PUBPOL 587.001: Public Management: Organizational Causes of Large Scale Technology Failure

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Fall 2020
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Gas plants explode, planes crash, and nuclear power plants suffer meltdowns. Human beings make mistakes and complex technologies fail in unexpected ways. Often unrecognized in accidents and disasters are the organizational features that made these disasters possible or likely. This course examines the organizational features, system defects, and bureaucratic dysfunctions that contribute to large technology failures.

Organizations affect the occurrence of accidents at every level. Internal characteristics like poor communication, loose coupling, and principal-agent problems lead to accidents. External factors like ineffective regulation and enforcement likewise contributes to disaster. A recent example illustrating many of these failures is the design and certification of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. Through case studies, sociological analysis, and organizational study this course will help students think more fully about safety and accident in our technologically complex world. Learning will occur through study of detailed real-world case studies as well as social-scientific analysis of the workings of various organizations and agencies and the actors within them.