Can one “prove” that a harmful event was preventable? Conceptualising and addressing epistemological puzzles in post-incident reviews and investigations

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Abstract

A growing part of the literature on crises, disasters and policy failures focuses on the design, conduct and impact of post-incident reviews or inquiries, particularly whether the right lessons are identified and subsequently learned. However, such accounts under-appreciate the specific challenge posed by epistemic puzzles, under what conditions their difficulty may vary, and which strategies could help to solve them. Drawing on insights from a wide-range of cases, the article identifies hindsight bias, counterfactual reasoning, and root-cause analysis as core components creating an epistemic triangle of inquiry puzzling. It advances four propositions about the conditions that help or hinder investigators’ capacity to produce sound knowledge and concludes by setting out potential strategies that investigators can use to fully address or at least mitigate these epistemic challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalRisk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2023

Keywords

  • Post-incident review
  • lesson learning
  • hindsight bias
  • Counterfactual
  • Root causes

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