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Research Themes


Autopilots have been the norm in aviation for decades and the aviation sector has long experience of the benefits and challenges of automation and of effective ways of human-machine coordination. Automation is now appearing in many aspects of life – banking, autonomous vehicles, robots for the elderly, etc. This brings particular challenges – role delineation, handover between the human and the artificial agent, the operator’s understanding
of what the system is doing. Automation is a special case of human centred design – at some point the automated system has to interface with the human.

Assisted Living & Ambient Intelligence

Assisted living/residential care settings are defined as group living environments for adults with disabilities and/or older adults who require assistance with at least one activity of daily living. In many cases, older adults may have some level of cognitive and functional decline. Assisted living facilities follow a social model of care (i.e. beyond bio-medical) which is predicated on the concept of ‘home’ and ‘resident engagement’. Importantly, it is expected that residents live in an environment that resembles home and enables personal autonomy and social connection.

Ambient intelligence is a new paradigm in information technology aimed at empowering people’s capabilities by the means of digital environments that are sensitive, adaptive, and responsive to human needs, and the presence of people. Typically, context aware technology is integrated in the person’s living environment. Such technology enables an older adult to stay active for longer, remain socially connected and live independently into old age. In terms of technology, this involves the advancement of AAL/IoT/sensor-based infrastructures which make use of machine learning technology. These infrastructures connect a range of devices (i.e. TV, tablet, mobile phones etc.), sensors (environmental sensors and biosensors) and actuators as part of an IoT hub.

The advancement of assistive technology raises overarching questions in relation to the values of society and how we design technology to (1) promote positive values about ageing and (2) enhance ageing experience. Specifically, it raises fundamental questions in relation to the meaning of care and the role of people and technology in delivering care. This includes questions about what value we place on promoting autonomy and social participation for older people, protecting the personal sphere, and the importance of the human role in care (including family involvement). We should not proceed with this technology because it is available. 

Our research at CIHS investigates the human dimensions and care implications of this technology, to ensure that that it is ethically aligned and promotes positive states for residents and other stakeholders (for example, care assistants, nurses and families). Further, our research addresses the HMI design of different AAL technologies.

Change Management and Implementation

Having acquired new technology or designed a new process, many organisations rely on a simple once-off one-way communication, such as an email, to inform staff and introduce the change. Evidence from industry is that the process of introducing change is as critical, and often more challenging, than deciding the direction of that change in the first place.

By incorporating the implementation of change into our engagement with industry, we ensure that we don’t leave clients “high and dry” with a new technology or process that fails to deliver because it is not effectively
implemented. Experience from cross-sectorial implementation projects has provided the CIHS with practical skills and methodologies for planning, executing and evaluating implementation projects in operational settings.

Communication and Coordination

One of the most common causes of both every-day nuisances and catastrophic failures in organisations is communication failure. Huge resources are poured into the design of ICT systems while human communication receive scant and amateurish attention.

We employ a range of tools that put the communication and coordination requirements front and centre of our analyses. They enable us to visualise the network of relationships, the critical communications channels, the
ones that are vulnerable, and the ones that are mission-critical. On this basis a new communications landscape can be designed – clearer protocols, agreed codes, enhanced technology and critical checks.


Training needs analyses, and training courses themselves tend to focus on the technical requirements of the job. But in most jobs the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities for performance gain are in the non-technical skills required to do the job in a range of operational and social contexts – under time pressure, when fatigued, when the procedure is unclear or unworkable and despite tensions with colleagues.

Our competence requirements analyses are designed to capture these nontechnical skills. A particular focus is on the tacit knowledge - knowledge that is gathered on-the-job that people may not even know that they know. Our approach to competence is not individualistic (i.e. focusing on one person) but is holistic and collective. The performance of any single worker relies on inputs from other colleagues and collaborators who perform roles in other processes and sometimes in other organisations. Only by looking at the performance of all workers who contribute to an output, and the context in which the work takes place, can competence be assured.


As organisational culture becomes a pervasive explanation of organisational performance, cultural transformation seems a panacea for system problems. Culture is the link between how individuals think and act and how that sustains an organisation over time. It covers just about everything that happens in an organisation from the point of view of values, beliefs and norms of behaviour and the meanings attached to everyday things. Our understanding of the culture of organisations requires both breadth, through surveys, and depth, through interview and observation. Much of our work concerns the implementation of policies, processes, procedures and practices which can promote the positive development of an organisation’s culture.

