#FAIL? There’s No Shame in Learning from It

A key component to successfully engaging with your community is knowing your value, knowing what you bring to the table as part of the community. We learn what value we bring by evaluating our successes and failures continually, making improvements, replicating success, adapting over time.

At NCME we’ve been thinking a lot about success stories lately, due to our recent launch of the Stories of Impact layer on Public Media Maps. We’re thrilled to provide a tool to help stations demonstrate their successes and to highlight the nationwide impact of public media work. Stories are integral to our engagement work in public media, and stories of success aren’t the only ones out there. We struggle to open up about our failures, but there seems to be a trend of people clearing the way to help us all learn from that other, equally important side of the coin.

In the interest of shining a bright light on failure in order to learn and improve, Engineers Without Borders Canada has started Admitting Failure, a website that allows organizations to come and share a story of failure in the interest of helping all organizations collectively improve. Their motto? “Learning from what’s not working. Creating space for what is.” There is some relief in calling a spade a spade, and novelty in seeing others publicly do so. But the site also emphasizes the importance of seeing failure as an opportunity, and those who are submitting their stories of failure are making a point to cover the lessons learned, not just to paint portraits of disaster. A similar public offering will be available at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference next week (one of several conferences in March at which you will find NCME staffers). I’ve noticed several of the sessions specifically deal with stories of failure, and bringing those lessons to light for the nonprofit sector. Public media is taking steps in this direction, too: according to the PBS SPI Twitter feed, they’re working on a session about lessons learned from failure for the PBS Annual Meeting.

We can learn the most from ourselves and others when we assess our work honestly and authentically. Author Nina Simon (The Participatory Museum) described some incredible engagement work she and her students did in a recent blog post. Her recounting of the projects this team took on contains great gems of information about place-based engagement and collaboration. In addition, she writes with refreshing frankness and transparency about what worked, what the challenges and surprises were, and why.

Not all organizations feel the freedom to put their failures on a public stage, and perhaps yours is one. What are the ways in which we can infuse the openness of that public platform into our work?

One Response

  1. […] failed experiments, is it also stifling innovation? (the conversation reminded this blogger of a recent post from NCME’s Jess […]

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