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Home » Library » Discussion Papers » DP0805 Managing Risk in a High Blame Environment: Making a ‘Flight Deck’ Simulation in Childcare


Within the everyday work of child welfare services, concern about potential culpability for preventable harm to children known to services is a pre-occupation for practitioners and managers. The authors of this paper are currently engaged in a two country, UK Economic and Social Research Council funded study of error and blame in local authority children’s services. The study involves the development of a computer-based interactive simulation of decision-making loci. Simulations have a long standing place in the science of decision-making. Here we deploy the simulation to a different end – as a generative device for stimulating human behaviour in order to study its properties. In particular, we are concerned with the post hoc reasoning whereby emergent errors are rationalised. If errors are hard to observe in the “blooming, buzzing confusion” of real work, it is nonetheless possible to contrive errors within a designed ‘reality’. Computer-based simulations, known as “micro-worlds”, have been extensively used in technical domains, such as industrial process control, ship’s bridge operation, or fire-fighting and increasingly in medicine. They enable the performance of human decision-makers to be studied in ecologically realistic but controllable conditions, where independent variables can be manipulated and their impact observed. In this paper, we describe in detail the methods we developed to design and populate the micro-world with material derived from our ethnographic work. We will also present findings from the ethnographic and experimental phases of the project to address issues of intelligence and accountability and how these interact with the pressing problematics of ‘the day job’ in child welfare.

Keywords: Social Work, Child Welfare, IT, Virtual Reality

Full Paper (.pdf): Managing Risk in a High Blame Environment: Making a ‘Flight Deck’ Simulation in Childcare
Dr Susan White Professor in Social Work, University of Lancaster