In this era of performance-based budgeting and accountability, industry and government are demanding demonstrable results from all segments of their enterprises. As just one example, the Government Performance and Results Act requires all federal agencies, beginning in 1998, to evaluate the outcomes of their programs and activities in measurable ways. Researchers and scientists are not exempt from this trend: in all disciplines, they must be able to show how their efforts lead to better products, services, or quality of life.
Human factors scientists and engineers face particular challenges in articulating the value of their discipline. Human factors (also called ergonomics) seeks to help people use devices with greater safety, comfort, accuracy, and ease—be it a computer keyboard, cockpit panel, or home oxygen concentrator.
How do we articulate the value we add? Certainly in this time of downsizing, right-sizing, and just plain old budget cutting, that is a predominant issue with a lot of organizations.
William B. Rouse
Ample evidence exists—from aviation accident reports to job task analyses—documenting the importance of investing in human factors and the sometimes tragic results of failing to consider its contributions. But this evidence is not always presented effectively or targeted at the right people. Many human factors professionals would like to do a better job of educating people about their work and its importance.
Recognizing this desire among the profession, the Committee on Human Factors of the National Research Council (NRC) sponsored a
workshop to describe the contributions of human factors in a variety of contexts. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from that workshop and synthesizes some of the key themes and lessons learned (see the workshop agenda in the appendix).
The workshop brought together 87 people involved in human factors research and development, including scientists and engineers, corporate executives and senior managers, researchers and leaders from government agencies and the military, and members and staff of the Committee on Human Factors. The workshop had three objectives:
- to provide concrete, successful examples of effectively demonstrating the benefits of human factors to industry and government;
- to identify cross-cutting concepts, principles, methods, and tools that can demonstrate the value of human factors; and
- to identify issues that need to be addressed in making decisions about investments in human factors.
The workshop opened with a welcome from William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, and an introduction by William Rouse, chair of the Committee on Human Factors. During the morning sessions, executives from the private sector and the military shared their experiences of effectively integrating human factors in various settings. The speakers addressed the following questions:
- Which strategies are most effective for articulating the value of human factors in their industry?
- To whom should the case be made? Who needs to be convinced?
- What are the most important lessons they have learned?
In an afternoon session, participants broke into four working groups to draw out cross-cutting themes from the morning's presentations and discussions. The working groups addressed three specific questions:
- Which points made by the speakers are most relevant to your own organization?
- Which are not relevant to or would not work in your organization?
- What other observations can you add about strategies for effectively integrating human factors into the products and processes of the organization?
An afternoon panel discussion compiled lessons learned from the working groups. A final plenary session identified issues that ought to be addressed in the future to inform decisions about human factors. These lessons and issues are summarized in the second half of this report.