Situational Awareness – more than ‘dots on a screen’

Dirk Maclean speaking at Inaugural Sir James Power Air Power Seminar

Inaugural Sir James Rowland Air Power Seminar – Dirk Maclean speaking.

This talk is a response to the announcement in the 2016 Defence White Paper that up to 900 new positions would be created with the aim of improving Australia’s situational awareness. This is understood mostly as a technical challenge, about networks and interoperability, but here it is argued that the purpose of SA is to support sound situational understanding, which in turn drives good decision making. Unless it does so, SA is of no value whatsoever. Understanding, however, is a human function, not a technical one. It makes sense therefore, that large scale investments into SA should be appropriately matched with developing human capabilities for understanding situations and making good decisions. The talk gives some examples of where SA has not been sufficient in and of itself, and where catastrophic errors were made on the basis of a poor understanding of the situation, the October 2015 airstrike on the MSF Trauma Centre in Kunduz, Afghanistan being a case in point.

Introducing ‘High Consequence Decision Making’ (HCD)

High Consequence Decision-Making HCD logo

‘High Consequence Decision Making’ began as a research project whose aim is to minimise the risk of catastrophic error. HCD draws on a wide range of existing knowledge in order to define and create an organisational culture, management systems, and training programs that can reduce this risk to a minimum.

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Introducing ‘Avoiding Catastrophe’

because failure IS an option

‘Avoiding Catastrophe’ is the overarching concept behind all management decision making that takes place in the face of adversity. It concerns itself with problems, setbacks, difficulties, failures, accidents, and errors, seeking to minimise their impact and prevent catastrophic outcomes in the shape of irreversible damage to an organisation, its capabilities, functioning, even its existence.

This is not the normal focus of management thinking. Managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, commanders, usually concentrate their energies on achieving success, goals, objectives, tasks, the mission. They ask the question, ‘how do we get to where we want to be ?’. This is understandable, it reflects a determination to succeed, a desire to prevail, a ‘can do’ attitude without which nothing is ever accomplished.

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