About the workshop

On 19 July 2019, the Academy brought together 43 experts from a broad range of profession categories, including academia (15), NGO/not for profit (8), research consultancy (7), industry (6), government (3) and regulator (4). The workshop achieved a good gender balance as 40 percent of workshop participants were female.

The purpose of the workshop was to:

  • Inform the Safer Complex Systems programme scope and strategy
  • Input into the Invitation to Tender (ITT) for a Global Foresight Review on the Safety of Complex Systems
  • Create a community of diverse stakeholders interested in improving the safety of complex systems


Closing remarks 
Delivered by Dame Judith Hackitt DBE FREng.

Dame Judith noted that the programme board were delighted at the quality of the discussion at the workshop, thanked delegates for their valuable contributions and gave the following summary:

  • We are operating in a world that is becoming more disaggregated and more polarised, which contrasts to our aims of integration and distributed systems. Are these things compatible?
  • Systems thinking and engineering have demonstrated operational weakness as they are not keeping pace with the complex, organic and evolutionary nature of the systems themselves. The world is changing faster than we are able to keep pace, which raises the question of how are we going to keep up? Chase or get in front? Managing systems at Level 1 vs. Level 2 or beyond
  • There is an urgent need to develop a new language to enable communication and collaboration between a broad range of stakeholders
  • How do you change expectations and shift culture? How do we get to a place where all sectors and organisations learn from mistakes rather than look for people to blame (e.g. aviation) because a blame culture immediately stifles the ability to learn and improve for the future
  • There has been a richness brought about by having bought such a diverse group of people together. There is a need to bring together the complex systems community and the sociological aspect of systems, and the programme board need to think about this carefully
  • The importance of education at all levels, including educating some engineers about the concepts of systems thinking
  • Whose role is it to manage the overall systems? Do we over rely on the leaders to make decisions and to be the integrators of systems? Should there be more collective responsibility for this?
  • There have been lots of suggestions of places internationally to look for good practice, (for example China, Finland and India) as well as specific sectors (for example, aviation, nuclear, shipping and defence). The strongest message has been that there’s no such thing as best practice as everything is context dependent
  • There is a need for better-quality, purpose-driven, collective decision-making
  • What it is we are trying to achieve with a system? This all depends on what people perceive to be the critical thing about the system and unless you have a common view you won’t see the same things as being important within a system
  • Championing systems thinking into schools. Current concepts of systems thinking talk about putting a boundary around something that we don’t know if it can be boundaried
  • There is a need to develop strategic communications, to make messages non-technical and more understandable. We need to make messaged resonate with more people and with broader audiences by doing some thinking around the social and cultural dimensions of language, rather than it all being technical
  • Questions for the programme board include what is our role in all of this? Is it really safety we are looking into, or is it resilience or something else? We need a vision of where we are trying to get to

The Academy captured additional notes on each discussion; this information will be synthesised and will input into the development of the Safer Complex Systems programme.

Full workshop notes will be published shortly; a draft form is available upon request via email from Shelley Stromdale, Programme Officer.