Exploring failure and culture in climate resilience projects

Climate change requires substantial changes into “business as usual” which will require a high level of innovation from a wide range of stakeholders. The ability to fail as a precondition for the development of highly innovative solutions is well documented in many sectors. The key question driving the investigations in the work is: Are we allowing enough failure for innovation to thrive?

The work for this report was conducted from late 2022 to mid 2023 and consisted of focused interviews with adaptation and climate funders, academics, and entrepreneurs on the ground, online surveys to a broader audience, and in depth literature reviews.

Our investigations suggest that setting up structures to embrace failure as part of a learning journey in our funding mechanisms, program design and organisational cultures has the potential to promote the development of a more conducive environment for innovations, more accepting of failure as part of the innovative process, and consequently more innovative climate resilience solutions. We do not prescribe how to do this but rather suggest that our findings start the sector wide conversations and actions that are needed to make this happen.

Throughout the meetings we conducted for this report we’ve seen that resilience professionals are willing and eager to talk about the impact of failure on innovation and motivated to begin the cross organisations dialogue needed to make changes to tackle it. We suggest further work in the area of failure and innovation in resilience to help the sector shift the prevailing culture which impedes the development of the disruptive innovations needed to increase resilience to withstand climate change. We conclude the report by acknowledging the inherent power dynamics of failure and call the funders and intermediaries to shift patterns, structures and mental models to embrace failure and ensure justice in complex, uncertain contexts of climate resilience programming.

Full report