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We

have a conundrum. It is really hard to talk about failures. Admitting Failure is here to help.
It is painful to acknowledge when we dont meet our goals and objectives and, particularly, development organizations worry about how their funders will react. The paradox of this conundrum is that 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, Admitting Failure support and encourages organizations to (not surprisingly) admit failure. admit/dmit/ Verb: 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>

In Summary
From January to August 2013 Admitting Failure will work with civil society organizations and their funders to understand the keys to creating a safe space to discuss failures. Admitting Failure will simultaneously use this growing understanding and expertise from working directly with clients to inform and pilot test five or more high-leverage mechanisms for scaling up this dialogue to create a culture shift across the development sector in Canada. Both the direct client work and scale up mechanisms will build on the success, expertise and reputation Admitting Failure has already earned through work with the J.W. McConnell Foundation and United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development as well as through the discussions generated from influential media coverage and thought leadership on the topic of learning from failures in the development sector. The long-term vision of Admitting Failure is to spark widespread acceptance of failure as an indicator and driver of innovation and as a catalyst for the collaborative learning needed for solving the complex problems we face. This is essential if the development sector is to reach its potential for enhancing quality of life for all. Impossible? Certainly not. Necessary? Without a doubt. Inevitable? I sure hope so. But the widespread shift in culture Admitting Failure seeks to catalyze across the development sector wont happen overnight. Knowing this, Admitting Failure is dedicated to continuous evaluation to understand which activities are most effective - and why - and drive the ongoing learning and improvement needed to create this culture shift towards organizational cultures that admit failure in order to encourage innovation and collaborative learning.

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Contents
This is how Admitting Failure will make the shift happen. .................................................................................................... 2 Direct client work .............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Outputs to date ............................................................................................................................................................. 2 Outcomes to date .......................................................................................................................................................... 3 Scale up mechanisms ......................................................................................................................................................... 3 Rapid prototyping of ideas for scaling up ...................................................................................................................... 3 After eight months ......................................................................................................................................................... 5 Outputs and outcomes to date ...................................................................................................................................... 5 Goals ...................................................................................................................................................................................... 6 Learning goals .................................................................................................................................................................... 6 Impact goals ....................................................................................................................................................................... 6

This is how Admitting Failure will make the shift happen.


There are two inter-dependent aspects to how Admitting Failure will achieve its vision to spark widespread acceptance of failure as an indicator and driver of innovation and as a catalyst for the collaborative learning needed for solving the complex problems we face. Those are by working directly with clients to understand the keys to creating a safe space to discuss failures within civil society organizations and by targeting high-leverage mechanisms for scaling the resulting culture shift across the development sector.

Direct client work


The foundation of Admitting Failure necessarily must be built on working hand-in-hand with organizations to support the courageous folks in the development sector who want to talk about and learn from their failures. It is by working with real organizations to create real culture change that we can build the tools and processes, develop the case studies and examples, and analyze the evidence to understand how Admitting Failure is most effective at creating the culture shift which allows for discussions about failures to happen. Understanding how the culture shift is created will be paired with an evaluation of the impact of this shift on both the performance and field operations of participating organizations. To compliment this work Admitting Failure will set up university-based research teams to understand how admitting failure has improved organizational performance. Looking beyond the individual organizations, an organizations ability to be transparent depends largely on their relationship with their donor therefore Admitting Failure seeks to bring funders into the dialogue whenever possible. This will be vital for understanding what each party will need in place to create a safe space for innovation, adaptive projects, organizational learning and more meaningful evaluations. In addition to creating change within these organizations, direct client work generates the knowledge and expertise that the scale up mechanisms are based on. Admitting Failure has started to build a client base and is now proactively seeking out strategic clients.

Outputs to date
United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development From April until October 2012 I worked with the United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) as a part of their Innovation Mainstreaming Initiative. I built greater acceptance of failure and ability to learn from it within the organization through the following activities: Bi-weekly advisory calls with IFADs cross-functional team assembled to create this culture shift within the organization; 2 | P a g e

A week spent imbedded within the Rome office in July 2012 to facilitate workshops, meet individually with staff from every corner of the organization including the president and members of senior leadership; and Present the organization with a report highlighting observations and recommendations which are now in the process of being implemented to support IFADs cross-functional team to further institutionalize the safe space for open dialogue.

