The Art of Really Learning Lessons: Multi-Agency Interoperability & Organisational Learning


On 22nd and 23rd July industry experts met at the Emergency Planning College in Easingwold, York to deliver over a dozen insightful presentations and keynote sessions to an audience of almost 100 resilience professionals from public and voluntary sector agencies across the UK.  This was part of the EPC Civil Protection Faculty’s annual seminar programme.


Chaired by Dr Lucy Easthope, the fast-paced seminar brought into sharp focus the importance of information sharing and shared learning across responding agencies. It involved reflection on lessons learned from past incidents and events and explored how effectively these lessons are applied to improve interoperability going forward.

During the presentations it became clear that there is much work to be done, but there exists a strong appetite and willingness to embrace interoperability with all parties keen to participate and help drive forward change.

Seminar highlights:

Dr Rob McFarlane of the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) opened the seminar with some facinating insight on Lessons as Knowledge:  what we do with them, and how.

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Carl Daniels, JESIP Deputy SRO, set out the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP) future ambitions for change. Carl discussed the future ambition of JESIP, including: to broaden the JESIP way of working to wider responders, to consistently identify lessons and notable practice from incidents and exercises and to be able to demonstrate that lessons have been learnt and led to demonstrable change in policy and working practice.

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Brian Welsh, also of JESIP introduced delegates to JOL (stands for Joint Organisational Learning).

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Ben Platt, from the CCS talked about ResilienceDirect as a repository for lessons learned and how the platform can be used as a tool for wider agency sharing. Ben pointed out that there is noticeable demand for a platform for wider responder agencies to share lessons and notable practice.  Building on that he introduced Lessons from Exercises and Emergencies Platform (LEEP) which is due to be rolled out on ResilienceDirect in September.

Ben shared with the delegates the aim, who is it for and type of information LEEP will distribute and hold; from high level lessons and notable practice (planning, testing, exercising, incident response and recovery etc), to lower level lessons and notable practice (within organisations, departments and teams), to reference documents i.e templates and guidance documents.

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Dr Kevin Pollock, presented his findings on the lessons identified but not learned: the challenges for the UK interoperability. After providing an overview of UK’s interoperability landscape Kevin used Pauchant and Mitroff’s Onion Model (1992) to map his research findings.  Using examples from major events where lessons were identified but not learned, Kevin uncovered some of the key challenges faced by UK interoperability.

The sessions was summarised by highlighting ways to overcome the interoperability challenges and creating a learning culture.

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Download Dr Kevin's Occasional Paper 'Interoperability: Theory & Practice in UK Emergency Management'PDF-Icon.PNG

Dr Lucy Easthope delivered an analysis of ways to ensure inclusion of all responders and the community in the JESIP era and chaired a panel session of responders who provided updates on their own participation in recent responses.  This included a case study (presented by Sue Whitton, Senior Emergency Planning Officer at Lincolnshire County Council) which concerned coastal flood planning and how lessons learned saw them adapt planning to reflect JESIP principles, use of new technology (ResilienceDirect) and use of the Joint Decision Model (operating principles in training of command cadres) - all helping to foster effective multi-agency working.

The seminar was enriched by the attendance of keynote speaker, Paul Sledzik (Director – Transportation Disaster Assistance Division of the National Transport Safety Board in the USA). Paul took the journey from the US especially to join the event and deliver a fascinating insight into 20 years of implementing change and overseeing the turning of ‘lessons identified’ into actions in the field.   The audience benefitted enormously from Paul’s insights and depth of experience, as well as the opportunity to compare challenges and achievements from their domains with the US experience. It was a brilliant keynote speech.

Watch 'In the chair' with Paul Sledzik   (Coming Soon)

Day 2 began with a moving tribute to Katy Jones, an investigative journalist and television producer who sadly passed away earlier this year. Katy had been scheduled to deliver a presentation at the Seminar, but instead Lucy Easthope delivered a moving tribute to Katy and honoured her mantra of ‘the need for full disclosure’.

Then followed a session intriguingly titled ‘We are going to need bigger radios’. A lively presentation delivered by Dr Lucy Easthope

Richard Garston, Squadron Leader, Standing Joint Commander UK, MOD, gave delegates an insight into operational response and interoperability from the military liaison perspective. Richard explained defence inputs into multi-agency debriefings, DCLG RED debriefs, LRF debriefs, College of Policing structured debriefs and event-themes conferences. He then shared a case study on flooding in the south of England during winter 2014 and detailed the operational and strategic lessons learned.

