Today’s blog is a brief overview of how some key elements of psychology sit together.

This is a working model I began building out 18 months ago. It will no doubt be subject to change as I progress in my more formal MSc Psychology learning.

Historic groupings of psychology and connecting fields

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Show and tell

A trickster mask unpacked

This is how I created the Trickster image that ends each of my blog entries. I also share some other work to emerge from the same learning journey this represents.

I do more than just work and research from my desk…

There is a dabble of psychology here. A reflection upon flow. Mostly however, this is just a tentative peak into my creative process. Amidst those tougher moments I am sure we all have to make our way through from time to time. In any collaborative process, communication is key. Sometimes that communication and understanding is necessary from within…

Free hand shapes can be drawn in VisioPro. This mask and cave-drawing were adapted from numerous stock images, mouse controlled freehand. Thereafter repurposed, fragmented, shaded. All within VisioPro.

Jack-a-lope (unpacked) – completed 7th February 2021

Visio (Microsoft Visio Professional 2016) is a tool I use for preparing workshop materials in my consulting role. I find using such software as artistic mediums both a means of creative release and reason to be learning new skills I can bring back to the workplace.

A YouTube video inspired logo

I discovered easier ways to fragment images using Visio – YouTube full of tutorials on how to create logos in using this tool. It takes a little practice but basic shapes such as this are surprisingly straight-forward. If considered in the context of flow, these skill improvements are incremental, but each leads to the next, empowering an inner confidence to try more difficult things.

Jaq O’byte (see below) was produced using similar start points of imagery, and built up over several days. I was having a tough time in my head in these few days. Visio becoming a creative outlet. With some increasing ambition as new tricks, tips, and visual effects were learned, discovered, applied and adapted. Even on the tough days flow becomes easier to find when basics are built upon over time.

Jaq O’byte (completed 13th March 2021)

These characters are more than random images. They each became intermingled with narratives, short-stories, and psychological examinations with my therapist. Typically these moments of high creative activity become directed toward wider thought, but inner struggle directed me inwards. The art-work sometimes cause and sometimes effect of the ebb and flow. Much of this is symbolic and with personal meaning. Maybe I will elaborate on this at some point. But not today.

This logo began life as an ambitious attempt at explain how critical controls between parties need a connecting piece to be shared – projects | within projects was in mind as this emerged on a page.

A project of integration to connect two projects of control (completed 16th March 2021)

Thanks for reading to the end. Not directly research or work related, but hopefully a little more visibility upon a process. A little understanding of how behaviours turned toward inner need can become productive. A little trust derived from better understanding of such demands and needs.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Bad attitude

In this blog I briefly introduce subject matter concerning behaviour. A summary of lecture notes, wider reading, and dialogue from my MSc Psychology studies last week. All anticipated to be revisited as research methodologies addressing v | b | t .

v | behaviour (attitude, belief, intent) | t

A tentative conclusion, from my readings at this point, is seeing Behaviour (as action) as the output with attitude a variable, alongside beliefs, and intention.  Per Manstead (2000), the relative weighting a person places on each of these three will determine the final act (i.e., behaviour).

Social Psychology

These first notes come from the discipline of Social Psychology. They connect attitude to behaviour. There are many other perspectives, constraints, models, and methods to consider. Biological, cognitive, developmental, individual difference, all presenting psychological context. Wider disciplines of sociology, anthropology, socio-economics, to add too.

This blog therefore one of many I anticipate writing in support of future research intent. The remainder of this blog is a brief examination of some of the key models and complexification of what attitude and corresponding factors offer in consideration of behaviour.


Attitude as a determining factor of behaviour

Gordon Allport writing in 1935 is where many texts begin. Who considered attitude and its study to being a place that cultural, social, and individual concerns meet (Gross 2015). From my lecture notes:

Attitudes are a mental and neural state of readiness, organised through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related

Gordon Allport 1935 pp810

Lectures last week presented three periods of increasing complexity of the study of attitude. This early period of the 1930s – dealing with a single component – affect (Thurstone 1931), and a second component of action (Allport 1935) [i.e., behaviour]. A period in the 1950s and 1960s concerned with dynamic change. A third component as belief further complexifying modelling from 1970s. Attitude as a factor of systems interactions with cognitive and social structure from 1980s and 1990s.

