Managing the unexpected in prescribed fire and fire use operations a workshop on the high reliability organization

Karl E. Weick, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Jim Saveland, Lisa Lahey, Dave Thomas, Paula Nasiatka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do we organize for high performance in a setting where the potential for error and disaster can be overwhelming? In doing so, how can we best apply the High Reliability Organizing concepts into the prescribed fire and fire use arenas? And, to successfully achieve these outcomes, how can we personally and institutionally overcome our immunity to change? This report summarizes how these questions-and many others-were addressed through the activities, discussions, and lessons learned during the four-day Managing the Unexpected Workshop held May 10-13 2004, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, The report documents and examines the day-to-day workshop chronology from its opening keynote address and "Managing the Unexpected" presentation, through the all-day Staff Ride to the 2000 Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire site, the Staff Ride's Integration Phase, and the final day's thoughtprovoking and challenging "Immunity to Change" exercise. Overall workshop intent was to introduce the latest social science to the prescribed fire and fire use management community. Noted organizational psychologists Dr, Karl E, Weick, the Rensis Likert Distinguished University Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology, and Dr. Kathleen Sutcliffe, of the University of Michigan Business School, were the workshop's featured presenters, Authors of Managing the Unexpected - Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, they participated in the entire four-day workshop "clarifying ideas, answering questions, and learning," notes Dr. Weick. In addition, the Harvard University Graduate School's organizational psychologists Dr. Robert Kegan, William and Miriam Meehan Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, and Dr. Lisa Lahey, Research Director of the Change Leadership Group, were also featured presenters, Authors of The Real Reason People Won't Change, they introduced workshop participants to their psychologically dynamic Immunity to Change exercise, Twenty workshop participants participated with Kegan and Lahey in a three-month "coaching process" followup. The workshop was hosted by: The USDA Forest Service; USDI National Park Service; Rocky Mountain Research Station; Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center; Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory; National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Social Science Task Group; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-79
Number of pages79
JournalUSDA Forest Service - General Technical Report RMRS-GTR
Issue number137 RMRS-GTR
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • High reliability organization
  • Immunity to change
  • Learning organization
  • Mindfulness
  • Prescribed fire and fire use
  • Sensemaking
  • Staff ride

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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