5.2 Vicarious failure
Examining when and how organisations understand failure and the conditions under which organisations learn (or do not) from their own failures or the failures of others has a long history in public policy and administration literature pertaining to topics such as natural disasters, aviation disasters, oil spills, nuclear energy policy and ‘homeland security’.
Vicarious Failure refers to the practice of consciously learning from the experience, including mistakes, of others (Kapur, 2015). The key principle underlying the concept is the recognition that by learning from what has worked either well or not so well elsewhere, we can get a head start on our own innovation initiatives and not needlessly reinvent the wheel.
To highlight the value of vicarious failure, Molnar and colleagues (2018) explore the way in which policing at the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane was directly influenced by the evident failures in the policing of the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto. In order to learn vicariously from previous failures, the Australian police very consciously engaged with and examined the failings from 2010 and the experience of other high-profile events to learn and develop new and innovative solutions. The consequence was that the G20 summit in Brisbane was approached and managed quite differently and the civil disturbances were kept to a minimum.
Activity 5 Taking a failure-based approach
Think about a project or piece of work that you have previously undertaken. How might a failure-based approach integrating aspects of either intelligent failure or vicarious failure have helped you approach it differently?
In many cases our first approach can be to look for the right solution and to try to get things correct. By taking a failure-based approach we can more actively learn from our own mistakes (intelligent failure) or the mistakes of others (vicarious failure), leading to more positive longer-term outcomes.
In the following section you will take a closer look at how leaders in policing can lead for innovation.