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Learning how to be wrong

In partnership with Sport England and organised by Ratio, we published How to be wrong. This report summarises the discussions led by a group of people from the public, private, voluntary sectors, funders included, reflecting on their work on place and scale. It led us to a bigger discussion about what counts as success and the richness of learning that comes from getting things wrong.

How to be wrong report front cover

Click the image to read the report

The report How To Be Wrong is released today. It is the product of 50 or so people working in funding organisations, public sector and civil society organisations. Over the last two years we read, met, reflected and wrote down ideas around how we can make change happen. The ideas in the report feel useful to those of us in the network. But the real test is whether anybody outside our group is interested. We want to see if the ideas travel, and develop.


It started with conversations between a few of us about place and scale. We talked about what the words ‘place’ and ‘scale’ meant, and how we would translate them into meaningful change in communities. We recognised there was a lot to learn. Others shared our appetite for knowledge, and before too long our group coalesced into a formal network.

Starting point

At the beginning, a bond was formed around a shared dislike of the standard approach to outcome evaluation, and to the new public management model that frames the work of those that fund, commission and agree on local services. But these complaints are not new, and largely ignore the benefits that came with this way of thinking.


We could say we were inspired by figuring out new ways of learning. But that would be a lie. For the most part we were inspired by what we read and the shared ideas that came out of our conversations about the reading. Gradually, and without a plan to do so, these shared ideas were committed to paper, and eventually formed the report we released today.



Our primary conclusion is that we can learn as much if not more from our mistakes as from our triumphs, if indeed there are any triumphs. While we aren’t paid to make mistakes; they do happen. But we are paid to be clear about our choices in making decisions regarding public expenditure. Clarity about decisions will result in transparency about mistakes. If the mistakes are going to be reported, we had better learn from them.


The learning, by default, becomes as important as the outcomes we are trying to achieve. 


Our report is short and sure. The reality of life is more complicated. That much is clear from the series of podcasts and blogs we will be releasing over the next four months to accompany the publication.

Nobody sets out to be wrong. But it's impossible to avoid error. And mistakes have value. We learn from them, perhaps more than we learn from what we get right. Yet searches of reports, websites and the social media of public systems, foundations and innovative organisations turn up success after success and hardly a word about what goes awry. This partly reflects a natural inclination to paint ourselves and our organisations in a good light. But it also betrays a tendency towards gaming. Being evasive and telling each other what we want to hear is the oil that keeps the worn out cogs of public systems moving. And then there are straight lies.

- Michael Little, Ratio

Our hope is you will read, listen and reflect. Write to us and tell us what you think at: or on social media using #HowToBeWrong

If there is sufficient interest, we may reconvene one more time to reflect on what has been learned. If not, we may deduce that our ideas, like so many others, are simply wrong.

Jill Baker, Lloyds Bank Foundation of England and Wales | Michael Little, Ratio

How to be wrong collection