Being Transparent about Failure "Best Failure" Awards

The King Baudouin Foundation in Brussels, Belgium, embraced the idea of internal learning by launching a “best failure” award within the foundation. The idea behind the award was that learning is much more constructive and richer when people can learn from failures or projects that did not go as expected. Staff from each of the foundation’s 10 activity fields were invited to submit at least one project for the best failure award.

From that process and learning, the foundation organized a staff workshop called, “Dare to Stop.” The workshop focused on a common theme that emerged from the best failure submissions: project managers can feel responsible for seeing their programs through to the end, even when it becomes clear it is not yielding the expected outcomes. The workshop focused on a staff discussion of when, why, and how to stop a project. This internal award is an important way for foundations to transform their culture to one of information-sharing, which is an important step towards transparency.

Discussing failure publicly is difficult for foundations, because it could make them vulnerable and could do damage to the grantee with whom a strategy or grant failed. However, finding ways to frame public conversations about failure appropriately is possible and can add significantly to foundation transparency and learning in the field.

For funders who are prepared to take the next step toward admitting failure publicly, the website Admitting Failure collects stories of organizations that have already shared projects that went wrong, and it is easy to submit a story of your own.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Opening Up.