Cognition, Technology & Work

, 11:279 | Cite as

Questioning, exploring, narrating and playing in the control room to maintain system safety

  • Penn Smith
  • Ann BlandfordEmail author
  • Jonathan Back
Original Article


Systems whose design is primarily aimed at ensuring efficient, effective and safe working, such as control rooms, have traditionally been evaluated in terms of criteria that correspond directly to those values: functional correctness, time to complete tasks, etc. This paper reports on a study of control room working that identified other factors that contributed directly to overall system safety. These factors included the ability of staff to manage uncertainty, to learn in an exploratory way, to reflect on their actions, and to engage in problem-solving that has many of the hallmarks of playing puzzles which, in turn, supports exploratory learning. These factors, while currently difficult to measure or explicitly design for, must be recognized and valued in design.


Human error Reflection on action Safety Problem-solving Control rooms 



We are very grateful to all the staff at London Underground who contributed to this study in any way, and to anonymous referees of an earlier version of this paper for constructive criticism. This work was partially funded by EPSRC grants GR/S67494 and GR/S67500.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCL Interaction CentreUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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