Example methodologies intended to explain this relationship:-

The expectancy value technique –  Belief strength measured probabilistically 0-1.  High regard to truth and strong belief in something such as reliability of one option over another.  Evaluation scaled over a five-point scale ranging from -2 to +2.  Combining this strong belief with evaluation capability presenting a high or low likelihood or behaving in a certain way.  Fishbein later expanded this theory with Icek Ajzen (cf Ajzen & Fishbein 2008; Ajzen & Fishbein 1980; Fishbein and Ajzen 1974; )  “most popular model of this type in social psychology is the expectancy–value (EV) model of attitude formation (see Dabholkar, 1999; Feather, 1959, 1982)” Ajzen & Fishbein 2008 pp2223).  Multiplication method argued by them in 2008 (pp2231).  Also note their rejoinder to Ogden 2003 dated 2004.  Specific attitude more relevant than general (Hogg et al 2018 pp163) e.g. attitude towards an exam not attitude towards a subject more broadly.  (cf.  Kraus 1995 meta-analysis)).  Ajzen & Fishbein 1975 do however suggest general attitudes can be of some value as multiple-act criterion – i.e., in predicting multiple behaviours not just one action.

Reasoned Action; Planned action; and motivations to change – Three processes of belief, intention, and action, and include the following components [adapted from Hogg et 2018 pp163]:

Conviction of belief – reasoned action theory –a product of the person’s beliefs about the target behaviour and how these beliefs are evaluated (refer to the cognitive algebra in Table 5.1).  Note that this is an attitude towards behaviour (such as taking a birth control pill in Davidson and Jacard’s study), not towards the object (such as the pill itself).  Here distinction is made between Behavioural intention – an internal declaration to act; and Behaviour – the action performed.  (Hogg et al 2017 pp163-164).  This result expressed in terms of a correlation between expected result and actual pp164

Intentions – Planned Action theory– This introduces the notion of behaviour being under the person’s conscious control.  (cf Ajzen 1989, Ajzen & Madden, 1986).  The perceived behavioural control added to early theory to allow for 20 percent of prospective actual behaviour being attributable to this additional variable of behavioural control (Tony Manstead and Dianne Parker (1995)).  Ajzen arguing that perceived behavioural control can relate to either the behavioural intention or the behaviour itself “the theory of planned behaviour”.  Per Hogg et al 2018, Richard Cooke and Pascal Sheeran (2004) “probably the dominant account of the relationship between cognitions and behaviour in social psychology” (ibid pp159) also citing Ajzen and Fishbein 2005).  See Fig 5.3 pp165 of Hogg et al 2018 for how both theories can be applied together.

Motivationprotective motivation theory– (cf Floyd, Prentice-Dunn, Rogers).  Cognition balancing between perceived threat of illness and one’s capacity to cope with the health regiment.  Two responses are possible.

The maladaptive response is a threat appraisal – which is to take the intrinsic and extrinsic reward, less the severity and deemed vulnerability to the threat.  In other words change is only made if the implications of the change are deemed manageable vs the relative appraisal of threat.

The adaptive response more mature as outcome orientated.  This is of itself an attitudinal determinant, but in my opinion not necessarily at the level of engagement with the object action itself.

All three theories share a view that “motivations towards protection results from a perceived threat and the desire to avoid potential negative outcomes (Floyd, Prentice-Dunn, Rogers 2000)” pp167

By the above examination there is no single factor that can be applied consistently to change behaviour.  This is a contextual examination.  Accordingly, it is perhaps the context itself which is the factor of greater importance.  Context enables the intervention to be applied to the better variable for the situation, and thereby the appropriateness of the control.  By example:

Moral values – past behaviours to indicate future ones based upon someone’s conviction and values (Gorsuch and Ortberg 1983; Manstead, 2000; Pagel and Davidson, 1984; Schwartz 1977)

Normative action– (cf. Norman and Conner 2006)  Habit as a predictor of future behaviour.  Becoming normative.  Safe sex can be normal without consideration or reasoned decision-making (Trafimow 2000), but so too can binge-drinking become normalised and therefore less in mind to be controlled (Norman and Conner, 2006).


Further reading:

Gross, R. “Psychology : The science of mind and behaviour” 7th Edition, Hodder Education, 2015

Hogg, M., & Vaughan, G. “Social Psychology”, Pearson Education, Limited, 2018


About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Goldilocks blog length

What length is just right for a blog?

A little experiment – a case of less is more, more or less

Photo by speak on

Too hot, too cold, or just right?

Knowing an audience is pretty hard when visibility is low. I am experimenting with form and content. Seeing what’s hot. And what’s not.

How much to bear?

How much to share. Before gnawing an annoyed ear.

A paws for thought. As I rethink a few bear necessities of the content to pair.

Photo by Pixabay on

These become crucial questions, as I rest upon my Why? To what do I direct my behaviours, my interests, my passions.

Appealing to others’ interests, or Panda‘ing to my own. Or perhaps the trust comes from knowing not to panda to any demands, and just to be.

Photo by Mike van Schoonderwalt on
Photo by kira schwarz on

The moral of the story

There is no fairy tale ending here. Or an end of any kind. This blogging journey I am starting reflects my interests, my research, and a desire to write in a public space. Some days I write in essays. Others not. Most days it is easy, but the odd day – not so hot…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The golden rule

One rule to unite us all

There is a single rule we can each apply in life. A single sentiment that, according to an accomplished historian of origins of beliefs and moral teachings, sits at the heart of all. The golden rule.

