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Failing Forward in Local Government

Working with the National Association of County Administrators (NACA) to support counties to embrace a learning mindset and recognize that all innovation starts with, and is powered by, learning from failure.

About Failing Forward in Local Government

CPI and the National Association of County Administrators (NACA) are supporting counties to embrace a learning mindset and recognize that all innovation starts with, and is powered by, learning from failure.

The CPI and NACA logos

Local government workers are charged with finding solutions to meet the needs of residents. This work must take into account extremely complex social, political, fiscal, and environmental circumstances. Progress in this context requires experimentation, risk-taking, and an embrace of failing forward

Failing Forward in Local Government is a year-long program that supports government departments' ability to spark and sustain cultures of innovation. By breaking down barriers to innovation, governments can more effectively serve their communities.

Participating counties

The Loudoun County, VA, Lane County OR, Teton County, WY, and Cabarrus County, NC logos, with a list of the departments that participated

Departments from four U.S. county governments completed the program. Each department team consisted of roughly ten public servants with staff at all levels, spanning from the frontline employees to department directors.

Fostering innovation at all levels

Failing Forward in Local Government applies both a top-down and bottom-up approach to spark and sustain culture changes that foster innovation.

Four individuals sit around a table discussing an issue over brightly colored index cards
  • Quarterly masterclasses, attended by county executives and senior leadership, will provide participants with new insights into government innovation. Masterclasses are two-hour workshops with world-class leaders and thinkers in government innovation. In addition to staff from participating counties, bold leaders from other counties are invited to join. 

  • Failure Foundries are departmental workshops with staff at all levels of seniority. Foundries are designed to help teams understand their unique challenges to failing forward and test strategies to overcome these challenges.

Failure Foundries

Phase one: identifying barriers and assets to failing forward

Departments identify their internal barriers and assets to learning from failure, and build a shared purpose for developing a fail forward culture.

Phase two: experimenting to break down barriers

Departments prototype and test a series of action plans that are designed to foster department-wide failing forward. By the end of phase two, departments test eight-to-twelve action plans.

Phase three: roadmapping for continuous innovation

Departments translate what they learned in phase two into a department-wide future roadmap for continuing to build a culture of innovation.



4 teams across the nation worked to learn how to fail forward at the county level


110 county employees joined us in Failing Forward


20 county residents were engaged throughout the Fail Forward process


80% of survey respondents would recommend this program to their peers


93% of survey respondents learned new skills


96% of survey respondents plan to use Fail Forward skills in other aspects of their work


Steve Mokrohisky

"For public servants out there considering adapting this work to your own communities, I recommend the Fail Forward process wholeheartedly. The process empowers people to embrace continuous learning and to take the initiative to get stuff done."

Steve Mokrohisky, President of the National Association of County Administrators (NACA) and Lane County Administrator
A city in Cabarrus County

“We once had a lack of communication and silos. Now [after participating in CPI's Failing Forward in Local Government], I know there are people I can go to and talk to because I don’t have to know it all myself.”

Department of Human Services Employee, Failing Forward in Local Government Participant
Three people studying in a library

"I am going to be completely honest, the concept of failing forward blew my mind... It’s okay to fail, it’s okay to learn, to come up with new ideas and brainstorm with others to grow as a team.”

Pilot Program Participant, Failing Forward

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