“What are the challenges, practices and strategies of governing reliability and safety in organizational networks?”

–Start with a question recently asked of workshop invitees:

• What are the challenges, practices and strategies of governing [infrastructure] reliability and safety in organizational networks?

As the question mark invites an answer, let me run through my first thoughts as I read it.

–I could start by insisting we clarify terms, like reliability, safety and networks. “Governing” too is a tricky word. All I need do is ask of each: with respect to what? My problem here, though, is what’s the closure rule to these and follow-on terminological and conceptual clarifications?

I could instead veer off to that nostrum, it’s really the questions we ask that are important, not the answers we give. True enough, but far enough? I don’t think so. Doesn’t my asking a question entail I would know what qualifies as answer, if offered? And those criteria for the above question are. . .?

–In truth, little of that bothers. I already know something about infrastructure reliability and safety. To me, it read as a straight-forward question I’d ask on other occasions. So, I should be able to give an initial answer without hiving off to the macro or micro. Not that I wouldn’t benefit eventually from doing the latter, but first, here’s my own answer. . .

–. . .and then comes the problem. The question bothers me when I move from reading to answering it. What I realize is that, actually, this is not the question I’d ask, if I had given it a lot more thought and knowing what I know about infrastructure reliability, safety and networks.

–How so? Return to the original question:

• What are the challenges, practices and strategies of governing [infrastructure] reliability and safety in organizational networks?

In my mind, the question-asking and -answering takes place in this way and order: What are the system boundaries, if any, of the operating infrastructure? What are the standards of reliability and safety being managed to, if any, for system-level operations? What are system risks, if any, that follow from managing to that standard for that system?

In the process of trying to answer the three, I would probe for the changing interconnectivity and ambiguities between and among latent and manifest boundaries, standards, and risks.

–I don’t expect this to make clear sense first off, but that is not the point I’m trying to make here.

Which is: Yes, clarification of terms and concepts is needed, but not of the initial ones. In my recasting, it is system, boundaries, standards, risks and interconnections that are gasping for the same air now sucked away by struggles in better defining “reliability, safety and networks.” Those are the weeds I’d rather been stuck in.

–Or to shift the analogy. For centuries, ancient Greek architecture has been praised for its pure forms and perfect proportions. Then came along the guys who did more site research, suggesting that the bare stone we see today could have been covered by all manner of rough stucco and garish paint.

What too then of those forms we—myself included—have abstracted as reliability, safety and networks?

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