Cognitas, the reasons behind it and the future…

I have been approached on a number of occasions, some of them quite directly, asking me why Cognitas is around, what I hope to achieve and what the future is as there are concerns that I am doing my work because of financial motivations.

Why is Cognitas here?

Background: In 2010 I decided that I wanted to make a formal stand behind the work I was doing and rather than be an individual, and as such I decided to form a company. At the time I was working with someone who was very commercially motivated which went against what I was trying to do, but I was new to this game and followed their lead. Within a few months I realised that this is not what I wanted and asked them to resign as a director; they are no longer linked to Cognitas and have no involvement in its direction. The company was formed with 2 shareholders, my ex-partner and I. This partner wanted a substantial buy-out and I declined, especially as the company has made no money, indeed it owes me a substantial amount of money as it is. Rather, the company sold more shares and there are now 199 shares owned by my wife and I, with the remaining share owned by my ex-partner. There were certain things said and done in 2010 which I wish I could change, but things are as they are, and I have to work from that position.

Independence: One of the key tenets of a safety organisation is that it is independent from the community that it has oversight of. There is evidence that whilst the community work together to improve safety, personalities, cultures and biases have a major impact on the flow of information, especially when organisational issues are concerned. Because Cognitas is not paid for by any training agency, equipment manufacturer or individual, there is true independence and therefore I can make comment without fear of organisational bias. We all have our own biases but my PhD studies have shown that I have to be ‘Mr Grey’ and treat all organisations equally.

Openness: I believe that openness is fundamental to improving knowledge transfer, especially when it comes to lessons learned. I have been told several times that opening up reporting would reduce report submissions. However, there is evidence that report visibility improves reporting, not least because it shows that other individuals make the same mistake. It is a slow process, as trust between organisations, and between individuals, is not necessarily as good as it could be. One of my firm beliefs is that ‘it is better to be trusted and respected than liked’. This has got me into a few issues with work and play but I hope I can carry that through to Cognitas.

What I Hope to Achieve?

Aim: My aim is to provide a service to the diving industry which allows my knowledge and experience from military aviation and the organisational culture that pervades there, into sport diving, recognising that there are limitations in what can be achieved either due to the lack of funding or the lack of an organisational structure.

Over the last few years I have been making lots of contacts with the senior training staff of the UK based training agencies, specifically focussing on the technical agencies. This is an area where I think that the influence of a ‘Just Culture’ will be best seen due to the increased level of risks being undertaken in rebreather and technical OC diving. Part of my PhD is to look at how much is known about incident reporting in the UK and determine how that can be improved. Open reporting is essential for safety to improve; but reporting isn’t enough. It needs to be done under the umbrella of a ‘Just Culture’ whereby individuals can report incidents or failings without fear of ridicule, negative criticism or punitive action. This isn’t the same as a blame-free culture. If someone has done something negligently then they need to be picked up, but if they have made an honest mistake, given the environment they were operating in and the knowledge they had at the time, then they should not be punished (be that legally or emotionally).

The things that get changed when a failure is met with an “unjust” response are not typically the things that make the organisation safer. It does not lead to improvement in primary processes. It can lead to “improvement” of all of the stuff…bureaucracy, legal, micromanagement. Paradoxically, many such measures can make the work of those at the sharp end, those whose main concern is the primary process, more difficult, lower in quality, more cumbersome, and perhaps less safe. ” – Sidney Dekker, Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability.

With the combination of a Just Culture and a Reporting Culture, I truly believe we can make this sport a safer activity, not through legislation and rules, but because we are able to undertake the activity as informed individuals choosing what risks to take fully understanding the consequences of ‘breaking the rules’. In the ‘old days’ accidents happened because the technology was not understood. Now, we are in the situation where the technology is pretty much understood, but we don’t understand the risks we are taking because reporting is not as open as it used to be.

“Never break a rule you don’t understand and never break a rule by accident”

The Future…

I have personally always been focussed on improving safety and have never been out to make a profit from the industry. I am more than aware that the only way to make a small amount of money in the diving industry is to start with a lot and watch it dwindle! This is even more the case when dealing with safety inside the recreational diving industry. I can categorically state that I am not out to make a profit from the industry. However, I would like my costs covered for running the Diving Incident and Safety Management System. I have already invested a considerable amount of money, time and effort into this and will continue to do so as I believe in what I am working towards.

I am now working with all of the major training agencies to improve reporting and hopefully, through osmosis from Instructor Trainer, to Instructor, to Student, things will gradually change, such that reporting of incidents becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

If you would like to know more about my studies, what I aiming to achieve, or have some ideas that you think might work, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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