Field notes to Report……..what we write down is different to what happens

If you are Welsh and have even the faintest interest in rugby you’ll know exactly what this picture is all about (just in case you don’t have read about why Allain Rolland was right).

This isn’t a post complaining about referees, they are just like the rest of us, struggling to cope with the reality of ‘what we write down is different to what happens’.

What has prompted this post was reading a referees report about an incident that generated three red cards in a single game. I was watching my son play in the game; thankfully he wasn’t involved in the incidents. I’m not questioning the referee’s decision, it’s absolutely right that they clamp down on dangerous behaviour. It does however prove the point that what gets written down in formal reports is frequently different to what happened.

I also understand the need to produce a report, but people do use some strange language in formal incident reports, a sort of slow motion speak:

“I proceeded briskly to the disturbance and attempted to restore order with a few sharp blasts of my whistle”.

Really? To me looked like you ran over to the fight, flapping your arms around and shouted “Oi!….. Boys leave it out”.

The next bit was quite unintentionally hilarious, “The player I know now to be Rambo Llewellyn landed five punches on the head of his opposite number”. Really? Everyone knows this cannot be the case:

  1. Rambo ‘Psycho’ Llewellyn is a lovely boy. Ask his Mam (also watching);
  2. Rambo is incapable of firing off that many punches in a short space of time; and
  3. Had he done so, he would have punched himself in the face, at least twice.

In a more serious vein, a while back I heard Professor Harry Daniels from Bath University speak about learning as a socio-cultural process . He used an example from multi-agency working in health and social care about what happens in the field is different to what is written down in files back at the office.

The gist of what he said was that when the front line practitioners were faced with rapid fire situations they frequently did things to achieve a positive result or solve the problem, not unusual. On occasions this positive action was novel or innovative, and outside of the organisations rules framework policies and procedures, again not unusual. However, when the practitioner got back to the office, and they wrote their notes, they did it in a way that reflected the rules framework and not what actually happened. Not whole scale altering the facts, but forcing information into the organisations framework and systems. This was something that was recognised through the organisation. The practitioners knew this was happening, so did their managers and just about everyone up the chain of command. It’s just the way things worked.

This example struck a chord with me. It’s exactly what I’ve done myself and seen plenty of other people do. You encounter a problem in the field, fix it, then you write-up notes to reflect what the organisational system requires, rather than what actually happens. There are some significant issues here like the loss of learning and transfer of knowledge from developing innovative and novel solutions in the field. If these solutions don’t find their way into the notes, how on earth do they get shared? Perhaps through people informally meeting and talking to each other, social learning, but that’s the subject of another post.

So what’s the PONT?

  1. Report writing is selective and can also be influenced by the requirement to fit in with the organisation’s processes and systems.
  2. The loss of learning and knowledge can be significant if alternative methods of transfer are lacking.
  3. The gap between ‘field and report’ can be significant in formal reporting. If Rambo Llewellyn was that good, he wouldn’t be playing rugby for us, he’d be in the Olympic boxing team.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

9 Responses

  1. rugbychris

    Very interesting. Have you read the citing report into the Dylan Hartley biting incident? There is a really great line that attempts to explain how even though Ferris’ and Hartleys accounts of the incidents differ greatly it didn’t mean that both parties weren’t attempting to tell the truth to the best of their abilities. However the speed of the interaction, and the subconscious need to justify their actions (Ferris in running off and making a complaint whilst not admitting that he had been grabbing at Hartleys face in the first place and Hartley in performing the action of biting) leads to two very different versions of the truth.

      1. rugbychris

        haha – does imply that an attempt was made to refuse Mr Rowntrees offer of support for Hartley. Don’t think it is wise telling anyone with ears like that not to bother doing something…

  2. Excellent post Chris – and what a case for people who design the systems to appreciate the mess, pain, defensiveness that great learning usually involves – and thinking about how the boxes to be ticked might capture this…

  3. […] Also of relevance, the transfer of learning in organisations is influenced by the rules and practices that exist – the learning we share depends on what the rules say. If you’ve done something brilliant, but it doesn’t fit with the existing rules, you probably won’t tell anyone. In this post I wrote about work of Professor Harry Daniels from Bath University; Field notes to report, what we write down in reports is different to what actually happens. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s