Complexity Event – Cynefin Retreat in Whistler, Canada

Certified Cynefin Practioners, focused on safety - Gary Wong (Canada), Marion Kiely (Ireland), Steve McCrone (New Zealand), Brian Rivera (USA)
Certified Cynefin Practioners, focused on safety – Gary Wong (Canada), Marion Kiely (Ireland), Steve McCrone (New Zealand), Brian Rivera (USA)

A highlight of spending a week at the Cynefin Retreat in Whistler, Canada, was getting to meet with other Health & Safety folk who apply complexity theory to their work, and whom I hold in very high regard. Gary Wong, Steve McCrone, Brian Rivera & myself met several times throughout the week and our discussions led to shared learnings gained from our various perspectives and practical experiences, and ideas were sparking in relation to how we could practically apply complexity theory to real problems that organisations face, and in so doing help them become more resilient. (In complexity, you describe the present and see what you can change, and you define your direction of travel based on that, as opposed to a goal. This contrasts with systems thinking, whereby you define an ideal future state and try and close the gap).

Arising from our conversations, we all agreed that much talk nowadays in health & safety is focused on leading indicators, and how important it is to focus on them, rather than predominantly on lagging indicators. (A leading indicator is a measure preceding or indicating a future event used to drive and measure activities carried out to prevent and control injury.) Leading indicators which can give valuable insights are attitudes and perceptions, and a way to gain information around attitudes and perceptions is via collecting micro narratives (short stories). How might we collect micro narratives you might ask? And if we did get employees to share stories how would we make sense of their meaning? By collecting micro-narratives and signifying them, we can get very rich information as to what employees believe to be both hindering and helping them as they go about their work, and we can see patterns arise from these micro narratives. On looking at these patterns, we can look for ‘more stories like these, less stories like that’, and in so doing either amplify or dampen efforts to move the organisation in a certain direction. Being amongst the first cohort of certified Cynefin Practitioners, Gary, Steve, Brian & I are keen to lead the way in applying Cynefin methods to complex safety challenges, and in so doing building capacity in teams and organisations, helping them to become more resilient. We will do this by using Cognitive Edge’s ‘Safety Pulse’, a contextually appropriate solution, which will:

  • Generate safety culture insights that provide leading indicators of safety emerging improvements and risks;
  • Engage employees and management in a continuous learning process that breaks down biases and entrenched perspectives
  • Deliver actionable insights to improve safety culture
  • Monitor safety change efforts in real-time; amplify positive effects while moving quickly to manage emerging safety risks

Our week in Whistler provided us with a great opportunity to deepen our knowledge of anthro-complexity, gain insights from others working in the field, and to meet and be inspired by others who are looking to deliver the best possible outcomes they can for their clients. I am delighted to be a part of the Cynefin network and am really excited for what lies ahead, watch this space! 🙂

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