Rebecca Pritchett (North Worcestershire Civil Contingencies & Resilience Manager) introduced the latest update on the Site Clearance Guidance and how the development of this guidance demonstrates collaboration across multiple agencies (involving; DCLG, Wyre Forest District Council, Defra, Cornwall Council, Redditch and Bromsgrove District Councils, East Sussex County Council, Northamptonshire LRF, London Fire Brigade and the Environment Agency). Rebecca outlined the overarching processes involved in site clearance, national resilience planning assumptions, the approach to planning, objectives and the interdependencies involved. The Guidance is out for consultation and can be accessed through ResilienceDirect.

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Watch 'In the Chair' with Rebecca  (Coming Soon)

Tracy Redman spoke on interoperability and the Ambulance Service (National Ambulance Resilience Unit).  She shard research into the Health Service challenges and expectations around interoperability. Using Johnson & Scholes’ (2002) Cultural Web, she explored the factors supporting the paradigm and demonstrated how these factors differ across each ‘blue light’ agency. The differences highlight areas for improving interoperability.

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Nicola Lester (Leeds Beckett University) introduced delegates to Solders in Mind, an organisation which provided practical, emotional and psychological support to families during military operations in Afghanistan.  Independent of the military, Soldiers in Mind worked in partnership with military personnel, welfare professionals and local support organisations.  Accepting referrals from the point of death notifications onwards, they adapt a family centric approach co-ordinating support, liaising with the whole family, developing bespoke packages of support, mobilising local support networks and facilitating early treatment for bereavement related difficulties.

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Leanne Hunt, Emergency Planning Officer - Lincolnshire County Council, asked how is the changing face of emergencies today challenging our humanitarian assistance response? Highlighting the changing face of emergencies (from the Charlie Hebdo shootings, 7/7 and, more recently, the Tunisia terror attack through to modern day slavery) Leanne shared a case study into the latter, detailing multi-agency operations into alleged offences of slavery and servitude.  Involving 12 separate agencies, the operation presented many challenges and required a ‘think out of the box’ approach at times.

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Watch 'In the Chair' with Leanne  (Coming Soon)

The EPC’s seminars have been growing in attendance and popularity, with each event seeing more attendees than ever before. This seminar was no exception. “The quality of the presentations was impressive and we were delighted by the lively discussions and debate that took place”,  said  Mark Leigh, Faculty Director at EPC. We had a lot of great topics to discuss over the course of the two days and we look forward to the positive impact these discussions will make on the emergency planning and response community moving forward.”

For the first time we engaged social media throughout the event which sparked a lively running commentary of the presentations on Twitter. During the 2 days the hashtag was used more than 200 times reaching a virtual audience of over 100,000 people.

The next in our series of Seminars will take place on18th-19th November and focuses on the topic of supporting vulnerable people in emergencies hosted by David Mellor, a former senior police officer and now chair of an independent Safeguarding Board – David is the EPC lead on humanitarian factors in emergency management.

Please follow the link to find out more


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“A very insightful seminar covering a vast array of specialism within the emergency preparedness and response community”

Stuart Beaumont Police National CBRN Centre

"A fantastic opportunity to share learning about learning! the whole event has been a real inspiration to take home messages about changing culture & attitudes towards lessons. Have taken away some excellent tools & contacts to enhance our own lessons process"

Lissa Stewart Scottish Resilience Development Service

“An excellent event, well pull together and delivered. A nice mix of international, national and local speakers focussing on extremely topical and important issues”

Peter Rham Cambridgeshire Police

“An excellent event - intelligently planned and very well presented. Thought provoking content and a good range of speakers from both academic and practitioner backgrounds who all displayed a common desire to make sure that essential learning opportunities are not lost”

David Winchester North West Ambulance

“An excellent event with a fabulous mix of presentations, one of the few events I’ve attended where every single presentation was ‘spot on’. Excellent from start to finish!”

Jacqui Semple Angus Council

“Excellent event that provided an insight to the challenges to interoperability, highlighted the importance of learning lessons and ensuring resulting actions are followed through to completion”

Terry Sellers Humberside Fire and Rescue Service

“Excellent seminar, good speakers and well organised .The event has given me the opportunity to get insight in a lot of good work going on across UK”

Vicky Lee NHS England