This blog offers a little compassion in response to today’s news headlines, all of which – to me at least – share nothing but despair. I introduce an author who has written extensively of this shared message from our past. She has traced it back to a time period of our shared history from which numerous great people found commonality of paths for humanity, in their own way, and from many corners of our shared world.

Origins of the Golden Rule

In 2006, Karen Armstrong, in her book, “The Great Transformation – the world in the time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jeremiah“, presents a shared history. Or at least histories running parallel and toward a common truth. It is a book written with all the academic prowess and worldly grace one would expect of a historian of all religion. A historian whose own path was moved from vows of order to more direct intent upon spreading a compassionate message to us all.

The axial age (800-300 BCE)

This book remains focused upon the Axial Age. A remarkably pointed part of our shared history. When we, as a globally dispersed peoples, turned ourselves toward belief systems in ways we still hold as true today. This is a time span of five-hundred years from 800 to 300 BCE. A period that, in timeframe at least, connects faiths, fables, philosophies, and enlightened thought from around the world.

There is philosopher, mystic, and theologian, all represented as influencer, translator, or narrator toward this message. Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Jeremiah. All laying foundational stones as platforms of hope, wisdom, and compassion, whether in our science, our logic, or how we choose to believe, strive to know, or to pray. These wise people of old, the theologians, the philosophers but also in their teachings, fables, and their doctrines. All being shown to have this same sentiment at their core.

treat others as you would have others treat you

the golden rule

This one Golden Rule, she argues with some persuasion, presents a connection to all. Enabling a circle of disparate but shared history, happenstance, or necessary change, finding way to be reunited by this one rule that binds it all.

Our faltering project in the news today

I read this book again last night. I reflected upon it anew this morning. My reading of the news confirming we perhaps all awoke a little more suspicious of our neighbour. In Leigh-on-Sea, a servant of the people murdered whilst at his duty within his community (cf. BBC). In Kandahar, Islamic State claiming culpability for 47 Shia worshippers killed within the sanctity of their place of worship (cf. Sky News). A 16-year-old boy charged with murdering a boy of 18, on a playing field in south-west London (cf. BBC). In the US, a man expected to plead guilty next week to shooting dead seventeen school children and staff in a Florida school in 2018 – an action he forewarned and then committed when he was aged 19 (cf. Sky News). In other inquiry, an obstructive witness to the bombings in Manchester declining an invitation to aid inquiry, and now to be forced to take the stand next week (cf. BBC). The inquiry into the suicide of the former head of the Royal Marines in October 2020, confirms a firearm removed from his possession days before he was found to have hanged himself at his home (cf. BBC). The deadly game of cat and mouse between border patrols and people smugglers across the sea from Calais to Dover, reportedly seeing 1,835 people reaching UK in 2019, increasing to 18,720 so far in 2021 (cf. BBC citing Home Office statistics).

None of these headlines directly connected to each other. But all seemingly connect in other ways. Desperation, ill-will, them and us, all interfaces and division. All representing boundaries. Gaps between the lives of people. Divisions. Distance. Distant until by one will, such distance is shortened again. With the reality of one life foisted upon another. Thrust desperately, angrily, violently, with malice. Each an intended change to deny life itself.

It seems easy to have a lessened grip on our compassion at moments likes this.

Hope is alive in the Golden Rule

By whatever means or belief we each hold, Karen Armstrong’s message is clear. All of these paths of origin of belief contain the same message. From 800 BCE to today. All such circumstance leading to origins of axial revolution, she reflects upon as intending to lead us the same way.

In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” she captures the essence of this sentiment into modernity. In this contemporary examination of the Golden Rule, she writes:

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies.”

Karen Armstrong “Twelve Steps to a compassionate life”

A rule for every moral compass?

I consider my own moral compass to be well set, with or without a badge to label its form. My obedience to its wisdom perhaps not always honoured as closely as it might, but the sentiment of all teaching I have taken to be true seems suddenly connected to this singular truth. Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you. That seems to me a worthy Golden Rule to hold us all. A Golden Rule to apply to all our intended change.

Perhaps the biggest of my own many faults is hubris. Or perhaps hypocrisy. Or therein both. I have neither the learning nor good sense to preside more carefully around these most emotive and divisive subjects. Karen Armstrong has many supporters but there are plenty learned people who would disagree. Secularists who deem her too apologetic. Academics who express despair at sentiment too far forgiving of intolerances the other way. Reference to well known polymath thinkers who openly hold views in opposition to her own.

