“Lessons Learned”? Learning devices and processes in relation to technological accidents – 2nd AGORAS Conference


The 2nd AGORAS conference, “Lessons learned”? Studying learning devices and processes in relation to technological accidents“, will be held on 13th & 14th December 2018 at Beffroi de Montrouge (2 Place Emile Cresp – 92120 Montrouge – France).

Organizers: Valerie Arnhold, Olivier Borraz, Anne Colard, Stéphanie Tillement

Keynote speaker: Bridget Hutter 

Read the conference theme below, consult the full program here, and register here.

How do organizations and sociotechnical systems “learn lessons” from accidents? After the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011, the immediate response by industry, governments and regulatory agencies was that they would learn from the accident. Such framing of accidents, disasters or crises as opportunities to improve the operation and regulation of sociotechnical systems has become an increasingly prominent feature of discourses following adverse events. This learning idiom is also taken up by social scientists who study accidents in different domains. Such studies claim to provide a more complex account of accident causes and consequences, compared to the narratives produced by institutional actors. Yet these scholarly works rarely address lesson learning itself, nor its role in transforming or maintaining social practices such as knowledge production, norms and regulations or the operation of sociotechnical systems.

The aim of the conference is therefore twofold.

First, we aim to understand and qualify lesson-learning processes by drawing on insights from sociology, science and technology studies, history, management, and political science. What actors participate in lesson learning discourses? Which processes and devices are set up in order to make learning possible? On what kinds of social practices is learning supposed to act? How and under which conditions do learning attempts actually transform social practices? How are they assessed and evaluated? What are the temporal dynamics of learning processes that aim to analyze the past in order to better anticipate the future?

The second aim of this conference is to foster a debate around the different methods and approaches through which scholars are understand learning processes, as well as the social and material conditions that render these studies possible. This includes methodological issues such as access to fieldwork and data, as well as the prospects, opportunities and limits of transforming social science research into operational lessons for government and industry actors.

The conference will be organized around three themes.
     1. Learning devices and the production of knowledge and ignorance. Industry and regulatory agencies are increasingly engaged in R&D activities. These activities not only produce data on the way technological systems used in regulation and prevention activities work, but also provide blueprints for narratives following adverse events.
     2. Organizational procedures and learning. Organizational procedures and devices like operational experience feedback, peer reviews or incident reporting systems aim to create vigilance, render signals of deviance visible and analyze incidents continuously. Lesson learning becomes an increasingly formalized and routine procedure in many organizations that may transform regular organizational practices and temporalities.
     3. The politics of lesson-learning. Announcements of lesson learning after accidents and crises often lead to proposals for institutional and political reforms that serve to signal change and legitimate socio-technical systems, regulatory agencies and policy makers for events that might otherwise be framed as failures or opportunities for challenging actors on their industrial policies.