By Renee HoMarch 22, 2016

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Photo source: What Went Wrong? Foundation

Recently, a flurry of people pointed me to the most peculiar and amazing website belonging to the What Went Wrong? Foundation. It reminded me of another idea I love—WikiLeaks for Development.

There isn’t a lot of information on the website but there is a captivating movie on its homepage. It starts by letting project “beneficiaries” narrate their experiences with foreign aid.


The problem lies at the beginning of the story.
They don’t tell us what exactly are they going to do.
They don’t give us an option to choose.

It came as a dream.
You may wake up one morning.
You find development at your doorsteps.
No choice as to what is the most needed development.

Some people came and put up that thing in the community.
And said they were going to give us water.
They said they were going to give us water,
But they didn’t.

The community members should have been
Trained regarding its maintenance.
Because we can’t repair it…


The What Went Wrong? Foundation explains that debates about the effectiveness and sustainability of foreign aid often leave out the most important voice—from those receiving the aid.

The foundation supports a participatory journalism project investigating failed aid in Africa through reports from community members. They interview people who were supposed to benefit from aid projects and photograph what’s left behind. They are building a platform for more direct communication between aid recipients and donors—regular people can upload instances of failed aid, document the location, and note the organization responsible for it.

I like this idea and it reminds me of my own: Journalism for Learning.

In a slight twist, I ask: What if journalism’s open, exploratory methods were used during project implementation rather than after?

Is there a way to shift from whistle blowing, after-the-fact accountability tactics and instead, focus on using journalism for real-time learning to fix problems before it’s too late?

What if we sent a thoughtful journalist to conduct site visits, talk to constituents, and understand the mechanisms behind project success and failure—instead of the usual M&E officer?

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