J. W. McConnell Foundation From March until October 2012 I supported the Knowledge and Evaluation Program at the J. W. McConnell Foundation in their efforts to build an understanding of what it means to fail forward within the work of the Foundation as well as help the organizations they fund see the Foundations efforts to create a safe space for open dialogue about failures. The activities undertaken included: Facilitate a workshop for McConnell staff to expand perception of failure from its negative connotations to include appreciating failure as an indicator of an innovative learning culture, share my expertise as Head of Failure and Learning at EWB, and explore the failure foundations needed for McConnell staff to feel safe talking about their own failures; Participate in a webinar with John Cawley, Director of Programs and Operations and Dr. Natasha Blanchet- Cohen which will constitute the main attraction of the Failure module of the Innoweave platform; and Support the Knowledge and Evaluation Officer with the creation of four interactive workshops to accompany the Innoweave-based webinar as a means of supporting audience members to put the ideas presented about building a safe space for talking about failure into action within their own organizations.

Outcomes to date
United Nations International Fund for Agriculture Development President Kanayo F. Nwanze of IFAD personally gave his public support and encouragement for open discussions about failures amongst his staff because "IFAD is a successful institution that can always do things better." Following this support from senior levels of management a Country Programme Manager created a forum to openly discuss challenges he was having in his role overseeing operations in Indonesia. The Human Resource Director is revising performance evaluations to include incentives for talking about and learning from failures. Whats more, the cross-functional team is currently planning to convene an organization-wide fair to present key failures for discussion. J. W. McConnell Foundation The outcomes from my work with McConnell are less clear as the Innoweave module has yet to be launched. However, I joined Erica Barbosa Vargas, Program Officer at McConnell on a panel at the Social Finance Forum in Toronto and she spoke passionately about McConnells appreciation for the challenges of organizational change and their desire to discuss failures with the programs McConnell funds and give these programs the space they need to innovate, learn and improve.

Scale up mechanisms
The approach of working directly with clients is ideal for building expertise. Nevertheless, sector-wide culture change is what is truly needed to maximize learning and innovation in the development sector. Sector-wide change requires thinking systemically across sectors and disciplines to seek out and target the key leverage points that will be the catalysts for scaling up the impact. The first eight months will necessarily focus on prototyping ideas.

Rapid prototyping of ideas for scaling up


There are a number of ideas for how Admitting Failure can create wide-spread change throughout the sector. The first eight months is the time to put these ideas into practice and gather evidence and understand their effectiveness at changing behaviour across the sector. In these rapid prototypes Admitting Failure is dedicated to constant evaluation, questioning, and adaptation of each idea based on what is learned. 3 | P a g e

Below are five initial ideas that will be tested between January and August 2013 to gage their effectiveness at creating high-leverage change and their potential as initiatives Admitting Failure should drive forward after these first eight months. This is by no means a complete list of all the ideas that will be prototyped as other opportunities will certainly be uncovered as this work is pursued in earnest. I have ranked the ideas based on my estimation of their relative effectiveness and likelihood at creating change and will prioritize implementation of each accordingly. The evidence and logic used in ranking each idea is included in footnotes. 1. Target Charity Ranking Criteria from the most influential bodies ranking Canadian Charities (Charity Intelligence Canada, MoneySense, CharityRank.ca, SmartGiving) and encourage them to include transparent reporting of failures and successes in the evaluation criteria.1 2. Develop a graduated tool that evaluates and rates development sector organizations on a bronze, silver, gold, platinum standard for Admitting Failure (see Table 1: DRAFT Graduated Tool for Admitting Failure Practices)2 3. Expand tools and guides to include influence materials, a support community and other means of empowering the people within organizations who believe in Admitting Failure and want to spark the change within their own organizations from the grassroots up. 3 4. Build widespread awareness of Admitting Failure through interviews with the media, blogs, twitter and written articles, panels and other speaking opportunities to reduce the barriers to talking about failure and drive behaviour change by highlighting role models, building a sense of community and fostering understanding and conviction of the benefits of admitting failure.4 5. Convene forums for thematic learning that would see stakeholders from similar disciplines of social change come together to share failures and learnings. 5

