How emergency services developed a capability for Lessons Management
Lesson Management is a core component of Lesson Learning. Here are the story of how this capability was developed in Australian emergency services.
This comes from the recent issue of the Australian Journal of Emergency Management, where Heather Stuart and Mark Thomason describe how Lesson Management was first recognised as important, and then developed across the services.
The need for systematic lesson management was recognised in the aftermath of some serious learning events, for example the following:
The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) had developed a lessons capacity following the Wangary Fires in 2005. The Wangary fire and other fires on that day were the most destructive fires, in terms of loss of life and property, that the CFS had seen since the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983. Given the losses, community grief and the Coronial inquest into this event, CFS recognised that a more formal approach into learning from these events was required and that the service owed it to the community to demonstrate improvements as soon as possible. This was the first time that a formal approach had been utilised in CFS for collecting, analysing and theming lessons
Emergency Management Australia – the coordination body for the state emergency services – hosted a conference in 2011 to discuss lesson learning, and found that many of the state bodies were in a similar stage, with the lessons process being driven by one or two passionate individuals. A scan of the current state found
- a strong culture of identifying themes, trends and lessons but not much success at ensuring lessons were learnt by creating lasting behaviour change
- no consistent model for capturing, analysing, sharing and implementing lessons leading to poorly defined roles, responsibilities and expectations
- “blame and shame”, although diminished, was still prevalent in some parts of the sector
- a lack of visibility in the process of developing lessons, leading to a perception that personal observations and contributions were not influencing change
- many champions of learning practice in the field but there was a risk of losing momentum because of the perceived information ‘black holes’
- emergency management agencies (e.g. responder agencies, government departments and non- government partners) were working separately on lessons management, creating silos of knowledge and disconnected learning opportunities
- there was a limited understanding of principles and benefits of lessons
The first step to address lesson management across the emergency services was to build a practitioners network, and then to draft a Lesson Management Handbook (one of the best I have seen, by the way). This led to a standard terminology across the states, and increasingly a standard lesson management model (Read about the State of Victoria model here). A common gap was identified – data analysis of lessons collection – and addressed through training, which led to the development of “national lessons”; lessons which appear across all states.
Through this process, lesson management, both within the individual states and across the nation, was born, defined, standardised and deployed.
As the authors conclude:
Learning lessons as a lessons practitioner is greater than the process itself and an individual agency’s activities… The synergies gained through collaboration between lessons practitioners across the emergency management sector has contributed to strengthening the lessons capability in each of the participating agencies and has resulted in greater achievements in this sphere than agencies would have achieved working in isolation.