Monday, August 24, 2009

Assessment Results – A Rose is a Rose

The famous words of Gertrude Stein are most often associated with the notion that when all is said and done, a thing is what it is.  We offer this idea as we continue to look at the meaning of safety culture assessment results – are the results just the results, or do they signify some meaning or interpretation beyond the results?

To illustrate some of the issues I will use an NEI presentation made to the NRC on February 3, 2009.  On Slide 2 there is a statement that the USA methodology (for safety culture surveys and assessments) has been used successfully for five years.   One question is what does it mean that an assessment was successful?  The intent is not to pick on this particular methodology but to open the question of exactly what is the expected result of performing an assessment.

It may be that “successful” means that the organizations being assessed have found the process and results to be useful or interesting, e.g., by stimulating discussion or furthering exploration of issues associated with the results.  There are many, myself included, who believe anything that stimulates an organization to discuss and contemplate safety management issues is beneficial.  On the other hand it may be that organizations (and regulators??) believe assessments are successful because they can use the results to make a determination that a safety culture is “acceptable” or “strong” or “needs improvement”.  Can assessments really carry the weight of this expectation?  Or is a rose just a rose?

Slide 11 highlights these questions by indicating a validation of the assessment methodology is to be carried out.  “Validation” seems to suggest that assessments mean something beyond their immediate results.  It may also suggest that assessment results can be compared to some “known” value to determine whether the assessment accurately measured or predicted that value.  We will have to wait and see what is intended and how the validation is performed.  At the same time we will be keeping in mind the observation of Professor Wilpert in my post of August 17, 2009 that “culture is not a quantifiable phenomenon”.

Link to presentation
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