Ranked highest based on conversations with a board member of OCIC who described the effectiveness of the CCIC Code of Ethics at influencing the behaviour of OCIC and its members. Furthermore, Admitting Failure has a proven strength of building relationships and influence in these situations. 2 Ranked highly based on combining the successes of ranking and accreditation systems such as the LEED standard for green buildings and B Corporation certification for social enterprises with direct experience with clients asking for such a tool to guide their progress. 3 Similar to the graduated tool, these are resources that clients have asked for to support their efforts to create a learning culture within their organization. While alone they are unlikely to trigger the culture shift, having resources available removes a barrier to entry. 4 The opportunities to build awareness for Admitting Failure are numerous. Within the eight month timeframe we are already booked to speak at two conferences, run two separate workshops, speak on a panel, work with a Schulich MBA class and a University of Maine Engineering Innovation class, and will be featured in two books, the New York Times and Entrepreneurship Magazine. As such, this idea will be carried out regardless based on the assumption that reading an article or hearing a talk about Admitting Failure will encourage action in the receiver of the information. This idea is ranked lower only because of the challenge of evaluating its effectiveness at catalyzing that action beyond anecdotal evidence. The intention in including it as a testable idea is to gage how much effort Admitting Failure should dedicated to pursuing opportunities to build awareness for the work. 5 While effective at building community and momentum for Admitting Failure, this idea is ranked lower as these forums for thematic learning already exist and there appears to be too many of them to influence one at a time to ensure a quality discussion about failure and learning becomes a part of them. However, there is a potential to generate momentum around designing new failure- based gatherings though this is not as high-leverage as other ideas and so ranked low.

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After eight months


From January to August 2013 I will be testing Admitting Failure as an approach for creating foundational behaviour change in the development sector in Canada both through direct client work and scale up mechanisms. Therefore, the direction of Admitting Failure after eight months will necessarily depend on the learning and failures gained through that pilot testing period. My intention is to present EWB with the results and evidence of progress of the first eight months in September 2013. At that time I will have proof of concept and a robust plan for the future of Admitting Failure based on eight months of evaluating the effectiveness of various mechanisms.

Outputs and outcomes to date


The scale up work to date has been largely opportunistic as, until September 2012, Admitting Failure was run as a side project on top of my role as Head of Failure and Learning at EWB. As such, the measurement of outcomes directly attributable to Admitting Failure activities is not a robust analysis but more of an assessment of trends. Nevertheless, since its launch in January 2011, Admitting Failure has been a force for change in creating dialogue about failure for more effective social change. Below I have listed some of the highlights of this work: major media successes, speaking engagements and web-based influence. Major media successes The Guardian: NGO hopes to benefit from failure, Charity Blogs Worth Watching Out For Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University: Embracing the F Word in Development The Toronto Star: Admit you were wrong and good things will follow, group says This Magazine: How Engineers Without Borders learned to embrace failure (and learn from it, too) Stanford Social Innovation Review: Thriving on Failure TED.com: What happens when an NGO admits failure Charity Village: When Its OK to Fail PRIs The World: Brilliant Failure BBC World Click: The digital tricks charities use to get us giving


The media has clearly taken an interest in depicting a much more nuanced conversation regarding failures in the social sector and the value of dialogue in order to learn from them. I continue to receive requests from influential media outlets at least once per month to speak about Admitting Failure. Major speaking engagements Open for Change - Open Data for Development Camp (Amsterdam, 12 and 13 May 2011) Millennium Network rewind.refresh.reboot. Conference (Toronto, 10 12 June 2011) Ontario Council for International Cooperation - 2011 Annual General Meeting (Toronto, 17 June 2011) Engineers Without Borders 2012 Conference, Systemic Innovations (Ottawa, 11 14 January 2012) MyCharityConnects collaborate.innovate.celebrate. Conference (Toronto, 12 and 13 June 2012) MaRS Discovery District - 2012 Social Finance Forum (Toronto, 8 and 9 November 2012) UK Sanitation Community of Practice Learning from Failures in Sanitation Workshop (London, 14 November 2012) South by Southwest SXSW Interactive 2013 (Austin, 8 12 March 2013) Website and social media presence AdmittingFailure.com has received almost 93 000 unique visitors to the site since the revamp of the site enabled analytics in January 2012. That averages to over 300 visits per day. As of November 16, 2012 @admitfailure has 1723 followers on twitter and scores 58 on the Klout measure of influence. Most individuals have a Klout score less than 10 while a major influencer like Harvard Business Review scores 82. This is to say that @admitfailure has significant influence on twitter. 5 | P a g e

Goals
Admitting Failure has two goals: To learn how to be effective at creating this culture shift, and to have impact and create change.

