About the workshop
On 19 July 2019, the Academy brought together 43 experts from a broad range of profession categories, including academia, industry, nonprofit, research consultancy, government and regulation. The purpose of the workshop was to:
- Inform the Safer Complex Systems mission scope and strategy
- Input into the Invitation to Tender (ITT) for a Global Review on the Safety of Complex Systems
- Begin to build a diverse community interested in improving the safety of complex systems
Delivered by Dame Judith Hackitt DBE FREng
Dame Judith noted that the Board were delighted at the quality of the discussion at the workshop and thanked delegates for their valuable contributions. Dame Judith delivered the following summary:
- We are operating in a world that is becoming more disaggregated and more polarised, which contrasts to our aims of integration and distributed systems. Are these things compatible?
- Systems thinking and engineering have demonstrated operational weakness as they are not keeping pace with the complex, organic and evolutionary nature of the systems themselves. The world is changing faster than we are able to keep pace, which raises the question of how are we going to keep up? Chase or get in front? Managing systems at Level 1 vs. Level 2 or beyond
- There is an urgent need to develop a new language to enable communication and collaboration between a broad range of stakeholders
- How do you change expectations and shift culture? How do we get to a place where all sectors and organisations learn from mistakes rather than look for people to blame (e.g. aviation sector) because a blame culture immediately stifles the ability to learn and improve for the future
- There has been a richness brought about by having bought such a diverse group of people together. There is a need to bring together the complex systems community and the sociological aspect of systems, and the Board and Secretariat need to think about this carefully
- Education is important at all levels, including educating some engineers about the concepts of systems thinking
- Whose role is it to manage the overall systems? Do we over rely on the leaders to make decisions and to be the integrators of systems? Should there be more collective responsibility for this?
- There have been lots of suggestions of places internationally to look for good practice (for example, China, Finland and India) as well as specific sectors (for example, aviation, nuclear, shipping and defence). The strongest message has been that there is no such thing as best practice, only good practice, as everything is context dependent
- There is a need for better-quality, purpose-driven and collective decision-making
- What it is we are trying to achieve with a system? This all depends on what people perceive to be the critical thing about the system and unless people have a common view they won’t see the same things as being important within a system
- Championing systems thinking into schools. Current concepts of systems thinking talk about putting a boundary around something that we're not sure can be bound
- There is a need to develop strategic communications to make messages non-technical and more understandable. We need to make messages resonate with broader audiences by doing some thinking around the social and cultural dimensions of language, rather than it all being technical
- Questions for the programme board include what is our role in all of this? Is it really safety we are looking into, or is it resilience or something else? We need a vision of where we are trying to get to
The Academy captured additional notes on each discussion; this information will be synthesised and will input into the development of the Safer Complex Systems mission.