What's the PONT

Is anyone deploying ‘Innovation and Learning’ people alongside COVID-19 Response Teams?

This is a genuine question. I only ask because there’s something from Dave Snowden rattling around my head that seems particularly relevant at the moment.

“In a crisis, you should always deploy an innovation team alongside the business recovery teams…to capture the novel practice”

The point of this statement (for me) is that during a crisis people will do things they have never done before. The situation will be complex or even chaotic, so the ‘business as usual’ rules do not apply.

People will probe complex problems to see what might work, or just take direct action in a chaotic situation. Some things will work, some things will fail, but each and every action is an opportunity to learn ‘something’. Learning that could be useful to others in a similar situation, or the people following behind you.

The question is how do we capture the valuable information about new practice, and how do we make sense of it?

But that’s what Post Incident Reviews do. Nope, I don’t think they do. This isn’t a flat out dismissal of the post incident review industry, but I do think they have limitations.

Ask someone what happened during a high intensity, rapidly moving situation from a month ago. I’d bet they will put together a ‘story’ that represents a logical, ordered sequence of events that match the actions and outcomes they think happened. I know I do. It’s called retrospective coherence.

The same thing happens in Post Incident Reviews. People recall the things that happened through the lens of retrospective coherence, to fit with what they thought actually happened and the organisation’s rules. The longer you leave it, the more likely you are to get a ‘blurred’ or biased version of events.

The Cheese Fondue Approach. There’s another dimension to this – homogenization. Basically everything gets mixed together in a gloopy mess. This is an idea that builds upon the Swiss Cheese Model of Failure (explained here) where everything is mixed together for the review, like the cheese in a fondue. What is drawn out are generic messages that are homologous or ‘average’. Basically they don’t really work for anyone. There’s a link in this post the lovely paper, Hot Cheese: A Processed Swiss Cheese Model that explains the situation.

Image: Retrospective Coherence via @Complex Wales. How things really happened and how we tell the story. Beautifully explained here:

Naive Observers and Hot Reviews. The good news is that some organisations have recognised the risks of retrospective coherence and put things in place to make sure they capture learning as quickly and as accurately as possible.

People from Fire and Rescue Services have told me about a process where they ‘download’ the learning at the site of an incident. Appropriately called ‘Hot Reviews’, and they weren’t joking.

The other example is from this webinar: A conversation about Risk & Resilience, with Dave Snowden & Robert Koch from the South African Energy Company Eskom. There’s a lovely quote I took from the webinar “put naive observers in alongside the incident team to capture the key learning points” which I wrote about in this post.

So is Anyone Deploying Innovation and Learning People? As I said earlier, this is a genuine question. I spoke about it with Toby Lowe from Northumbria University earlier today and we were both asking the same question.

If we are going to come out of COVID-19 having learned as much as we can, it’s probably a good idea to try and do something (resources permitting, of course). Expect more from Toby on this.

Here’s my offer… In my small corner of the world (@goodpracticeWAO) we are trying to have a go at something along these lines (resources permitting of course). Starting this Friday we plan to do this:

That’s basically it for the moment. We are a fully dispersed team, working from home (like many people at the moment). It’s an attempt to capture learning in a systematic way so that we hopefully emerge from COVID-19 better than we went in.

I should also say, there are some other impacts we are thinking about here, like making sure we stay in touch, have regular social contact and help each other to try and make sense of an uncertain world.

Happy to share what we learn as we go along, and learn from approaches anyone else is trying.