I park myself well shy of the depths of intellect necessary to follow all thread of each alternative and no doubt valid perspective. What is clear to me however, is that some of the essence of this Golden Rule sits well within my own working hypothesis of visibility | behaviour | trust.

v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

We can seek to clarify our own intentions by this rule. See if those intentions would be welcome in reverse. We can look at the bigger projects we feed into and ask the same. Demand to see the visions of those that lead us, and see if the Golden Rule therein applies too.

v | behaviour | t

As with all behaviour there is need to have control. And this one rule sits as a centre-piece to them all. This is fairness. This is compassion. This is respect. These are the behaviours or at least intentions, attitudes, beliefs, that are informing our actions. Actions and motivations of ourselves and as a whole. This is to consider all our projects actors. All other projects to which we connect. And the world as its ultimate passive actor and its frame.

v | b | trust

Herein also is trust. Trust that ancestors in their suffering and sacrifice have held a future promise true. Trust that in all of us this rule can emerge. That from the past versions of us all to the here now, we are derived from those who walked this same path to that same destination. Whatever that destination is, it is one we arrive at together, or individually fall apart. Trust starts with this Golden Rule. It gives a purpose. It gives the justification for us each to be better. A Golden Rule that demands better of us all. By comparison, right now we have no trust. That is true in construction. I think it true at all scale of cooperation. We trust only that we cannot trust. We trust only that we are each selfish. Perhaps in time, we can trust each other to ensure that selfish is what we are not.

A single rule to connect all our projects

As we all scramble around a little today – and every new day that we are trying to find a thread of hope amidst so many headlines to divide us all – perhaps in this one rule we have a single golden thread that connects all humanity, all projects | within projects, that we can each remind ourselves applies always. And a check of ourselves, and all others. How we can each individually better hold to this self regulating control upon our behaviour. Ultimately, our one shared project’s Golden Rule.

treat others as you would have others treat you

So says the compassion in us all

To find out more about Karen Armstrong and her charter for compassion (click here)

To find out more about how I am attempting to connect this Golden Rule to our projects – and find better ways to connect our projects of mind to our projects of management – feel free to subscribe to my daily blog, as linked here.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

v | b | t – real time example

43,000 people wrongly told they were Covid-19 negative – the critical control questions to ask, today

  1. Visibility – what metrics are private labs being assessed against in their contracts for PCRs? Specifically, has a failure rate been agreed?
  2. Behaviour – What connects the interface of communication of results between labs and NHS Test and Trace and the public? If labs are communicating directly with the public how regularly are their failure rate results being independently checked?
  3. Trust – using these metrics of failure rates as a guide, what is the current performance rates of all other labs? What was the failure rate of this lab prior to 8th September? If this question cannot be answered, what is it that enables UKHSA to confidently state “public should remain confident in using both kinds of test”.
  4. Trust – given this systemic failure what changes to critical controls between individual labs and the NHS Test and Trace service are now to be made, and why? Noting particularly the interventions needed by the public and GPs to flag this failing.

These questions are produced by reordering the facts of today’s news of unexpectedly high false negatives being presented directly to the public from one private lab working on behalf of NHS Test and Trace. They are common-sense questions, derived from taking each fact from one press article, and considered holistically across the metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust, as detailed below.

All details below sourced via BBC report today.

visibility | b | t

43,000 deemed to have been wrongly advised; false negative rates breached by a multiple of the norm; dates in question are over a period of one month (8th September to 12th October); the lab have analysed 2.5 million samples in total for NHS test and trace; anectotally reported to BBC by GP’s for two weeks with concerns that symptoms of covid-19 were not being confirmed by PCRs;

v | behaviour | t

NHS test and trace investigation conducted; UKHSA suspended the lab; all prompted by individuals raising concerns as lateral flow tests and PCR tests conflicted; control environment uses PCR as a second check but overrides the LFT; UKHSA confirm no unusual circumstances that would suggest external cause (all other labs working normally, tests kits normal); testing sites deemed to be operating normally; UKHSA have commented “working with NHS test and trace and company to determine the laboratory technical issues…”; the lab commenting “fully collaborating”;

v | b | trust

UKHSA said “public should remain confident in using both kinds of test”; BBC asking who knew what when?; BBC asking how are these labs being run?; local councils in West Berkshire are asking people to redo their tests; scientists [per this article] advising people to trust the LFT if testing positive and stay at home.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:


What is flow? Can we find it in our projects?

This blog summarises several accounts from academics in psychology and neuroscience on the subject of flow. To which I then add some context as I believe it can apply to projects and outlined using v | b | t.

the positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I call flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This blog is prompted by an observation and a question asked of a correspondent friend on LinkedIn. Who posted a ponderance as to whether the feelings of flow has a place in more group activity. It is a question I have been pondering for a while. Others have been writing of it for decades.

