Written by G.M. Hancock, P.M. Salmon, & P.A. Hancock
During the final week of August 2018, the world’s leading scientists in the field of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HF/E) found themselves under the Tuscan sun for the 20th Triennial Congress of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA). The event was held in the legendary city of Florence, home to the Uffizi Gallery and Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ to name only two of many Florentine cultural highlights. The five-day conference was held at the Firenze Fiera Congress and Exhibition Center, a wonderful and historic setting in which to imbibe research and progress; among other things (see Figure 1).
The celebration of the global ergonomics community involved numerous keynotes touching on topics as diverse as Artificial Intelligence (AI), climate change, and Ergonomics in farming world-wide. Attendees also presented their current and emerging research, and paid touching tribute to those who graced our discipline and have now passed on. Among these, one of us (PAH) was privileged enough to be on a panel that commemorated the life and professional contributions of the late Neville Moray (and see Hancock, Senders, & Lee, 2018). From the podium, the whole session seemed particularly well-received and talks are underway for a journal Special Issue to capture the diverse impact and contributions that Moray made to Ergonomics, most especially including his emphasis on the need for HF/E in tackling some of our most pressing societal problems. The authors encourage the reader to look for this upcoming publication, and even to contact the present third author (PAH) for details as to how contributions might be made. Similar Special Issues are planned on other topics presented at the meeting and the publication of many Proceedings papers are already available (see: https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319960791).
Differing and prescient keynote speakers addressed a host of interdisciplinary issues with visionary aplomb. Waldemar Karwowski explored the aforementioned dynamic landscape of AI and warned Ergonomists that the world teeters on a now-or-never precipice regarding the coming effects of such AI systems. He advised that Ergonomists should immediately launch into the fray of AI design efforts in order to establish safe and effective operational parameters for such highly variable learning systems – or miss the opportunity to the detriment of humanity.
Figure 1: The main location of the IEA 2018 Conference. This historic building was surrounded by a number of more modern structures which also acted as meeting locations.
Erik Hollnagel’ s discourse on the future development of HF/E was particularly trenchant. He warned us against creating, as opposed to solving, the challenges and problems of tomorrow. It is a potential indictment of our science and indicates that we have to be assiduous and careful that in answering current challenges we do not create more complex and less tractable problems downstream. Erik also reminded us of the need for HF/E to focus its attention on the study of work that goes right, as opposed to spending too much time examining things that have gone wrong. His notion of ‘Safety II’ was a popular theme throughout the conference (Hollnagel, 2014).
Andrew Thatcher’s keynote, reminiscent of the thoughts expressed in Neville Moray’s own Keynote at the 1994 IEA meeting in Toronto, asked us to take our eyes from the proximal system of concern and the questions that plague our moment-to-moment concerns and raise our collective eyes to the larger, existential questions and exactly how we, in HF/E, can formulate and enact solutions critically contingent upon inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Surely, we have some, if not considerable facility with such teaming imperatives? Thatcher asked us to consider the ‘greater good,’ and in this, he is assuredly right! Dan Jenkins’s plenary focused on the role of HF/E in design, and tackled head on pressing issues such as the integration of HF/E methods, the translation of HF/E analyses into HF/E designs, and the need to embed HF/E across all stages of design lifecycles. Demonstrated via a case study in radiotherapy, Jenkins’s approach provides a useful multi-method framework for HF/E practitioners striving to influence design everywhere.
Obviously, in such a short series of observations as the present ones we cannot detail or precis the full conference. We can, however, recommend that our readers explore for themselves the extended works given at this involving and stimulating meeting (and see IEA President Kathy Mosier’s comments at: https://www.iea.cc/).
Figure 2: The open central area of the overall meeting facility as set up for the welcoming reception.
With well over 1500 registrants, the conference was very well-attended. Indeed many sessions were presented, in the authors’ experience, to a standing-room-only audience. The discussion was lively, insightful, and often inspiring. Congratulations and gratitude are due to the various IEA Committees and especially the home-country’s Italian organizers for all their efforts to host such a successful conference. Mille grazie! We can only hope to see such participation and enthusiasm at IEA 2021 in Vancouver, Canada, eh! The current authors are certainly already preparing their own abstract submissions!
About the Authors:
Dr. Gabriella Hancock is in the Department of Psychology at California State University Long Beach in Long Beach, California. Dr. Paul Salmon is a member of the Centre of Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, and Dr. Peter Hancock is in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL.
Hancock, P.A., Senders, J.W., & Lee, J. (2018). Neville Moray (1935-2017). American Journal of Psychology, 131 (3), 381-384.
Hollnagel E. (2014). Safety-I and Safety–II: The Past and Future of Safety Management. Ashgate: Farnham, England.