Friday, September 14, 2007

Back to the Research and the Blogs

I don't know how I can expect you to become faithful bloggers if my own blog has been a bit lax the last week!

The reason is simple--I've had a lot of papers to grade, and my work on the research project has been continuing. In fact, I have a draft article ready for Technical Communication Quarterly! I'm thinking it might become a short book.

To the blogs:

Kyle's blog on the Chicago Bears has some nice entries on the salary cap. It could use a few more entries and some development!

Candace's blog has five strong entries and good links! The entry on business incubation was very interesting.

Jeanette's blog--No posts yet!!!

Speaking of the research, here is how it concludes:


In recent years, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to transfer the kind of safety culture which Naval Reactors has successfully maintained for over fifty years to other governmental organizations which have experienced institutional failures. Following the failure of NASA to prevent the loss of a second space shuttle, the Columbia, in 2003, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), reported that NASA's “organizational culture and structure” had as much to do with the accident as the actual physical events which caused the accident. Among the organizational failures contributing to the accident were “organizational barriers that prevented effective communication of critical safety information and stifled professional differences of opinion” (CAIB, 2003, p.9). The board cited the Naval Reactors program as an example which could serve as a model for the space agency. Ironically, NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, former Secretary of the Navy had already recognized that NASA could learn from the submarine force and had established the NASA/Navy Benchmarking Exchange (NNBE) in 2002 (Newman, Kauffman, & Ford, 2003). The work of this group is ongoing. And in a presentation to NASA in 2005, Steve Krahn of Perot Systems argued for “institutional constancy” and referred to his own case study of Naval Reactors as a model for success (Crawford and Krahn, 1998). Dr. Krahn is a former assistant to Rickover and former Chief Operating Officer of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB).

In another disaster, Hurricane Katrina, the Independent Levee Investigation Team (ILIT), made this finding:

Many of the organizations responsible for building and maintaining flood protection in New Orleans, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local levee districts, can learn a lot from High Reliability Theory and the example that the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program continues to set. The fluid organizational structure, vibrant exchange of ideas (coupled with developed communication skills), and coherent training programs are to be desired by many public and private organizations. (Seed et al, Appendix G., p. G-7).

Once again we see another organization attempting to transfer attributes of the successful Naval Reactors culture to other governmental organizations. In fact, the concept of the HRO may be in danger of becoming one of the next in a long history of management fads (Kieser, 1997; Newell, Robertson & Swan, 2001). It has even entered the arena of educational administration where advocates of “fail-safe schools” are adopting some of the strategies of the HRO (Bellamy, 2005).

Advocates of such cultural transfer could learn something from the literature of technology transfer. As Nancy Coppola wrote in the 2006 guest editor’s introduction to a special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on the subject, “Technology transfer might best be understood as a navigating practice; like wily Odysseus, we are not mastering but negotiating the process” (p. 289). Like technology transfer, the type of transfer advocated by those who wish to move the Naval Reactors model of doing things into other organizations face not only the usual “technical, regulatory and human barriers” (Coppola, p. 288) that come from introducing a technology (and as Foucault recognized, administrative techniques are technologies) into a new cultural setting, but also a slew of challenges that come from attempting to change the very nature of the culture. Add to that the fact that Admiral Rickover and his successors were wildly successful in lobbying Congress for financial resources that organizations like NASA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the public schools simply don’t have, and the challenge facing such transfers are clearly immense. Can civilian engineers in NASA achieve the same kind of cultural cohesion that allows significant dissensus to coexist with a high level of organizational camaraderie on submarines? Can the Army Corps of Engineers develop multiple levels of technical expertise without the kind of technical schooling and qualification provided by Naval Reactors? Can a principal in an elementary school, who may be the entire administrative team, provide the kind of monitoring and mentoring that occurs across multiple levels in the engineering spaces of a ship? This is not to say that other organizations cannot learn from high reliability organizations—just that becoming an HRO is a much more complex task than simply declaring you are one!


Post a Comment

<< Home