Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21 - Learn from mistakes?

The bushfires in Victoria are a tragedy that will take many, many years to recover from. I would like to think that this recovery will also involve a certain amount of learning from the mistakes made and setting in place some new processes that might prevent a similar situation in future.

I mean, that's what's supposed to happen when things go wrong, isn't it?

Sadly, this isn't always the case.

History tells us that "The bushfires of January 13 1939, known as the ‘Black Friday’ fires, were the result of a long drought and a severe, hot, dry summer. Fanned by extremely strong winds, these fires swept rapidly across large areas of Victoria, causing widespread destruction. " Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

There was a Royal Commission to look into the fires and it was deemed that they were deliberately lit and a number of recommendations came out of the report. A lot of those recommendations resulted in changes that brought reform into the management of forests and fires, and determined, to some extent, how things are today.

However, one of the findings of the report was that many lives were saved at the sawmills because of dugouts and a recommendation of the report was that these should be used more extensively.

Phillip Adams spoke with a couple of guests about dugouts on Late Night Live . One was a woman who had survived the Black Friday fires. She had one brother who died in one dugout and another who didn't survive in another dugout. The difference between the two was that one was constructed properly and the other wasn't.

Phillip's other guest was Andrew Sullivan, a Senior Research Scientist with the CSIRO's Bushfire Research Group. He commented that dugouts, as a viable option during bushfires, went out of favour when the demographics of the community changed. In 1939 people were forced to stay in place as there weren't cars to drive away in.

Studies into the practicalities of dugouts deemed them inadvisable, although Andrew mentioned that some of the research was faulty and could therefore had resulted in a false recommendation.

One family survived in a dugout during these current fires so perhaps this idea needs to be looked at again. With modern technologies in terms of materials it seems to be a good time to reconsider them as a viable option.

The whole debate about this issue prompted me to ask the question "Why don't we learn from our mistakes?"

There are a number of layers to this issue, I decided. The first is that through our education system we are encouraged to get things right and that mistakes are a bad thing. Risk-taking is discouraged and yet taking risks, and sometimes making mistakes, are an essential part of learning. By making mistakes, analysing what went wrong, and choosing a better alternative we're able to learn from them.

Another layer is government. The way the system works is that decisions are made to last only as long as the current term of office. There seems to be little, or no, long-term planning going on at any level. Why would they? Any government knows that if they take risks in terms of policy they may well lose the next election if things don't go to plan, so they don't risk it.

The third layer is the media. Their present strategy seems to be to tell us what went wrong and who's to blame. This generally bad-news-minded bunch of ambulance chasers can't seem to see beyond the latest 5-second-grab of "hot news", in my opinion. Sure, there must be a few decent people among them but they seem to be few and far between.

But how about this for an idea? Why couldn't some media hounds set up a group to follow up some of the ideas, recommendations, suggestions and comments made during crises or events and make sure that there's some sort of continuity from one government to the next or one policy decision to the next. To make sure that things happen as they should and that other things don't fall by the wayside. Surely if someone is around asking questions then the important things might stay on the agenda long enough to be addressed? Or am I being entirely idealistic and unrealistic?

Is anyone listening in or am I merely speculating alone. What do you think about a system that is open to learning from mistakes and growing in maturity as a result?

I'm not sure how to interpret this topic as a page in my book but I guess I'll do it somehow and post a pic when it's done.

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