First, I need to introduce the two scholars of note by summaries of their work I hereafter refer:

  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl
  • John Vervaeke

I begin with a summary of key matters on the phenomena of flow


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Flow: the psychology of optimal experience.” (1990)

The book is written in ten chapters, of which I will offer some detail from chapter 4, “Conditions of flow”. For context the ten chapters read as follows:

  1. Happiness revisited
  2. The anatomy of consciousness
  3. Enjoyment and quality of life
  4. Conditions of flow
  5. The body in flow
  6. The flow of thought
  7. Work as flow
  8. Enjoying solitude and other people
  9. Cheating chaos
  10. The making of meaning

Chapter 4 – conditions of flow

Individual conditions to enable flow

pp71, Chapter 4, the Conditions of flow. The conditions within us to achieve flow are briefly summarised. The opening paragraph presents heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control. Control in this context presented as a rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task (ibid pp71). In flow, the activity becoming one performed for its own sake, in of itself the reason.

The autotelic personality

These personal traits or characteristics are what become referred to as the autotelic personality. Pp83 makes contrast to the autotelic personality, i.e., opposite traits are presented. These are traits of those of us unlikely or just incapable of flow. Reasoned by their inability to deny distractions from task focus. By one extreme, the schizophrenic’s curse of being compelled to take note of all feeling and need, without choice. By the other extreme, the excessively self-conscious person so concerned for their imagined appearance to others that the task itself cannot be central in attendance (ibid pp84). Both the inner compulsion or the outer more concern present a lacking of the “attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake” (ibid pp85).

attentional fluidity needed to relate to activities for their own sake

What it is to be autotelic (Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990 pp85)

Flow channel – between boredom and anxiety

In all cases of flow there is an expanded complexity to our conscious experience, not so much as to cause anxiety, but enough to overstep thresholds of predictability and boredom (ibid pp74). To which Csikszentmihalyi offers an idea of a flow channel where the levels of skill required are such as to keep us beyond boredom. These skills applied to challenge that is manageably difficult. i.e., presenting enough difficulty to be keep our interest but below a point that anxiety of the scale of challenge consumes our calm. By this 2D measure, an increasing challenge is needing of more skill, and vice-versa (pp74).

Situational conditions to enable flow

Next, the conditions of the activity are examined. pp72 flow activities are described as paramount reality being felt toward optimal experiences in everyday life. Therein pp72, citing Roger Caillois’ four categories of game play to outline a range of activity that can enable a state of flow:

  • Agon (competitive games);
  • Alea (games of chance);
  • ilinx (vertigo – situations that challenge balance or altered body need)
  • Mimicry (as anything altering the reality or context such as the arts)

Csikszentmihalyi is presenting each category as requiring us to expand the edges or boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception. From the four categories stated these expansions are outlined as: elevating skills to meet those encountered of an opponent; elevating our sense of future focus; the shuffling of different sense perceptions or the altered focus of consciousness we perceive; or temporary transformation into something other than ourselves (ibid pp73).

Scaled up to societal levels

For Csikszentmihalyi, this is also more than a singular experience, reflecting upon flow at much greater scale. Outlined in terms of culture, nation, and therefore whole populations being more at one with a great task. These can be moments of great focus or adversity. Wars, building of great wonder, eras of great advancement, discovery, and change. The common theme being that the individual or the group is brought back to the moment. Less distracted by what else may otherwise demand our attention or want more of our time.

Contextual denying conditions (Anomie or alienation)

Structural impediments are also outlined. At sociological levels these are referenced as anomie (lack of rules) and alienation.

Anomie could arise from great upheaval where societal norms are lost or collective circumstance changes without clarity of what that now means. Periods of sudden mass wealth, mass poverty, or displacement, or falsification of truths, all equally able to remove any clarity on what is permitted and what is not.

Alienation being the opposite, as an overly constrained set of rules oppressively forced upon a people in ways that contravene their beliefs and goals (pp86).

These are sociological and therefore situational or contextual conditions for flow but structural conditions can also be considered as blocks to flow within each of us.

Personal denying conditions

Neuroscience and psychology are then revisited from pp86. Some people shown to have attentions towards concentration more than others. Cortical activations and “evoked potentials” from senses other than those being used in a task being more active and therefore more able to distract in some people, than others. Compared to the more able to concentrate more singularly on the task at hand.

Crucially, this was not deemed to be genetic or predisposed, but potentially a learned skill in of itself (pp88). By way of further examination Csikszentmihalyi then proceeds to consider the role family and early years learning can have on this learned phenomena in later life. Not however to deny us the potential for flow, but simply to have not presented environments where it is naturally able to be encouraged.

People of flow

The chapter concludes with a brief examination of examples of people who have achieved noteworthy outcomes attributable to flow.

Those people who faced up to moments or lives subjected to great ordeal but who not only survived but thrived by their experience. Richard Logan cited as finding a connection between such accounts as those who “found ways to turn bleak objective conditions into subjectively controllable experience.

