Balancing Open and Closed Systems in Risk

Balancing Open and Closed Systems in Risk

One of the lessons of Greg Smith’s book ‘Paper Safe’  is that completed systems in themselves are not an assurance of safety. Similarly, our series on Due Diligence ( ) and resources on ‘Risky Conversations’ ( ) make it clear than trust in closed systems alone doesn’t demonstrate effective management of risk.

In the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) we advocate that closed and open systems be in balance. What are closed and open systems?

A closed system is a physical system that doesn’t allow for adaptability in or out of the system. An example of a closed system is the development of a paper-based risk assessment that in design doesn’t allow for variation in method.

It’s best to think of an open system ecologically. In open systems things and formats are not locked in but variation, adaptability and the documentation of the system itself is experiential, non-textual, aural and visual.

Typically, in the risk and safety industry creates checklists and forms to ensure uniformity and consistency in enactment, this is one of the advantages of a closed system. Open systems are more personal, conversational, relational and moveable. In an observation and risk conversation (what SPoR calls iCue Engagement) the method moves to aural, visual and non-text systems.

In an open method, the facilitator doesn’t ‘direct’ the method as in a closed system. In a closed system, the focus is on the power of the auditor with a focus on objects. In an open system, the focus is on the power of the worker as relational subject. In closed systems in safety the focus is generally on the naming and controlling of hazards. In an open system, the focus is on the subject and how she tackles risk.

So, let’s look at what the Court system considers valid? When you go to court, the Court accepts verbal-aural-visual testimony and written text as valid. In court, you get to submit all the paper-based forms you want but they are then interrogated verbally and aurally. You can hold up as much paperwork as you like to scrutiny but the Court wants to know about your open systems, all those things that were considered and done without record. It uses both forms of evidence to interrogate the other. This is how your organizational approach to tackling risk ought to validate itself. To know that its systems work! ( )

When we look at what a balance system looks like it can be mapped as at Figure 1. Capability and Recognition Framework.

Figure 1. Capability and Recognition Framework.


So, the question is this. How much does your organization focus on skill development in both open and closed systems? Is your organization competent and skilled in balancing both systems when it comes to risk and safety systems? Or are paper safe systems preferenced over verbal-aural-visual systems? Are paper-systems privileged over not documented, non-recordable systems? What is weighted in your organization to each system? Why? When it comes to systems thinking, does the organization only think of closed systems? Does your organization in its methods in tackling risk balance open and closed systems? Does your organization recognize verbal-aural-visual systems as systems? Does your organization use both systems to interrogate each other? Does your organisations recognize the need for balance?

If not then you are most likely only paper safe.

4. DUE DILIGENCE from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

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