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Sensemaking And Learning From Incidents

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

This PhD study is funded by the Energy Institute and Shell and is led by The Open University. The research aims to benefit industry by improving health, safety, and environment (HSE) performance through implementing and measuring Learning From Incidents (LFI). This study is based on a suite of empirical research studies on  Learning From Incidents funded by Shell, the Energy Institute and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This earlier research which identified phases of the LFI lifecycle (Littlejohn et al, 2015; Lukic et al, 2012; Lukic et al, 2011).

One important finding was that sensemaking – active reflection on and contextualision of incident information within each individual’s work practice – was missing from many LFI processes. A ToolKit was developed to provide managers in organisations a means of measuring LFI readiness. The Toolkit includes an LFI Questionnaire Tool that measures LFI implementation in six Phases of LFI. Learning and contextualization with work was enabled through learning designs that could be used by safety or team managers.

Industry based pilot studies[1] in the energy and health sectors examined how the ToolKit  could be used to survey, plan and improve approaches to LFI. These studies identified a need for support in a) how to implement sustained change and b) how to measure learning as change in practice. This project extends the previous work by addressing these two areas through a) investigation of micro-level learning (using self-regulated learning theory) and b) meso level change (using social network theory). Combining individual and network perspectives, the Research Questions:

RQ1 What factors encourage leaders and other workers to make sense of incident information in the context of their own practice?

RQ2  What are the criteria that determine actions identified are effective and sustainable?

RQ3 What network practices lead to or restrict engagement in Learning From Incidents?

RQ4 What are the indicators that leaders & other workers have learned?

Littlejohn, A. Lukic, D. and Margaryan, A. (2015) Comparing Safety Culture and Learning Culture, Risk Management [impact factor = 1.2]

Lukic, D., Littlejohn, A., and Margaryan, A. (2012). A framework for learning from incidents in the workplace, Safety Science, 50 (4), 950-957 [impact factor = 1.7] 

Lukic, D., Margaryan, A., and Littlejohn, A., (2011). How organisations learn from safety incidents: A multifaceted problem. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22(7), 428-450. 

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

The study is based at the Institute for educational Technology at the Open University and is supervised by Professor Allison Littlejohn and Dr Bart Rienties along with industry colleagues. The work takes place from August 2016 until July 2019 across three phases. The first sets out baseline data on factors that predict an individual’s engagement in learning, examining how social networks influence learning and criteria that determine actions identified are effective and sustainable. We use this data to design a learning intervention in tandem with industry partners. The intervention is implemented and tested in the second phase. In the third phase the output will be exercises designed to fit with and extend the LFI ToolKit. Tools, techniques and insight will help organisations implement sustained action, and provide measurement of learning from incidents as change in practice. These tools and insights will be made available via the Energy Institute and in academic publications. A unique aspect of this research is in bringing together perspectives of the individual and the wider group as part of an organisational network, linking formal LFI processes with on-the-job learning.


Learning From Incidents, Professional & Digital Learning, Learning Analytics

People involved / Project partners

Professor Allison Littlejohn, The Open University, UK

Dr Bart Rienties, The Open University, UK

Mr Razif Mohd-Yusoff, Shell Global Solutions, Shell International BV, Netherlands

Mr Peter Jefferies, Phillips 66 Ltd, Humber Refinery, UK

Dr Urbain Bruyere, independent consultant, UK (formally BP VP Learning Development, Operating Management System Academy)

Dr Matthew Lawrie, Independent Consultant, UK

Start date and duration 

August 2016 – July 2019, 3 years

[1] Four pilot implementations of the LFI ToolKit at three energy sector sites and one NHS site were accrued out in 2014-15  

Research & Innovation