I recently attended a FRAM workshop. FRAM is a form of resilience engineering, which allows us to create a model of a complex system. It stands for Functional Resonance Analysis Model; but don’t let that put you off! I spent the first half of the workshop feeling rather confused, but ended up with a basic understanding and an enthusiasm to try the method to create models to better understand my work.
FRAM is underpinned by several principles, the most striking and interesting is: the equivalence of success and failures.
This may not seem intuitive, as we are conditioned to evaluate failure as more significant than success. (E.g. see loss aversion, from Kahneman). But actually, I believe this principle is true for work in complex systems. And it is profoundly important as it provides us with a way to understand our work (and improve it) without having to apportion blame for error. The tendency to apportion blame is, in my opinion, a major hindrance to progress in safety and healthcare in general.
If you make a serious attempt to make rules for every aspect of your work, you will soon realise that is impossible to explain every single action for every possible environment and situation. Thus you will see that in order to go about your work successfully, you will need to continuously make small adjustments. (In FRAM this is called ‘approximate adjustments’). These adjustments are usually successful but occasionally they lead to failure. But whether or not they lead to success or failure, they are essentially the same adjustments.
If we are able to understand this part of our work we will start to have a method for removing blame from error. In fact, this approach removes the idea of error. There is no error; there is only adjustment which may lead to success or failure.