The quarterly failure report from Google’s Analytics team has two goals. The first is to share what has been learned. Failure is a fact of life for testers and every flop represents a fact uncovered. Sharing those defeats in a routine way promotes institutional memory, ensuring history will be less likely to repeat itself. The second goal is to reinforce the culture of failing – and learning – fast. In short, failure is the by-product of good testing.
A long-standing failure report is used by the charity Engineers Without Borders to foster transparency and conversations about the failures experienced in the organisation. Sharing courageous personal stories helps to broaden the acceptance of failure as a learning tool. Risk-taking means accepting failure and creating a culture that gives permission to fail. Securing buy-in at all levels takes time and an investment in training and tools to help people understand how to allow failure and why it matters.
When times are tough it seems counter-intuitive to ditch tried-and-tested methods. Charities and their communicators already face a perfect storm of shrinking funds, demographic change, stronger regulation and fragile public trust. If your job is to engage the public in good causes, this can feel overwhelming. Yet adopting a braver tone of voice and trying something new could be the way to build resilience and reap rewards.
The next time something goes "wrong", will it be because someone has truly messed up or because your innovative communications culture has allowed people to try new things, measure the results and learn something valuable for the next test?
Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms