Interview with Dr Robin Bryden – Part 1/6: How Hearts and Minds began

Dr Robin Bryden is currently seconded by Shell to work as Head of Safety at Sakhalin Energy in Russia, but he is probably better known throughout the energy safety sector as being one of the original developers of the Hearts and Minds toolkit.

The EI’s Hearts and Minds Programme Officer, Stuart King, had the opportunity to catch up with Robin and ask a number of questions about Robin’s experiences working for Shell and using the Hearts and Minds toolkit.

In the first part of this interview, Robin explains how he came to be involved in the Hearts and Minds programme and the development of the toolkit:

“Hearts and Minds only began to exist as a brand in 1999. Prior to this, Shell had been funding a psychology research program since 1986, employing some eminent names including Prof Willem-Albert Wagenaar and Prof. Patrick Hudson of Leiden University, Prof. James Reason and Prof. Dianne Parker from Manchester University and Prof. Rhona Flin from The University of Aberdeen. There were many other leading academics and industry practitioners involved as the project grew and it was a pleasure and honour to work with them all. The Grandfather of Hearts and Minds was Gerard van der Graaf, a Shell Manager, who was with the project from the start, bringing in industry pragmaticism to the tools we know today. It was Gerard’s infectious enthusiasm which kept the work going over 20 plus years and it was that enthusiasm which brought me into the project as well

Back in the 80s Shell believed that behavioural scientists must have something of value to add to the energy industry, and it just so happened that the HSE department was funding this research. If another department had been funding this research it’s possible that Hearts and Minds would be focused on something other than safety, such as productivity – you can use the improvement process set out in Hearts and Minds towards any focus – it just so happened to be safety because of the passion that was involved and where the initial funding was coming from.

I became involved in the development of Hearts and Minds after I had decided to do a career change from clinical neuro-psychology to industrial psychology. I did my PhD in 1997 in industrial psychology, which was part-funded by Shell, focusing on workforce involvement. During my research, I spent a lot of time offshore listening to the guys on the platforms. They all had good ideas on safety, which we mostly discussed on tea breaks or on the rig floor, but I also spent a lot of time following maintenance guys around, working with the deck crew, or hanging around in the control room, gaining an understanding of what goes on and how the guys worked. I also had open access the more senior guys as well. In doing that, I saw that the workforce had really good ideas about how things should be done – they knew the best ways to do it – but that wasn’t always aligned with what they thought the managers were doing.

So my research job was essentially hanging out with the workforce, listening to their ideas, bringing these ideas back onshore, and then working with the managers to put them into practice. I was acting as a conduit between the two levels. The workforce liked this because a lot of their good ideas got put into practice, and the managers liked it because it bought them closer to the workforce and also because there was a benefit on cost savings, production and reliability. But the biggest improvement was on safety and improving the working atmosphere. I really enjoyed that. At the time, I remember thinking that Shell must be a really enlightened company to be funding this – Shell was really the leader in behavioural safety research at the time.

I then did work with Aberdeen University, building on these ideas and the ideas that had been produced from another Shell funded project that began in 1989 – Shell had invested in developing bow ties, the Swiss cheese model, Tripod, etc. A number of ideas had come out of this work, but Hearts and Minds really bought them together under the leadership of Gerard van der Graff. I remember Gerard saying that we had managed to condense all of this information on behavioural change and safety down into a number of research reports but that very few people will actually read them. His idea was to produce something very practical, and so ‘Hearts and Minds’ was born.

When creating Hearts and Minds we basically distilled a lot of behavioural psychology research, some of it Nobel Prize winning work, into the nine Hearts and Minds tools. In some ways this was done very subtly. For example there may be someone’s Nobel Prize winning work distilled down into about five sentences that will change attitudes to safety – now that’s not obvious from five lines in the middle of a booklet, and people might not necessarily appreciate what’s behind it, but there are real gems of information in the booklets based on solid research.”

Part 2 of this interview is available here.

One Response to Interview with Dr Robin Bryden – Part 1/6: How Hearts and Minds began

  1. […] 1 of this interview is available here. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "0"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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