It is no secret that Daraja's Maji Matone programme has not lived up to expectations. In particular, despite considerable resources spent on promotional work - printing and distributing posters and leaflets, as well as extensive broadcasts on local radio - we haven't had the response from the community that we had hoped for. A six month pilot in three districts resulted in only 53 SMS messages received and forwarded to district water departments (compared to an initial target of 3,000). So we've made a decision - to embrace failure, learn and share lessons from the experience, and to fundamentally redesign the programme.
Admitting failure in this way is easy to support in theory, but much harder to do in practice. It may be accepted practice in the for-profit world, but it's uncomfortable for a donor-dependent NGO. Would it be easier to continue half-heartedly with a programme that isn't working or close it down quietly and hope that nobody notices? Of course it would. But those approaches would not benefit anyone, wasting money and missing out on valuable opportunities to learn. So we're taking a different tack, embracing and publicising our failures, and trying to make sure we (and others) learn as much as possible from the experience.
So why did we fail? Well, we don't have a firm conclusion yet, but we do have some ideas. Motivating people to take action is tough, especially when the promise of anything happening as a result is distant and unclear, but could we have done a better job with promotional activities? Our exclusively rural focus means we're dealing with a group of people who are poorer, with less education, and less politically engaged than their urban counterparts. Perhaps there's a gender element - that in rural Tanzania it is women who are largely responsible for collecting water, but they have less access to mobile phones? The fact that citizens' engagement through mobile phones with our other major programme - the Kwanza Jamii local newspapers - has been more substantial despite less promotion is also something to explore.
We've already started looking into these ideas and more, and over the next few months we will share our conclusions widely. We will be commissioning external analysis to give a more independent viewpoint, and of course this blog will provide an ideal platform to share our own thoughts. We will also use other channels, such as the AdmittingFailure website and FailFaire movement.
And at the same time, we will also be doing some serious thinking about how we take the programme forward without this citizen monitoring component - informed of course by the analysis of why the programme failed to deliver. A more traditional research, analysis and advocacy programme? Partnerships with the media? Strengthening the role of MPs in rural water supply policy debates? Continued rural data collection but using a network of trained volunteers rather than pure crowd-sourcing? We have ideas and we have commitment, and we're confident that a redesigned programme will have us back on track before long.
Innovation involves risk taking. New ideas don't always work. Maji Matone's approach was new and innovative, it involved risk and it hasn't worked. Time to embrace this, admit failure, reflect, learn lessons, share those lessons and move forward with something new.
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UPDATE - Feb 21st, 2012:
Three further posts exploring possible reasons behind the programme's failure have now been posted, on technology and related challenges, water sector issues, and apathy, risk and citizens' engagement.