A new, interdisciplinary study at City University London has been awarded £240 000 from The Leverhulme Trust to assess how industry regulators make decisions about safety under uncertain conditions. The work will focus on so-called “safety cases” – the arguments that industry must present to regulators in order to gain approval for new systems that bring benefits yet could impact society’s safety. Medical devices and healthcare technologies will be amongst the areas considered in the research.
Safety cases are complex – often comprising hundreds of documents – and are based on both expert judgement and mathematical reasoning, to determine the probability of accidents occurring. In addition, computer software, which cannot physically break or wear out but may contain subtle design flaws, is increasingly essential to new systems. This adds uncertainty when determining whether a safety case is right or wrong.
During the project, researchers from City’s Centre for Software Reliability (CSR) and Department of Psychology will work together to better understand and improve how businesses present and regulators assess these cases.
“Psychologists have documented many potential pitfalls in decision making under uncertainty,” says Peter Ayton, Professor of Psychology. “We process information using mechanisms of which we are unaware and, crucially, we often make judgements based on the context and presentation of arguments, irrespective of how scientifically accurate they are.”
“As can be seen with the volcanic ash cloud situation, regulators risk two kinds of errors when deciding whether to allow operations: rejecting correct arguments or accepting incorrect ones,” adds Lorenzo Strigini, Professor of Systems Engineering. “Our objective is to help to reduce this risk by addressing the requirements for safety cases not only to be correct but to present information in a manner that can be correctly processed by decision makers.”
The project entitled “Uncertainty and confidence in safety arguments: effect on expert decision makes” will run for two and half years, with Strigini and Ayton working closely with Bev Littlewood, Professor of Software Engineering, and Robin Bloomfield, Director and Head of CSR and Professor of System and Software Dependability.
Tags: City University London