Charity Clues

By Angela Kail 1 March 2010

I was listening last week to an interesting episode of Analysis, the BBC Radio 4 programme. The programme contrasted how mistakes are handles in three professions: the RAF, medicine and politics. The contributors to the programme discussed how in politics, people become very attached to their policies. This means they can’t say ‘I was wrong’ without it becoming a judgement about them and a resigning issue. Instead they continue with a bad policy until it becomes far too late. In contrast, the Head of Safety in the RAF, Simon Brailsford, spoke about how in the RAF everyone is encouraged to speak up if they see or make a mistake. The RAF encourages humility, and feedback so that the RAF can improve its game. It even has a magazine dedicated to mistakes called Air Clues.

Unfortunately, I feel that in the charity world, we’re closer to politics than the RAF. As we mention in The little blue book one of the questions we always ask when we analyse a charity is for an example of it learning from past mistakes and adapting its services. But, although this should be normal in charities that are trying new things, we don’t always get a good example. I’ve yet to see a negative evaluation of a charity’s work. But we know that not all charities do good all the time. Today, for instance, we see reports that money meant for famine victims in the 1980s actually went to fund guns. Although upsetting, these reports should be causing people to think about if there’s a way to prevent this happening again, not wondering if there’s any blame that can be allocated.

Reporting of mistakes is important in the charity sector so that we can build on others’ work and improve our services. When we’re trying to improve people’s lives, we shouldn’t be continuing with interventions that aren’t working, just because we’re afraid of admitting we made a mistake. Perhaps there’s a role in the charity sector for a new magazine called Charity Clues.

(My mistake: The Analysis episode was broadcast on the 22nd of Feb, I should have been more timely in writing this blog post. Sorry.)