Blueprint of flow activities

Here Csikszentmihalyi presents a common theme that connects them all.

“blueprint of flow activities.

[1] First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances.

[2] Then they set goals appropriate to their precious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received.

[3] Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.”

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990, pp90

To which he concludes with a uniting observation that the many examples of those incarcerated who find flow “even though the person is objectively a slave, subjectively [they] are free” (ibid pp92).

In wider survival stories where the adversity is the threat of the environment itself, this was similarly deemed most survivable by those applying themselves in manner akin to flow.

“intrinsically motivated by their actions, they are not easily disturbed by the external threat. With enough psychic energy free to observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action. If we were to consider one trait a key element of autotelic personality, this might be it.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) pp92

Chapter 4 concludes with a pithy reflection upon some being more naturally, or more fortunate in early learning, to be adept at managing themselves in this way. But also reflects upon how everyone can build their skills towards the goal of more flow, in body, in mind, in group or isolation, in work and in play. Ultimately, in life.

This is the natural segway to introduce some contemporary work by another psychologist of note. John Vervaeke, and some of his recent attempts to present these ideas to a mass audience. And who’s polymath interests and subject cross-pollinations have certainly influenced me.


John Vervaeke

John Vervaeke PhD is described on his YouTube channel as an award-winning lecturer at the University of Toronto in the departments of psychology, cognitive science and Buddhist psychology. Amongst his contemporary series of work three presents detailed psychologically relevant material that make reference to flow:

The elusive I further introduces concepts such as recursive resonance realisation which I will revisit in later blogs.

Flow in meditative practice

During the early days of the Covid Crisis, Vervaeke launched a meditative series that combined his cognitive science teachings and practices of meditation and contemplation. The third lesson (dharma day) addresses flow, as part of the initial setting up of any meditative practice. The whole practice being taught (lessons one through to ten) ultimately become a basic series of meditative practice intended to slowly train the mind to become more agile between externally focused contemplative focus, and inner meditative practice. This practice intentionally becoming gradually and increasingly a skilled discipline of increasing challenge that requires modal agility between extremes of inner and external address. In lesson six he advises cognitive science is indicating it is this observational modality that offers the benefits with mindfulness, a very effective way of gaining new insight.

Awaking from the meaning crisis – series

This is an epic series of lectures. Ideas of flow but a small part of much wider reaching ideas. Flow features in the following episodes.

Meaning Crisis Part 1. Meaning is a key to life.

What wisdom connects life meaning and self-transcendence? Building on the ideas of shifting the mind early roles of Shaman, flow state, mystical experience and subset as awakening experiences this episode reflects upon sources of meaning and insight which can be compared to the Csikszentmihalyi referenced stretching of boundary conditions of our ordinary perception.

Meaning Crisis part 2 Flow as a metaphor

Being in the zone. Demanding tasks that go just beyond the skill state. Skill improvements and increasing challenge are presented as being the basic engagement qualities that keep us focused on virtual realities – flow state being central to the video game. This is presented as a deeply positive experience. Which Vervaeke argues this to be a directly connected experience akin to what is sought in finding meaning in life.

Vervaeke’s suggestion (00:27:15) is the three means of gaining the better insight are the same three factors that enable flow state: clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and error matters. He argues that implicit learning and flow sit in the same conditions of cognitive effectiveness. And these become self reinforcing. Because these insights are intuitive the sense of loss of self can be disconcerting or in the Shaman context “otherly”. In cognitive science this is parts of the brain talking that otherwise do not. The metaphor “to bridge”, reflected upon language as a means share meaningful experience. Better language becomes intertwined with metaphor – which is revisited in Part 3 as language complexifies to enhance trust in the message and how in touch this is with reality. All aiding to the possibility of the flow state.

Part 9 – Insight

Mindfulness introduced as the means to use attentional scaling between inner detail and external reality and back. Optimising between the two enables prajna or non-duality to bring an enhanced realness and meaning. Higher states of flow. [The more expanded exploration of these concepts referenced in the meditative series highlighted above.]

Part 10 – Consciousness

Salience landscape cf.  Wallace L Matson “sentience”.  The salience of information is what Matson calls ‘sizing up’.  This is a ‘featurisation’ and ‘foregrounding’ in a recurring process that configures i.e., figurisation, all recurring until the problem is suitably framed.  This dynamical system has three or four levels of recurrence becoming a highly textured and flowing landscape of problem framing.


How can we move our teams into flow state?

Returning now to the question which prompted this outline of flow. There are key characteristics described which can be reset against our engagements as teams, and in broader context, how we perform collectively or opposed in project environments.

Csikszentmihalyi present two key factors which can be considered in any project setting, of which I split the needed control as a third:

First, nurturing autotelic traits

First the traits of the autotelic personality. Heightened concentration; lost self-consciousness; a sense that skill set is adequate in ability, relevant to task, and under control (Csikszentmihalyi pp71).

