Failing forward: the benefits of learning from failed projects

28 Nov 2022

'Sometimes, a delegate will get in touch and ask not to present their project because it hasn't been a success - but we learn just as much from failures as successes.

I always encourage them to come and present what went wrong and why - then we open it up to a room full of expertise and experience and the delegates and speakers who together have so many ideas of how to get around the problem, or what we could change in the future so that this might not go wrong next time.'

Sarah Gillett has been Managing Director of Parkinson's Academy since its inception, and has watched it evolve and develop over the past two decades. As we celebrate twenty years of Parkinson's education, her biggest take-home message is around the value of failure to shape and transform services, every bit as much as success.

'It can be really tempting to focus on all the amazing successes, and the intermodule projects that have transformed services on a massive scale - but we can learn just as much from the projects that fail. If we take the time to ask 'why did it fail?', we can identify barriers and challenges and work together to overcome them.'

From the early years of Parkinson's Academy when the focus was on consultant-level information and practical application, the range of roles and disciplines represented on Faculty, attending as speakers, and coming to learn has extended hugely, and currently there are nurses, therapists, pharmacists and other allied health professionals firmly represented at every level of the Academy. As a result, there is a real breadth of experience and service understanding present at any event or course, and the challenges that feel insurmountable from one perspective can have a number of potential solutions from various others.

'Our faculty and speakers are often learning from the delegates and other speakers in the room with them, when we discuss complex cases, because they are hearing from completely different service perspectives, and totally different experiences of working with someone with Parkinson's.'

'The same can be true when discussing difficult service challenges, or reviewing some of the barriers to service development like workforce resource or NHS red tape that might halt some of the intermodule projects in their tracks. It's the sharing and discussing across all these different roles, levels of experience and perspectives - it improves all of our understanding, and ultimately that can make such a difference to people with Parkinson's' experiences day to day.'

Sarah is always very clear that her impetus for every Academy is for transformation, of practice, of services and of the lives of those experiencing life-changing conditions like Parkinson's. For her, learning from failure is an essential part of that transformation process, helping us to recognise the barriers to transformation and giving opportunities to find ways around them, so that future service change does not come up against the same stumbling blocks.

'To those delegates whose projects fail, or can't get off the ground - or start well only to come to a grinding halt, I want to say: don't be disheartened. We can work through the challenges together. We have an incredible network of people working in Parkinson's - we have learning spanning the globe, across so many disciplines, with experts in so many fields - and if we work together, those barriers can be broken.'

'The things you can't get from the books'

Parkinson's Academy, our original and longest running Academy, houses 20 years of inspirational projects, resources, and evidence for improving outcomes for people with Parkinson's. Led by co-founder and educational director Dr Peter Fletcher, the Academy has a truly collegiate feel and prides itself on delivering 'the things you can't get from books' - a practical learning model which inspires all Neurology Academy courses.