A Second Open Letter: Organizational Norms and Safety Challenges with the Chute

(Original post in August 2016, 2 hours before AAC officially suspended the use of the Chute.)
Dear AAC Board of Directors,
I am writing a follow-up letter in request of the immediate removal (or “suspension”) of the collapsible tunnel/chute for Agility Association of Canada. My open letter to the Board, dated July 12, 2016, was shared on Facebook 154 times (https://www.facebook.com/notes/dpf-leading-agility/an-open-letter-regarding-the-collapsible-tunnel/1810274909205725) and reached 19,013 people, of whom 4,028 engaged with the letter.
The letter was forwarded to the USDAA, KC, AKC, UKI/UKA and CKC. The letter received overwhelming positive support from readers, nationally and internationally. The only counter-arguments I heard were the following:
1) “It is a training issue,” made by one individual, to which I replied with another piece on the Fundamental Attribution Error (https://www.facebook.com/notes/dpf-leading-agility/poor-training-and-the-fundamental-attribution-error/1810795032487046)
2) “It is needed at World’s,” made by one individual,
3) “People have invested in upgrading the chute and incurred costs,” made by two individuals, and
4) Canadians can be more creative and find a solution in the design of the obstacle, made by one individual.
The remaining 864 reactions to the Open Letter have been in full, unmitigated support of the removal of the chute. Since the sharing of my Open Letter, there have been two YouTube videos shared documenting the physical hazards of the chute. I have also seen written testimonials of agility career ending broken leg, agility career ending whiplash, and more. Each of my competing dogs have had an incident with the chute at various sites, conditions, etc. Kelsey had the worst of it with whiplash. I have witnessed five incidents on our wagon-barrel chute in training and competitions at the club, all but one were “minor”; however, as a judge I am genuinely uncomfortable with this obstacle and I’m holding my breath as I am waiting for the “big one” under my watch.
I teach health and safety as a professor in management, and there are three big issues when it comes to hurdles to organizational safety:
1) Too many close calls. Believe it or not, the more ‘close calls’ an organization has in terms of “Ooh, that could have been bad, but it wasn’t,” makes it much more likely that a really big catastrophe will occur, because the close calls and minor injuries/incidents become the norm, and simply the way it is. It becomes an assumed risk.
2) Sunk Cost. When organizations make decisions based on how much money has already been invested, bad decisions continue to occur. In my field, this is the worst premise possible for a decision on future actions, but it is so very common. This is related to Escalation of Commitment, where people and organizations are unwilling to make “termination” decisions because of all that has been invested in making it work thus far. When it is proven to be floundering/failing/unsafe, it is time to make a termination decision.
This leads us to the final barrier:
3) Saving face. Individuals are involved and invested in making it work, and as such, their own identity and respect becomes wrapped up in the continued fight to keep things as they are. It is very difficult to change one’s stance on an issue. I have had to do it myself with respect to the chute. I have over 20 years of experience of telling my students about how to perform the chute safely and what to do if things go wrong. I have put it into my courses. I have championed the straight approach and shorter chute to my friends in other countries, touting how Canada has been leading the way on this safety measure. However, I know from first-hand experience, even those aren’t sufficient, nor is the wagon-barrel entry. Several well-trained dogs have taught me that I was wrong. My father taught me how the science shows me wrong. My gut now tells me I was wrong. As of this morning, the following organizations have suspended the collapsible tunnel/chute: UKI/UKA, WAO, AKC, USDAA, TDAA, IFCS. USDAA even cited significant research into altering the build of the chute, and it is not possible while addressing the risks identified in my Open Letter.
In industries, there is a tendency for organizations to change and look alike, to have the same rules, policy, and even same physical structures. There are three ways this happens.
Mimetic isomorphism is where an organization copies another to reduce uncertainty – they want to be like them, and this is viewed as a proactive change.
Normative isomorphism is where an organization steps in line with the norms of the industry, espouse the same norms, values, policies, rules, professional values.
The final is coercive isomorphism, which is where an organization changes because it is essentially forced to do so, because if they don’t they face costs (e.g., laws/fines/jail time, market pressure and loss of support).
Prior to this week, industrial isomorphism was keeping the chute alive and in the sport. Isomorphism makes changes very hard to make.
I asked the AAC Board to make us leaders in the industry and break the mold; however, Greg and Laura Derrett took that role with UKI/UKA. Now as AAC’s fellow organizations and competition (UKI, USDAA) and associated World’s organization (IFCS) have suspended as of immediately/September 1st, we can now make the decision with normative isomorphism. If the Board delays, they will be facing the final option, coercive isomorphism, as members and competitors will vote with their feet and dollars.
I am officially begging you, please, do not wait. The longer you wait, the more AAC trials will be held with the chute, and the more likely it is that clubs/businesses will spend money to alter their chutes to meet the exploratory attempt at increasing the safety of the chute, and the more disillusioned members will become with AAC as they feel unheard.
“We do the best we can with what we know. When we know better, we do better,” Maya Angelou.
Yours truly,
Dianne Ford, Ph.D. Management

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