Second, providing situational arenas of flow

Second is the situational conditions that encourage flow states. Which Csikszentmihalyi describes by way of the boundary condition of one form of our ordinary perception being challenged. Such as the competition between players, the means of contemplating future outcome; acuity toward the specific information of relevance without distraction; or the means to temporarily live as another to expand perspective.

Third, create flow channels via the right kinds of control

Thirdly, is the manner of keeping the balance of skills demands and challenge to keep teams in the flow channel. Given the key needs of focus, freedom to be, and the sense of psychological safety to be at the edge of skills to challenge, this increases the need to have clarity on appropriate control. Control in this context presented as by Csikszentmihalyi as rule-bound action system with clear clues as to the quality of performance of task. To which Vervaeke might argue is necessarily focused upon clear feedback; tight coupling with environment; and a retained sense of error rates matter.

The conditions for flow restated as v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

autotelic need for clarity of goal; observe and analyse their surroundings objectively, they have a better chance of discovering in them new opportunities for action; situational need for a real time acuity and wider context; closeness of leadership to action to retain the visibility to offer the necessary feedback and checking for error and regular feedback.

v | behaviour | t

autotelic heightened concentration; situational sense that skill set is adequate in ability; enabling adaptability for retained tight coupling with environment; shared vigilance and retained sense of error rates matter; necessarily presenting means for self-management, developing skills over time, and means to not interrupt project momentum when in the right flow channel. This would also mean the checking and feedback was also adaptable, and task challenge and skill orientated to enable project learning, team development, and means to measure, maintain, and improve.

v | b | trust

the autotelic traits all demand a heightened sense of trust. A trust in each other. A trust that focus on the task is not at the expense of missed danger from outside. A trust that mistakes are to be called out early, dealt with and corrected, against clear metrics, and fair feedback and recognised betterment in time. Trust that allows lost self-consciousness is to have psychological safety, trust in the shared respect of peers, and trust in the transparency of leadership upholding the standards to which all are equally judged. A team in flow, in the flow channel, is high energy, but necessarily making and correcting mistakes. Trust must also be shared and enable anxiety at challenge to quickly be reassured by the action orientated correction. This is therefore tied into the clarity of rules, training, and governance, that enables the sense that skill set is adequate in ability, current and therefore relevant to task, and under corrective control.

Concluding remarks

How many of us in construction, or wider project management per se, can read these descriptions of a state of flow and see our project environments and controls encouraging these traits? Who reads the Construction Playbook and see this environment being developed at our next generation of projects are born? Who amongst us sees the command and control manner of management as harnessing these flow channels to match challenge to skills?

These concepts are not new. But the questions are asked regularly and anew. Phrases I have in mind are notions of being like “a military operation” or “like a machine” or “acting as one”. There is more to say here, more to compare. Notably the striking similarity some of these traits reflect when describing the traits of the HRO (High Reliability Organisation).

HROs and Flow is a write for another day. For now, perhaps I need some feedback of my own. And a moment to regain my flow…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The Construction Playbook

Author: Warren Beardall

HM Government Construction Playbook

What role does it play? What impact is intended? Analysed using visibility | behaviour | trust

This blog has been prepared as another test using my experimental method of evaluation through the concept of visibility | behaviour | trust. According to the Construction News the CBI want implementation by public sector to begin quicker. I am trying to find evidence of project procurement having everyone’s welfare at heart, and not just that of the project initiator. So how does the Construction Playbook stand up under this lens?

Context of what follows

My research and attention is asking whether we set our projects up in ways that offer greatest likelihood of success, but necessarily having all project actors welfare within the definition success therein means. My premise being that projects of cooperation only become projects of collaboration when all those invited are intended to be actively within the sentiments of no harm. My assertion that it is better for all our projects if intended to be assessed in this way. Thereby having long-term benefit of this project, but also that of the next as central to the collective business case we should all have in mind.

Does this Construction Playbook therefore have your welfare, the jobs of your employees, your future training and planning needs in mind? Does it have the long-term health of our country and our future project needs in mind. Is it immune to the political vagaries and short-term passing of government terms of office. Is the infrastructure of our administrators of state better guided by this Construction Playbook. Are we?

Or is this just a public sector bringing its own house in order. With less strategic intent and more short-term shoring up. Is the path being set in this guidance one of better collaborations? Or is it leading us all toward new ways of doing old self-serving things under new labels and old deferrals of blame?

This assessment was written between January and March 2021. A number of discussions have been shared since with both academic and industry friends and colleagues. All opinions herein are mine alone. But they are sentiments shared.

Examination of the text

The Construction Playbook : Government Guidance on sourcing and contracting public works project and programmes. Version 1.0 December 2020.

