I want to plug a book I’ve edited published (via the Perspectives series with London Publishing Partnership), Gill Kernick’s Catastrophe and Systemic Change.
This is a really important book. Gill is a safety consultant with many years experience advising large, complex businesses about how to avoid disasters. As a former resident of Grenfell Tower, who watched that disaster unfold from her new home nearby, she turned her attention to public sector decision-making. Grenfell was not the first fire of that type. Why had ‘lessons ;earned’ from previous fires in fact not been learned?
We workshopped the questions at a Bennett Institute event in 2019, bringing together practitioners from different fields – fire safety, healthcare, regulatory bodies, the law – and academics from several disciplines. Gill has turned the insights from the workshop and her own experience and research into Catastrophe. There is also a podcast series and we are holding a Bennett Institute public event on June 15th where I’ll discuss the book with her and also with Jill Rutter from the Institute for Government.
The key questions is how to ensure lessons are learned – could there be any excuse for a repeat horror at some time in future? I’m not sure the book fills me with great hope. After a first couple of chapters specifically about how Grenfell happened, it diagnoses the multiple reasons why systems end up being unsafe, from complex and overlapping regulations and responsibilities, to fear of being blamed in political contexts, to the frequent failures to listen to people on the ground thereby losing valuable information about the risks. Having said that, one has to believe that systemic change is possible. Gill’s career has shown many businesses how to embed safety culture. I hope as many decision-makers as possible read the book so the lessons do spread through the public sector. These are often far more complex environments than the private sector, but on the other hand, the responsibilities of those in charge are correspondingly greater.
Do join us on June 15th, and do please read the book.