Human factors evaluation of complex systems

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Chris Jordan, Niteworks

Traditional approaches to complex system evaluation tend to be rooted in the scientific method, with controlled experimentation at the forefront. This paper proposes that complex systems must be approached from a different perspective – one that is less controlling and more about exploring and sense making.

Acknowledging the sociotechnical challenges complex systems bring, an approach is proposed that holistically considers the contribution of political, military, social and economic factors using the medium of the wargame and key performance indicators to ensure that humans define the narrative for complex system evaluation.

This alternative approach focuses on exploration and evaluation that is qualitative rather than quantitative and applicable to a wide range of complex system contexts. It will support appreciation of complex systems both at strategic and lower levels and explore the effect of interventions (or changes) whilst providing a framework for other analytical techniques to be incorporated.

Five ideas are expressed within the approach: explore, accept uncertainty, innovate, evaluate then iterate taking account of the political, military, economic, and social factors as well as examining components of the complex system and their effect. This holistic approach to evaluating interventions in complex systems whilst not providing definitive answers will go some way to appreciating the consequences of actions or interventions we adopt.

The investigation of complex systems has a number of human factors considerations particularly in methods employed and the role of the observer/designer however more importantly the role of human factors in the generation of insights from participation in human in the loop decision scenarios – in particular wargames – is a rich source of constructed narrative where the participant actually shapes the outcome. By doing so each of the participants collaborating and owning the problem generate and explore a wide range of what-ifs and courses of action that traditional methods of inquiry fail to generate. This approach described in this paper seeks to harness the unique aspects of the wargame with the multi-layer perspective of the sociotechnical system to enable better understanding of the implications of change (or interventions) in the complex system.

Date & time

7-8 June 2016

NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham

What is a Complex System?

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