Development that Works
  • About

    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Tag: failure

    Found 4 posts.

    A Constant Pursuit of Development: Lessons from the IDB to the World

    By - 2 de April de 2015, 12:01 am

    Exchange of ideas

    Development Effectiveness Overview | Website: | PDF

    At the Inter-American Development Bank we are devoted to being the best development partner for Latin America and the Caribbean. To that end we ensure that every project meets the highest quality standards in each stage of the project: design, implementation and completion.

    In 2014 we approved 105 loans for the public sector, for a total of US$11 billion and 63 loans for the private sectors with a value of US$2.8 billion. At the end of every year, we make a conscious effort to pause and reflect on what worked and didn’t work in our operations. We lay out all of these lessons in the IDB’s  corporate results report the “Development Effectiveness Overview,” commonly known among my colleagues as the DEO. We at the IDB love acronyms!

    Read more…

    18 ways to fail

    By - 10 de April de 2014, 6:49 am


    Lately in my daily commute, I have been listening to audio books. This past couple of days it has been Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. The book is about how high frequency traders game the stock market exchanges – very complex systems – by front running purchase orders by a millionth of a millisecond.

    “Front running” is like tapping the right shoulder of the person in front of you at the line in the grocery shop when you are buying fish. In the nanosecond before she turns around, you sneak in front of her on the other side, buy her order for a pound of salmon, turn around and sell it to her for a profit, without her having a clue of what just happened.

    All in a nanosecond because this transaction takes place in cyberspace where the trading system is a complex web of millions of simultaneous orders.

    In the book there is an excellent discussion on how complex systems fail. One of the references it quotes is a short article (more of a geeky PowerPoint if you ask me) that lists 18 ways complex systems fail. I think they complement very well the discussions on complexity and development that Owen Barder has been having on his blog (I find numbers 7 and 8 particularly compelling):

    1. Complex systems are intrinsically hazardous systems.
    2. Complex systems are heavily and successfully defended against failure.
    3. Catastrophe requires multiple failures – single point failures are not enough..
    4. Complex systems contain changing mixtures of failures latent within them.
    5. Complex systems run in degraded mode.
    6. Catastrophe is always just around the corner. Read more…

    Failing successfully

    By - 22 de December de 2011, 3:12 pm

    By Belissa Rojas

    The race for accountability, transparency and clear results is creating incentives to report the positive: demonstrating that project outputs were delivered, and in the best case, that the interventions had the desired impact.

    A quick look at the monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems from the MDBs shows that there are clear incentives to communicate what was “accomplished.” If problems are mentioned, these are presented as justification for what was not possible to deliver.

    Many in the development world, are striving to show results via geo-referenced projects and products on maps. This necessarily requires simplification, highlighting what is most relevant in a clear fashion.

    Read more…

    Learning from failure

    By - 22 de November de 2011, 6:37 am

    Failing is embarrassing and inevitable.

    It is for that reason that is very refreshing to find organizations that want to learn from failure, where failure is recognized and built upon, like the Canadian NGO Engineers Without Borders, led by David Damberger, and which produces an Annual Failure Report.

    A good reason for the flourishing of Impact Evaluations is the perception that development economics has failed to produce concrete evidence on what works and what does not.  Generic development questions can only have ideological answers.

    No matter what the evidence, Sachs will probably never agree with Easterly or Moyo. After all, in the words of Bertrand Russell: “the most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way”.

    Knowing what works and what does not can only be drawn from intervention specific evidence, where attribution is uncontested. Failure is only possible when attribution is clear.

    But not all failures are created equal. Read more…