Improvisation in complex sociotechnical systems - a systems phenomenon

Margaret Trotter, Paul Matthew Salmon, Michael Graeme Lenne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Improvisation has the potential to enhance safety and operational effectiveness in complex sociotechnical systems in situations for which no procedures exist, or more commonly, where circumstances prevent known procedures from being enacted as specified. Such situations commonly arise in fast-paced, high-risk, uncertain, dynamic environments such as the battlefield. Little is known regarding improvisation and what factors influence the ability to improvise appropriately and successfully. In order to generate system reforms designed to support appropriate improvisation, it is first necessary to confirm that improvisation is indeed influenced by factors outside of individual operators; that is, to confirm that it is a systems phenomenon. This paper describes the first three stages of a research program designed to confirm this and to establish a comprehensive, systems-based model of the factors influencing improvisation. In doing so, we report the findings from an extensive literature review, followed by two case studies of improvisation incidents. Finally we report the results of a survey designed to gather data on the factors influencing improvisation within a high risk, uncertain and dynamic context?the led outdoor activity domain. In closing, a prototype systems-based model of improvisation, developed based on the findings from the three studies, is presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13 - 20
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Battlefield Technology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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