Learning goals
Admitting Failure aims to work with clients to build the necessary core competencies to generate ideas for scaling up as well as inform how to go to scale in a way that is most beneficial to the organizations and their learning. We also will learn by pilot testing ideas for scaling up to uncover the most effective mechanisms for catalyzing a culture shift towards open and honest dialogue across the sector. Ultimately, Admitting Failure aims to learn and continuously improve its ability to create a safe space for innovation, adaptive projects, organizational learning and more meaningful evaluations and, ultimately, improved organizational performance across Canadian development sector organizations and present EWB with an evidence-based strategy for the most effective way to scale up this initiative after those first eight months. By September 2013 Admitting Failure will have answers to the following questions: 1. What does an organization that admits failure look like and how can this be replicated? 2. What are the different ways organizations can be supported in order to admit failure? 3. How does admitting failure impact organizational performance? 4. What are the leverage points within the sector that Admitting Failure should target going forward to scale up its impact?

Impact goals
By September 2013 Admitting Failure aims for 50% (by funding) of Canadian non-profits and charities to have heard of Admitting Failure through media coverage, speaking engagements, the website and social media presence, and word of mouth from clients. This equates to approximately 10006 of the largest organizations coming in contact with Admitting Failure. This goal relies on an assumption, formed through two years of Admitting Failure work, that hearing about Admitting Failure reduces the barriers to talking about failure and drives behaviour change leading to impact by highlighting role models, building a sense of community and fostering understanding and conviction of the benefits of admitting failure. Thus, having 50% of Canadian civil society organizations hear about Admitting Failure demonstrates meaningful progress on the way to sector-wide impact. A related second impact goal is to have influenced 5% (by funding) of Canadian civil society organizations to adopt at least one Admitting Failure practice (see Table 1 for examples of Admitting Failure practices) by targeting prominent funders and leveraging their influence on the organizations they fund. This is admittedly only the beginning of the movement Admitting Failure would like to spark. The goal of 5% adoption within the first eight months represents targeting the most influential innovators in the sector. According to Malcolm Gladwell this creates the environment for the next 30% of the sectors early adopters to incorporate Admitting Failure into their work. Admitting Failure will encourage this 30% through the scale up mechanisms selected in September 2013. According to Gladwell, 30% is the tipping point where learning from, and being open about, failure becomes the norm and spreads throughout the sector without targeted efforts. EWB can be a key player in this movement with in-kind support for Admitting Failure.
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Source: Imagine Canada, Research & Public Policy, Charities & Nonprofit Organizations, based on 2004 data http://www.imaginecanada.ca/node/32

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Table 1: DRAFT Graduated Tool for Admitting Failure Practices* McKinsey Model for Behaviour Change Bronze Silver Gold Platinum

Deep Culture Self-aware Foster dialogue Understanding and Conviction

Tangible representation of culture (e.g. A failure report) In a tough situation, people internalize responsibility, ask "what can I do?" Leadership shares their own failures Leadership maintains and fosters open dialogue

Use failure report to Continuously question, drive culture, not just iterate and improve upon celebrate it the culture driving tools. Life-long learners who ask tough question and challenge the status quo if needed. Leadership prioritizes depth and understanding in their own failures and those of the organization Leadership is willing to question their own values and the organization's theory of change - double loop learning Learning is expansive - leadership pushes people to confront issues outside their normal sphere Totally open organization (sharies-inspired) - everything the organization creates is online and they encourage other orgs to do the same Stated dedication to measuring what is important Learning is a primary objective of the organization

Leadership Role Leadership is Modeling outwardly explicit about supporting learning by doing

Access to Resources Capability Building

Knowledge sharing to learn from failures AND successes

Always ask and learn from what was done before and/or who else has tried this

Knowledge sharing community with other organizations

Institutions Reinforcing with Formal Mechanisms

Community around sharing failures

Organizational Evaluation reform to Innovation program include learning as the core criteria for evaluation

* This needs to be expanded (more detail, more dimensions) and tested with organizations

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