Failing better in the WASH sector: Acknowledging the elephant in the WASH room

Dani Barrington, Rebecca Sindall, Esther Shaylor

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


WASH projects, programs and policies often fail - they may not achieve their stated aims, be sustainable in the longer term or, while some failures can be rectified with sufficient reflection and action, in the worst cases, those we are aiming to help are harmed through the unintended consequences of our work. For example, children are sometimes injured, or killed, by failed infrastructure, and households have often invested their meagre savings and valuable time in infrastructure that has not been socio-culturally appropriate or sustainable. Failing in the same way again and again is something we should be ashamed of. As a sector, we need to do better. We need to learn from one another to inform and improve our work. Over the past five years we have attempted to foster this change through a program of research, advocacy and action. We have learned about the causes of failure, the methods people are adopting to avoid failure, and how to encourage more open conversations about failure. This information and the skills to discuss and address failure can strengthen the enabling environment in which WASH programs take place, with a goal of ensuring the sector provides sustainable and scalable services and approaches that meet the needs and preferences of those we work for – communities themselves. In this presentation we will share what we have learned from primary research with over one hundred frontline WASH staff and WASH funding organisations, as well as through facilitated discussions, interactive workshops, and a journal Special Collection on learning from failure. This will include the seven mostly commonly identified causes of failure, practical recommendations for practitioners, researchers, funders and policy-makers to pre-empt and address failure, and tips and tricks for making uncomfortable conversations about failure a little easier.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023
EventWater and WASH Futures Conference: Achieving SDG in a Changing Climate - Brisbane, Australia
Duration: 13 Feb 202314 Feb 2023


ConferenceWater and WASH Futures Conference
Internet address


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