Human-Centred Design

Effective design of tools and equipment has always focussed on human requirements - what is the role of the person, what is the role of the technology and how do they interact? As socio-technical systems become increasingly complex, understanding and designing for the multiple ways different actors will interact with the system has become ever more challenging. In the CIHS we innovate in the design processes that put people front and centre,
ensuring that the system works for the people integral to it.


Leadership is critical to every organisation. Yet in our research we have found that many leaders are unprepared to do what needs to be done to implement effective change. We put leadership practice centre stage, shifting the focus from the traits and characteristics of individual leader to the shared activities, interactions and functions of ‘leadership’. Our approach emphasises accountability, transparency, and continuous improvement in building leadership strategy and capabilities.

Process and System Modelling

A long-kept secret of many industries is that the way things are actually done differs significantly from the way they are supposed to be done. The traditional approach has been to train for compliance while tacitly accepting non-compliance. When something goes wrong – an error, incident or accident - the operator is blamed for “deviating from procedure”, while the company hopes there is no audit trail showing that the deviation was tolerated by management.

In the CIHS we treat deviations as nuggets of gold – they can tell us so much about a task or process and the stresses and strains that it comes under in the dynamics of an operational environment. By understanding how things are really done in a range of contexts, and how this maps (or does not map) onto the official procedure, we can model the operational process in its natural environment. From this we can identify where improvements can be made – changing the procedure, redesigning the equipment or process, improving the training, enhancing the communication tools.

Risk, Safety and Performance

There is a saying in the film industry that you should never work with animals or children. There is too much that can and will go wrong. An extension of that argument is that the ideal system should not include people – they are too unpredictable.

Fortunately the movie industry largely ignores that advice and makes many a great film with children, animals or both. The risk is worth it. Similarly ideal systems always include people – otherwise what is the point? A healthcare system without patients? A transport system without passengers?

The systems we work with include people as a natural, inevitable, part of the system. They bring risks, but they also open up opportunities - for innovation, creativity and connection. In the CIHS we bring a range of tools to bear to dynamically identify people-related hazards, and assess and manage the risk they pose. The more complex the system, the more complex this process becomes and the more sophisticated are the methods that are needed.

Of course people are not just hazards in a system. They are dynamic hazard identifiers and risk managers. The best systems build on these capabilities to empower people to effectively contribute to the overall safety of the system through preventative and mitigation action, coordination and reporting.


The term "wellbeing" includes various aspects of the way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them. Medical, psychological factors, family and social factors (including working conditions) are some of the determinants impacting on a person’s health and wellbeing. None of these factors in isolation are enough to lead definitively to wellness or illness. Instead, it is the interrelationships between all three pillars that leads to a given outcome.
From a socio-technical design perspective, the concept of wellbeing is also linked to concepts of human value and human rights.

Human benefit is an important goal of all design activities (i.e. process design, work design and technology design). As such, any design and/or re-design activity needs to consider issues around the lived experience of individuals and/or worker’s, and specifically issues around quality of life, communication and connection, burn-out, fatigue, workload, protection of the personal sphere and so forth.

Our research at CIHS focuses on ensuring that wellbeing, human value and human rights are prioritised as an outcome in all system designs. Further, our research focuses on the design of new tools to support wellness awareness and management.

Work Related Stress & Stress Coping

Workplace stress is becoming more prevalent across different occupations, including those working in ‘high stress occupations’ such as nurses, paramedics, teachers and fire-fighters. Work Related Stress (WRS) is defined as the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities, and which challenge their ability to cope. Things outside the workplace, like family problems, or debt can be responsible for stress (personal stressors).  A person experiencing stressful life events may find that he/she is less able to cope with the demands of work, even though work is not the cause and/or may not have been a problem before.

Critically, sources of WRS can impact on a person’s well-being, and by implication on human performance and on safety. It is impossible to remove all stress from a person’s work life. Also, a high stress situation may not necessarily be detrimental to the person, once they have learned to cope with it in a healthy manner. On the other hand, risk pertaining to WRS and wellbeing need to be effectively managed by employers. Therefore, it is important (1) for workers to find healthy ways to cope with work-related stress and wellbeing issues (including mental health), and (2) for employers to address the management of work-related stress and wellbeing issues at operational and organisational level.

Stress coping is an important psychological construct which moderates/mediates the relationship between stressors and behavioural outcomes such as flying performance. Critically, the substitution of maladaptive coping with more adaptive coping is an important component of therapeutic interventions and prognoses.

Our research at CIHS focuses on identifying the sources of WRS and impact on human wellbeing, performance and safety. Further our research addresses solutions to WRS – including tools to promote stress coping, risk assessment for WRS and wellbeing awareness and management.