Challenger: The Untold Story
Around January 26th, I fully intended to blog about what is popularly referred to as the “Challenger disaster.” While I didn’t jump online to note my thoughts, I did watch a remarkable National Geographic film hosted on hulu.com on the grim accident. Watching incredibly honest interviews with Challenger engineers, a piece we included in our book Government Secrecy by Dr. Diane Vaughan on structural secrecy sprung to mind.
The documentary, though illustrating many of the points Dr. Vaughan stresses in her meticulous landmark study of the accident, including for example, the decision to launch, communication dynamics between the engineers and NASA’s bureaucracy, doesn’t make reference to Vaughan’sconcept of structural secrecy, or
…the way that patterns of information, organizational structure, processes, and transactions, and the structure of regulatory relations systematically undermine the attempts to know and interpret situations in all organizations.At NASA, structural secrecy concealed the seriousness of the O-ring problem, contributing to the persistence of the scientific paradigm on which the belief in acceptable risk was based.
I encourage everyone who is interested in organizational secrecy, technological decision making, transparency, and safety to head to hulu to watch the film. And brace yourself. The Challenger breakup evokes the same helpless, sinking feeling as it did watching live twenty-three years ago.