Organizing, thinking and acting resiliently under the imperative of compliance On the potential impact of resilience thinking on safety management and risk consideration
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Background Industrial safety is a discipline in which technical perspectives and issues prevail to the extent that also the treatment of human and organizational issues often is biased by technical language and concepts. The widely used term 'human and organizational factors' clearly hints at such a connection and the term 'organizational accident' (Reason, 1997:1) is rarely used without being associated with a predominantly technological basis for safety. Such ensembles of technological, human and organizational contributions surely can celebrate great advances in safety performance, however accompanied by unwanted incidents, mishaps, accidents and even catastrophes. A core issue for contemporary safety science is how to advance on safety performance without sacrificing yesterday's achievements when sociotechnical complexity is on the rise. Various perspectives on organizational accidents and resilient organizations (e.g., Rosness et al., 2004, 2010) opens a broader landscape of possible sociotechnical constellations, conducing a wider range of effects from technological, human and organizational contributions to safety - and accidents. Over the last decade, the notion of 'Resilience Engineering' (RE) has been widely used, criticized and appreciated. RE as a label signifies a fairly common scope and a loosely concerted attempt of engineering human and technological capabilities into systems and organizations that are operating in dynamic and complex environments. Within RE, the notion of resilience includes a broad focus on anticipation, coping and adaptation related to unexpected events and extraneous couplings, and to surprising circumstances and combinations. RE also implies a clear stance of moving beyond singular events and deviations and into search for patterns of normal variability of systems, a pronounced interest for the under-studied activities of sociotechnical systems that actually maintain their functions despite interruption and disruption, and an engineering ethos of searching for designs, options of intervention and other leverage points that can move systems towards less vulnerable pathways by virtue of maximizing the number of successful adaptations rather than minimizing the number of failures and deviations. Scope This thesis targets the potential impact of resilience thinking for organizational safety, not constrained by RE but sharing the aspiration of joint mobilization of technological, human and organizational aspects for the purpose of developing enduring resilient capabilities. The scope of organizational resilience as conceived in this thesis deliberately aims beyond what is perceived to be a predominantly cognitive and 'human factor' orientation of RE regarding the organizational dimension. Hence, the present scope includes organizational and managerial approaches that appreciate complexity not only as complicated patterns of cause-effect or intractable input-output characteristics, but as webs of knowledge, values, meaning, action as well as social history, dynamism and overall genesis of safety. The thesis thus deliberately aims beyond engineering approaches based on unchallenged and simplistic assumptions about the social world which may facilitate a technical-reductionist framework and a decontextualized, prescriptive agenda. The scope is thus also to resist temptations in terms of symptoms that are easy to measure, or readily available data that fits institutional arrangements and decontextualized top-down knowledge rather than the reality of operational and situated practice. Finally, the research interest is biased towards industrial systems in which Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is actively used to enable and unleash new collaborative patterns and work processes. Aim and rationale The aim of the thesis is to gain knowledge on how high-risk organizations, groups, collectives as well as individuals can organize, reflect, think and act resiliently under the imperative of 'legacy' safety approaches. The rationale for this is a presumed unlikeliness that resilience-based safety strategies will entirely substitute prevalent legacy approaches to safety. Although the necessary foundations of resilience, as indicated by the scope, presumably will challenge the prevalent institutional arrangements of safety thinking, some notion of accountability and governance must still be maintained also in the resilient organization. The research problems derived from this are therefore related to understanding (A) how resilience as a concept can be positioned in relation to prevalent (legacy) safety approaches and practices, (B) how resilience can be managed in conjunction with prevalent safety management, and - given that the idea and theory of resilience is likely to manifest in effective adaptive but fallible practices – (C) how the potential implications from attempts of implementing resilience may be captured in considerations of risk. Approach The thesis offers a theoretical exploration of the above research problems, supplemented by a number of associated research issues reflecting the scope of research in terms of (1) aiming beyond the technical-reductionist frame of safety management and organization, (2) of establishing a suitable framework for accommodating a sufficiently broad approach to sociotechnical complexity, and (3) of avoiding that resilience in the context of ICT-mediated collaboration is reduced to a matter of 'intelligent' information dissemination and processing to which the human mind is a subordinate. The actual work presented here comprises a number of papers that is a trajectory of an abductive reflection and research process in which the direction and focus of each paper is sensitized en route, rather than according to a fixed plan. Results The 'Compliance vs Resilience' (CvR) complementary relation (Figure A) is a reciprocal but asymmetrical relation where the 'rational façade' of compliance pose a 'contextual shadow' for resilience to unfold. The dialectical CvR relation signifies two different ways of mobilizing the organization at large, a quest for absence of failure as well as the presence of successful adaptations, hence 'compliant' and 'resilient' safety practices are inevitably infiltrated in each other. The shaping CvR relation addresses their mutual constitution and reciprocal reconciliation shaped by circumstance, experience, resources and encounters with successes and failures.