Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Single Loop, Double Loop – What Is This All About? (MIT #3)

One of the potential benefits of academic papers is the opportunity for theoretical structure to be put forward to explain a set of observational experience.  The MIT paper [pg 4] provides such a theory regarding organizational learning and safety culture.  They cite the difference between “single loop” and “double loop” learning as vital to the way organizations respond to performance problems.  Single loop learning “represents the immediate and local actions that individuals and organizations take in response to a perceived problem.”  On the other hand, double loop learning “instead of focusing on enforcement…question[s] why rules were not originally followed…”. 

The MIT authors contend that double loop offers the greatest potential benefit to safety, but can be a difficult challenge since “it threatens existing bureaucratic structures”.  And they add an insight that derives from their (and our) view of safety as a dynamic process: “the immediate success of single loop learning can undermine both the motivation and the perceived need to follow through on more substantial improvement efforts…”

How does the theory of single and double loop resonate with your experience?  Do you see single loop being the dominant response within your organization?

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