How the coastguard seeks input to lesson learning

Public organisations can learn from the coastguard when it comes to getting wide scale input to lesson learning

Coast Guard units train on Lake Pontchartrain
US coastguard units train on Lake Ponchartrain by
  Coast Guard on Flickr

Any public organisation, especially one with an element of high priority service, needs a lesson-learning process to improve that service. The emergency response services in particular have well-developed lesson learning systems, but here is a wrinkle I had not seen before, from the US coastguard.

This article from 2017, entitled “Innovation Program seeks hurricane lessons learned from Coast Guard responders” describes how the US coastguard set up what they called the “Hurricane Lessons Learned challenge” on the Coast Guard’s ideas-capturing portal CG_Ideas@Work.

This portal was started as a way to preserve and institutionalize the wealth of lessons learned during hurricane response efforts, and all Coast Guard personnel who participated in any of the response efforts are encouraged to share their observations, issues and ideas.

This is a means of capturing ideas observations and insights which analysts later could convert into lessons (the sequence from Observations to Insights to Lessons is widely recognised in the Lesson learning community). Some direct lessons may also be captured.

As the article explains

 The Coast Guard routinely captures lessons learned as a way to improve its operations, but the CG_Ideas@Work challenge offers one distinct advantage: “Our crowdsourcing platform not only provides a place to submit ideas, but also to collaborate on them,” (Cmdr. Thomas “Andy”) Howell said. “Everyone from non-rates to admirals can discuss ideas.” Speed is also an advantage. “Catching the ideas when they’re fresh and raw preserves their integrity,” Howell said.

The US Coastguard are well aware that capturing lessons is not enough for them to be a learnign organisation. These lessons must also drive change.

The Commandant’s Direction says we need to become an organization capable of continuous learning, so it’s important that the innovations and adaptations that made this response successful are institutionalized,” Howell said. Ideas shared through the Hurricane Lessons Learned challenge are immediately shared with the responsible program. Many will be considered as potential projects for next year’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Project Portfolio.

The portal has been very well received

“We’ve heard from pilots, inspectors, commanding officers, district command staffs, reservists, Auxiliary personnel – the entire gamut of responders,” Howell said. “It’s a very user-friendly way to collect information, and comes with the benefit of collaboration,” he said.

This is an approach other similar organisations can learn from.

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