysed and the findings and recommendations will soon be shared with the WASH professionals interviewed for their inputs on our interpretations of the data. The aim of this inclusive process is to lead to practical guidance for sharing and learning from failures in the four focus countries, as well as identifying commonalities across sub-Saharan Africa more broadly. Ultimately, it is hoped that this will result in more successful WASH programmes as sector actors learn from one another and gain insights from the experiences of their colleagues. This will also reduce the number of negative unintended consequences that currently occur, safeguarding the well-being of beneficiaries whose health and income is so often negatively impacted by failed projects.
Video of presentation available: https://youtu.be/_0jk3fzuhxI