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“Earthquake Mitigation Implementation: A Sociotechnical System Approach”: 

“Earthquake Mitigation Implementation: A Sociotechnical System Approach” Understanding the context for implementation in a complex environment with competing worldviews Earthquake Engineering Research Institute 2003 Distinguished Lecture by William J. Petak Presented at Purdue University September 30, 2003

A distinguished engineer observed:: 

A distinguished engineer observed: “Unless engineers appreciate the social context of technology …. and the role of human performance …. they are unable to deal with demons that undermine the intended benefits of engineered structures…..” “By both inclination and preparation, many engineers approach the real world as though it were uninhabited ... Engineering is more than manipulation of intricate signs and symbols; the social and environmental context should also be integrated into the engineering curriculum.” Wenk, Edward, 1996, December, Teaching Engineering as a Social Science, ASEE PRISM, pp. 24 – 28


Edward Wenk, Professor Emeritus of Engineering, University of Washington First Science Advisor to the U.S. Congress Science Advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon

“Education for the Profession Formerly Known as Engineering”, January 24, 2003 : 

“Education for the Profession Formerly Known as Engineering”, January 24, 2003 “The basic engineering model is rapidly being displaced by much more complex interactions of ‘technoscience’ – a constant process of interaction in interdisciplinary projects where the projects, not the disciplines, define the terms of engagement. “Students need to be educated in an environment where they get used to justifying and explaining their approach to solving problems and also to dealing with people who have other ways of defining and solving problems.” Rosalind Williams, Director, MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society.- Chronicle of Higher Education

What do these statements have to do with implementation of earthquake mitigation technologies for lifelines?: 

What do these statements have to do with implementation of earthquake mitigation technologies for lifelines?

I believe that…..: 

I believe that….. A “limited worldview and partial perspective of disciplines involved generate actions that are unsustainable” * and ……as Professor Wenk has suggested In order for engineers to effectively engage the political process, they need to understand the interactions between technology and social processes * Gunderson, Lance H. and C. S. Holling, 2002, PANARCHY: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, Island press, Washington, D.C.

The underlying problem: 

The underlying problem Collectively and historically, we have been pretty good at reducing the earthquake risk for new structures and systems In the next few decades, the greatest opportunity for significantly improving seismic safety is by mitigating the risks associated with existing structures and systems However, implementing mitigation for existing structures and systems has proven to be problematic, even in shaky California

In the current approach . . . : 

In the current approach . . . Earthquake risk problem is approached with a technical solution focus Mitigation advocates tend to promote narrow technological fixes as optimal “best” solutions System performance is complex - simplified by dividing into subsystems – until a problem is arrived at that can be solved - using rational engineering methods Search for the “one best way” - optimal solution – provides limited ability to address tradeoffs related to expenditures for seismic safety


Advocates have been slow to learn how to devise policies and programs that are “acceptable” in a dynamic system with multiple worldviews -- a system in which both the problem and the decision context are continually morphing

Here’s the problem . . .: 

Here’s the problem . . . Engineering, technology, economics, and organizational disciplines each have tested insights, but they are all only partial perspectives Each generates actions that, by themselves, do not necessarily improve community resilience to earthquakes The need is to develop integrative approaches that combine disciplinary strengths while filling the gaps in knowledge and understanding between the disciplines

A sociotechnical systems approach provides a framework for understanding the context for mitigation implementation in a complex environment with competing worldviews: 

A sociotechnical systems approach provides a framework for understanding the context for mitigation implementation in a complex environment with competing worldviews

Sociotechnical System View : 

TECHNOLOGY Performance Based Engineering PHYSICAL SETTING New and Existing Structures and Lifeline Systems SOCIO-TECHNICAL SETTING TECHNO-PERSONAL SETTING PRIMARY ORGANIZATIONAL ACTORS Agencies, Investors, Institutions, Industry SECONDARY ORGANIZATIONS Communities, Policy makers, Regulators, Lenders, Insurers, Unions POLITICAL ACTIVITY INDIVIDUAL ACTORS Advocates, Opponents DECISION ORGANIZATIONAL ASPECTS TECHNICAL ASPECTS PERSONAL ASPECTS Sociotechnical System View Adapted from: Linstone, H., 1984, Multiple Perspectives for Decision Making: Bridging the Gap Between Analysis and Action, Elisevier-Science Publications, New York, pg 40

Why a sociotechnical system approach?: 

Why a sociotechnical system approach? It is a question of perspective - Focus on multiple perspectives - problems and issues that require application of engineering technology, but within a social, economic and political context versus Focus limited to determining the single optimized engineering “best solution” based solely on data, quantification of information and models bounded by a limited number of elements

A sociotechnical systems approach: 

A sociotechnical systems approach Requires distinguishing between how to address the earthquake problem and what the problem is understood to be from a - Technical perspective Organizational/Institutional perspective Personal/Individual perspective Aids in expanding the worldview of each discipline

Technical perspective: 

Technical perspective System performance is complex - simplified by dividing into subsystems – until a problem is arrived at that can be solved Simplification leads to working on a narrow problem – e.g., beam /column connection Important but limited when addressing the greater system problem of implementation Engineers should be principle advocates how community should address earthquake problem

Organizational aspects : 

Organizational aspects Organizations include family, community, state, union, and corporation or company - all are examples that interact with technology Organizations may be formal or informal, hierarchical or egalitarian, permanent or temporary They are the beneficiaries, advocates, opponents, and regulators who become involved in implementation of mitigation technology

