Visual/verbal knowing is not something that Safety does well. Many of the models and graphics used in Safety are poorly constructed, linear and simplistic. The Swiss-cheese for example, is the kind of graphic enjoyed by many in Safety but it simply misleading about how incidents occur, how events unfold and how humans make judgements and decisions.
Visual/verbal knowing is best developed through the study and practice of Semiotics. There is no study or practice of semiotics in risk across the globe except in SPoR.
Semiotic knowing extends way beyond the limits of propositional and conceptual definition common in safety. This is why so many in safety misunderstand the nature of culture and advise not to talk about it (Busch, Hopkins etc). You can’t understand art using a slide rule or algorithms.
The oldest continuing culture in the world is the Australian Indigenous culture (https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/09/dna-confirms-aboriginal-culture-one-of-earths-oldest/; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/22/indigenous-australians-know-were-the-oldest-living-culture-its-in-our-dreamtime). This culture never developed text as a way of knowing, it is a visual verbal culture. There is much we could learn about culture from this culture. Stories, myths, legends, knowing, culture and being have always been transmitted in Australian First Nations people, verbally and visually without text or numerics.
At the heart of First Nations Peoples of Australia is the mandala, the ancient expression of balance and community common to many cultures (https://safetyrisk.net/visual-verbal-and-relational-mapping-in-risk-assessment/). See an example here: Figure 1. Australian First Nations Peoples Mandala
Figure 1. Australian First Nations Peoples Mandala
This kind of mandala is often used to express: corroboree, community, presence around the fire, balance, leadership, conversation, personhood and knowing (https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/ket-kyvam-owensboro2/corroboree-dance-dreaming-1989/). Such knowing cannot be communicated conceptually or through propositions.
When white people first came to Australia and deemed it was Terra Nullius. Indigenous First Nations peoples were not identified as ‘civilized’ because their language lacked text and other forms of intelligence deemed a measure of civilization by the colonizers. In this was the Indigenous people were disposed of their land, their culture was demonised and myths substituted for western myths.
This is what a fixation with measurement does. All it does is seek to validate its own assumptions and never questions those assumptions. We see that so often in the risk and safety industry, yet risk cannot be measured nor quantified. Of course, this never stops Safety from asserting that measures like injury rates have meaning, when they have none.
In SPoR, we often use mandala knowing to help people visualise the tensions they experience in tackling risk. This is also part of how conversations, dialogue and dialectic are part of methods used in skill development in SPoR. The purpose of such conversations and visual knowing is to seek balance. This is always the case in SPoR. There is no balance in zero or the many myths and rituals safety maintains as meaningful, mostly constructs and attributions from engineering and scientism.
Recently in the Ethics Workshop (https://cllr.com.au/product/an-ethic-of-risk-unit-17/ ) we asked participants to use this form (mandala) of knowing to visualise the tasks and role of their work and also the tensions, trade-offs and by-products experienced in doing their work in safety. The following mandala (Figure 2. Safety Mandala) is so effective it prompted this blog.
Figure 2. Safety Mandala
The first thing I noticed about this mandala is the swirling nature, as if it swirls into a never ending vortex. I know many people in safety who describe their job as thus. The next thing I noticed is that none of the activity positioned in the mandala has any connection to anything that SPoR considers significant. Everything in the mandala is object-centric NOT person-centric. The Chemical Engineer who drew this mandala thanked me for the education journey in SPoR and for enlightening him to other ways of knowing than safety-knowing.
There is much more to this mandala that I will leave up to you to decipher. One of the beauties of mandala is their subjectivity, dialectic and openness. They enable meditation, reflection and contemplation on the tensions in living and being. I particularly liked this mandala (and I have hundreds of SPoR examples) because it captures so wonderfully the conundrum of ‘being’ in safety.
By way of contrast one can see a completely different focus in Figure 3. Safety Mandala
Figure 3. Safety Mandala
None of this is either ‘good’ or bad’ but rather a way of seeing the world, a way of understanding living and being in risk from differing perspectives. Both views are valid just as there are other valid worldviews than the engineering worldview or the behaviourist worldview.
BY engaging in alternative worldviews one has a better chance of enacting balance in the way one tackles risk. Far away from the binary fundamentalism of safety and zero.
If you want to learn more about any of this you can attend the workshops in Vienna or Canberra later this year.
- If you are in Europe and Interested in learning SPoR you can register for the two workshops being undertaken by Dr Long in Vienna (including a semiotic walk). You can register here: https://www.humandymensions.com/vienna-workshops/
- Write to Dr Long at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discount.
- For those in Australia and SE Asia you can register for the SPoR Convention in Canberra September 2023: https://safetyrisk.net/spor-convention-canberra-18-21-september-2023/
- Write to Dr Long at email@example.com for a discount.
Tom Beegan says
And how effective is this approach? SPoC or Mandala are but constructs. To the person on their tools, or the Drive for work, or the Nurse in ED or the Policeman/women or the Farmer, is it believed they will belive this is relevant to them? Understanding why we do what we do is still a challenge,even if constructs are applied to ourselves.
Rob long says
BTW it’s SPoR, and yes this method works well with any group we have done it with over 20 years. Nurses, steel fixers, police, you name it. Its success is amazing.
BTW, what is not a construct? Eg how can you understand doing without a construct?
Perhaps just bring negative without evidence is your construct.
Rob C says
Hi Tom, having been the manager and functional leader for health, safety and environment for an organisation undertaking port based bulk material handling I would say the SPoR approach is extremely effective. Having an appreciation that risk exists not only with the workspace (the tangible hazards) but also through individual and cultural influences (the headspace and the groupspace) is the key. SPoR does not replace foundational ‘safety’ principles but in fact supercharges them through making sense to frontline workers and their supervisors. Making sense is where many other constructs (safety 2, safety differently, and BBS) fail. People have a very good BS meter regardless of how well educated and how sophisticated they may be.
Rob long says
Unfortunately Rob there are many in Safety who have no expertise, experience or knowledge in the matters they claim expertise. Then from a base of ignorance criticise what is not understood. Eg. Calling a mandala a ‘construct’ demonstrates astounding ignorance about culture, psychology, anthropology and learning.
We also see people claiming they now have expertise in psychosocial and mental health again with no expertise, experience or knowledge. Fraudulence is what safety does best.
Yet, Safety seems so please to display its ignorance as if making noise is a constructive activity.
Importantly, such a disposition has no interest in learning or engagement but enjoys the sound of its own noise crying in the wilderness hoping someone might listen to such ignorance.
None of these critics engage with SPoR of read much. Few ever seek to be intelligent about risk. Typical of most immersed in BBS.
As you know SPoR works and that it has enormous benefits and methods for those who want to learn and improve how organisations tackle risk, culture and leadership.