Press release

Learning from the Past - Hindsight Perspectives

Details of our new Hindsight Perspectives programme

Tuesday, August 17 2021

Learning from the Past - Hindsight Perspectives

Louise Sanger, Applied Research & Outreach Manager shares with us details of our new Hindsight perspectives programme and explains why learning from the past is such an important part of making the world safer today.

During my internal secondment from HEC to our strategic programme team over the last eight months, I have been exploring ways that we can utilise learnings from the past to help inform some of the most pressing safety challenges. Global concerns like: Safety at sea, Safety of physical infrastructure, and Safety for a sustainable future - we tackle questions like ‘How do we meet shared global goals for sustainability whilst also valuing safety of life and property?’. 

Why Hindsight Perspectives? 

Lloyd’s Register Foundation is unique as through both our origins and our relationship with the classification society, Lloyd’s Register Group, we have independence, technical authority, a global reach and, key to the hindsight project, a specialist Heritage Collection stretching back 260 years. This is filled with all sorts of insights on previous technology innovations and transitions including three industrial revolutions. Our organisation already recognises the benefits of a hindsight approach and this programme aims to more systematically embed and utilise lessons from the past more widely across our activities.   

As a charity with a mission to reduce risk and enhance the safety of the critical infrastructure that modern society relies upon, in areas such as energy, transport and food, we can use hindsight perspectives to support the Foundational challenge areas to see what lessons can be learnt to inform current and future safety challenges. This approach will help us to forge new pathways to impact as by learning from the past – be it through past successes or failures, ideas and policies that were used or not, this project aims to provide fresh context and insight, to help deepen understanding of issues and provoke creative solutions. 

Why this project is different? 

Learning from past mistakes and failures is nothing new. There are already lots of existing tools and resources in place. Many of you will be familiar with the Swiss Cheese diagram on risk. What makes this project different is that we can identify where some of the gaps are, what is being missed or has been forgotten over time.

The tools that currently exist vary hugely, many are free but are long and heavy reads, others are often disparate and hard to access, locked behind firewalls and subscriptions - with little awareness of them outside of specific sectors. Others are doing their job very well and are a good model to learn from.  

For example, in 2018 INTERTANKO and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) produced a report on Sharing lessons learned from incidents. The UK aviation industry has an excellent safety record and mechanisms in place such as near miss reporting to learn from incidents. The Health and Safety Executive has a ‘Learning Lessons’ approach noting that after an accident or case of ill health, many organisations find they already had systems or procedures but that these were not complied with. 

In many cases, there are still barriers within individual organisations and within industries – with lessons being learned only in 'silos' and not widely shared. 

We have an opportunity to provide a coordinated and central voice for the applied use of hindsight learnings. Making sure that failures and the causes of them continue to be learned from long after the follow up enquiries, legal cases and recommendations have died down. We also want to learn from successes. Crucially we want to find mechanisms and develop tools to help to share these learnings across different sectors and across industries, by encouraging collaboration and openness.

Plans for the programme 

Our next steps are to continue to build the evidence base and see what other resources and activities exist. There is no point reinventing the wheel - so we are identifying the ‘white space’ where this hindsight approach can add more insight into existing safety challenges and new opportunities, initially in the maritime sector, but also in other industries too.

To achieve this the overall programme has three parallel strands of activity: 

  • Building the network. We are identifying stakeholders and forming a steering group across industry, policy and academia to support and inform the direction of the project. 
  • Research and engagement. Collaborative research projects, to prove and promote the approach to new audiences. 
  • Building the evidence base. Exploring and signposting existing data. Carrying out interviews with experts and capturing insights for the future.

A key aspect of the Hindsight project will be identifying how best to marry up the potential learnings from our own archive collection with current safety agendas. We are consulting with industry experts and stakeholders on their safety requirements to identify the most useful research questions.  

Times, technologies and communications have changed almost beyond recognition in some cases, so we need to be mindful of the context and attitudes of the time to keep this kind of approach useful. We are using hindsight to answer a contemporary question and to do this we can take into account how the world is today by using valuable insights from the World Risk Poll - the first global study of worry and risk across the world published in 2020.   

Case study idea 

Despite many improvements over the years, maritime shipping remains one of the most hazardous industries and it is undergoing another major transformation with the accelerating decarbonisation agenda. Our hindsight programme is developing methodologies to make working at sea safer for those that work on our behalf. 

There is a lot that can be learnt from looking back at previous transitions. How did changes in technologies and propulsion methods impact on skills and training? What can the dangerous transitions from wind to steam, or steam to hydrocarbons tell us about the potentially hazardous transition to hydrogen carrier fuels like ammonia or methanol or indeed hydrogen itself? What needs to be considered in the transition from carbon to batteries? 

What can we learn by looking at regulation and its implementation; where is knowledge diffusion evident and what factors contributed to this; what elements were in place for successful technology adoption? 

The loss of skills in the marine industry has been highlighted as a concern at UK government level in recent decades, most notably with publicity surrounding the threatened closures of the Appledore shipyard and Harland and Wolff. It has also been the subject many reports including by the UK Ministry of Defence in 2006, the IMarEST in 2016 and by others. This includes the loss of traditional skills since the decline of the traditional wooden sailing ship, and from the numerous changes to the construction techniques and materials used in the industry, such as pre-fabrication, the growth in vessel sizes and computer aided design.   

From Lloyd’s Register Group’s perspective, the changes in shipbuilding practice, material and techniques also have a direct impact on the work of its surveyors today. Many vessels are bought back into class and this often results in a need for the surveyors to consult old plans, survey reports (usually held by Records department) and most significantly, the historic Rules and Regulations for the classification of ships which form part of our archive collection. 

Other example areas of lost skills we could investigate are things like unmanned machinery spaces and the effects of automation on the human element. But to keep it useful, the research itself will be informed by what is needed in current safety agendas and by inviting contributions from current experts. 

Progress & next steps

In March our first grant officially in the hindsight space commenced with History & Policy - a collaborative network at Kings College London and at the Institute of Historical Research. They have connections to academic historians all over the UK and across the world. This two-year funded project will commission professional historians to work with the materials in our Heritage Education Centre and other collections, to produce and promote five Hindsight reports. 

We are also exploring knowledge management frameworks and ways to use Artificial Intelligence as part of the programme. Keep an eye out for our Hindsight perspectives blogs and updates on Learning from the past. You can also listen to Louise talking about the programme in a podcast for the Foundation for Science and Technology. 

If you would like to find out more or get involved, please - get in touch.

Hindsight Perspectives
Louise Sanger