Individual aspects: 

Individual aspects Individuals matter - decisions reflect personality, values and preferences - helps identify the characteristics and behavior of organizations May be viewed as visionaries, realists, promoters, obstructionists, and operators Activities may be as important as those of organizations Individuals are unique and judge earthquake problems and solutions based on personal experiences, beliefs, intuition, and self interest

Political culture: 

Political culture Political action represents well organized interplay between organizations and individuals Mitigation is to protect a community and its citizens – mitigation is in the “public interest” Mitigation of private sector economic loss - generally considered the private sector’s responsibility Highly technical information is often discounted in favor of social interests and values

Free market context: 

Free market context Philosophical orientation and basis for mitigation implementation decision making Organizations free to work to gain market share and maximize return on investment Property owners responsible for managing their risks Governmental intervention – regulation should be only when absolutely necessary Regulations, rules, ordinances are for protection of the public interest



Sociotechnical approach: 

Sociotechnical approach Provides a context and perspective that facilitates addressing earthquake mitigation, not only as an engineering problem to be solved, but also as organizational and community problems and solutions associated with the implementation of mitigation technology.

Mitigation policy making context: 

Mitigation policy making context Community sustainability goals/objectives Community understanding - objective vs. perceived risk Political environment/capacity – who pays and who benefits – equitable distribution of benefits and costs Constituency knowledge and support Economic conditions

For organizations – institutions…: 

For organizations – institutions… The world is seen from the point of view of how mitigation implementation affects their individual business cost, disruption, liability (especially for deregulated entities) Implementation of mitigation measures must correspond to current priorities, standard operating procedures and practices Each will have a different perspective on problems and solutions and their impacts (public owned vs. private)


Ambiguity and uncertainty cause high moments of inertia - tend not to act until confident of what to do next – then often follow standard operating procedures reinforcing the status quo Decisions are often based on power Return on investment of scarce capital is key to survival for private organizations Knowing who pays and who benefits is key to political success Conflict in determining responsibility for cost - public versus private – e.g., hospitals

Organizational decision factors: 

Organizational decision factors Perception of Risk Technology How reliable the mitigation Rate of change of knowledge Regulations/standards Complexity of retrofit Service level requirements Construction requirements Other requirements Hazardous waste management Community disruption Service quantity and quality Union rules Financial Capacity / Economy Market Conditions Availability of Capital Debt Capacity Liquidity Cost of Mitigation Occupancy Factors Equity Distribution of costs and benefits Service demands Insurance Availability, Coverage, & Cost

Mitigation implementation decision grid: 

Mitigation implementation decision grid a Technical / Engineering Analysis Organizational Participation Sociotechnical system approach Implementation decision based on integration of sound technical analysis and stakeholder/organizational values and decision context – Informed process increases chance of successful mitigation implementation Empirical approach High degree of technical analysis / low stakeholder participation = "nerdy“ analysis without buy-in. Mitigation implementation success limited when organizational factors and decision context are not considered Political approach Low degree of technical analysis / high degree of stakeholder participation = "feel good" process without assurance of technically adequate mitigation No winners Low degree of technical analysis / low level of stakeholder participation – results in mitigation deferred to some later time High Low High

Given this understanding, the problem - solution context becomes critically important: 

Given this understanding, the problem - solution context becomes critically important Mitigation technology will be implemented when linked with a strategy that matches the needs of the sociotechnical environment A continuous process improvement approach to mitigation will help recognize and overcome barriers through collaboration with stakeholders Biggest challenge – one that technology cannot solve, but must acknowledge: the unique context in which cities decide what and how to regulate and the context in which organizations make decisions

We have learned that …: 

We have learned that … What appeared to be simple is not: context is critical Effective approaches are integrative: they bridge disciplines, interests, and scales of analysis Implementation does not necessarily follow policy making Implementation is politics continued by other means Each stakeholder approach is built upon a particular worldview: scientific, technological, organizational or political Compromises and mediation among stakeholders is irrelevant if it is not based on an understanding of the multiple dimensions of the problem

Finally, we believe that . . .: 

Finally, we believe that . . . Successful policies and investments for seismic safety require a worldview that facilitates integration of the geophysical and technological with the economic and organizational -institutional theory and practice Methods need to be developed to help integrate across disciplines to better understand systems of linked geophysical, technological, economic and institutional processes necessary to increase the likelihood of successful mitigation implementation

What is needed, then, is…: 

What is needed, then, is… For all participants to develop a respect and understanding of the perspectives and worldviews of each others discipline Recognition that reducing earthquake risk to lifelines is a complex problem that may require several alternative solutions, each of which can lead to new problems Creation of a process that supports collaboration among the disciplines and stakeholders involved -- engineers, scientists, politicians, organizational decision makers, and property owners

To accomplish this, we need design professionals who will . . . : 

To accomplish this, we need design professionals who will . . . Design bridges Bridges to help span the gap between disciplines Design connections Connections to ensure systems that are resilient when subjected to political and economic stress Design networks Networks that facilitate communication and understanding


And…. Engineer advocates for earthquake mitigation who understand and acknowledge the interactions between technology and social processes necessary to effectively engage in a collaborative political process

Multiple Contexts: 

Multiple Contexts Engineering Technology Context Organizational Context Political Context Free Market Context Sociotechnical system

Thank you for your attention.: 

Thank you for your attention.

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