The Construction Playbook has a wide industry sponsorship. It presents significant progress in seeking more consistent approaches to government procurement.  It attempts to remove the singular cost focus of procurement; reinforces a wider sentiment by central government to adopt more strategic and long-term procurement practice; and demands greater upfront preparation and earlier market engagement.

It further introduces an expectation on government departments to apply this overall approach, and to be judged against its requirements.  It advocates more focus upon modern methods of construction (MMC).  More focus on supporting manufacturing ethos within construction.  It states that supply chains should expect to be able to make fair profit.  It advocates cross-departmental buying practices. Standardisation of delivery requirements.  More component and design standardisation across projects, regions, and sectors.  And more consistency and more clarity on key outcome expectations and roles.

Examination with v | b | t

The majority of my analysis here is presented as addressing the behaviours of projects actors. As does the Playbook, itself. This is observed as being principally focused upon the behaviours of the public sector parties, with much of the playbook a reflection upon the controls therein applied separating public sector engagement with private sector, rather than contemplating the controls to govern both. Notwithstanding the collaborative sentiments therefore, I conclude a them and us relationship is being developed from the start. My examination of all that follows highlights and thereafter reflects upon what behaviours this is inviting, intentional or otherwise.

Visibility | b | t

Sharing this Construction Playbook gives a visibility to all parties intending to engage with government procurement in the coming years. Much of the literature being generated through industry interactions is now busily being directed by this clarity, and the stated intended universal application of the Construction Playbook across all of government and public sector.

Within the examination that follows are recurring themes. There is a lack of clarity on the how. Or how to prioritise the what. Some what necessarily contradictory or conflicting with others. The visibility of such prioritisation is therefore assumed to only exist at more localised level. How such priority is to be translated and assessed between local and central expectations remains unclear as a result.

With this reduced visibility, the interpretative space may be opportunity for some. From a risk perspective however, this suggests future scope for split motivations, localised confusion, and possibility of agenda manipulation by those best placed to influence and conflate. These are precisely the interface risks I deem to be the source of much of the risk we introduce into projects, simply because of goal creep, goal division, and the grey space it encourages.

v | behaviour | t

The majority of my analysis sits within these behavioural intentions or implications. Ordering of this more detailed examination follows the ordering of the Construction Playbook itself.

Behavioural changes by Public Sector are offered from the outset

Introduction – “Right at the start” (pp2-3) prepared by Gareth Rhys Williams – Government Chief Commercial Officer; and Nick Smallwood – Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Projects Authority.  I have reordered these key sentiments into what I believe to be three main categories of interest:

Thinking in new ways: thinking of risk, sustainability, and programmes systemically; sector health; productivity and addressing skills shortages in the long term. Advocating front loading of effort, longer lead times for quicker finishes.

Key benefits desired: Outcome based; long-term partners; standardising designs, components, and interfaces; innovation and MMC; win-win contracting for better outcomes; better financial awareness and preparations; better end to end delivery.

Reform via buying actions; safety, cost, speed, and quality; data sharing; investment in training.  All parts of the playbook to be passed down into the supply chain.  Meeting everyday needs of users and VfM for taxpayer.

Beginning from page 14, the five phases are examined in order:

  • Preparation and planning;
  • Publication;
  • Selection;
  • Evaluation and Award;
  • Contract Implementation.

Stage one: Preparation and planning

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Pipelines, portfolios and longer term contracts

pp16 – the conflicting desire for longer term contracts but more involvement of the acknowledge higher likelihood of innovative SMEs is left with contracting authorities to reconcile.  Indicating that contractual performance metrics should include this on a VfM basis.  Early market engagement deemed an essential means to do this.  As is feedback being sought directly from the supply chain.

Playbook indicates the solution to SME capacity constraints is using JVs and consortia with SME involvements.  This is not consistent with aims of platform solutions or the procurement options posed on pp34

This also conflicts with the cross-referenced GovS008 Commercial Functional Standard and National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Modern methods of construction

pp18 – contracting authorities are left to determine how to assess MMC wider value to project and programme outcomes.

Harmonise, digitise, and rationalise demand.

pp18 Collaboration between contracting authorities is encouraged.  Aiming at standardised interoperable components across a spectrum of suppliers.  pp19 – achieved by “standardising and digitising specifications; shared design content and approaches across portfolios” supporting wider government priorities. 

Quality Planning | Platform approaches | Targets for MMC

Product platforms are encouraged to standardised assemblies, and cross-sector collaborations of standardised purchasing.  Procurement encouraged to steer markets and suppliers toward these platform approaches.

pp20  Offsite construction to be treated as favourable.  This is now an expectation of departments.

Targets for MMC .  IPA and Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are developing a common set of metrics to better understand and support performance, which will include metrics to demonstrate supply chain engagement.

Further embed digital technologies

Seeking to collate and improve quality of data using the UK BIM Framework.  Standardised information requirements, exchange, and security.  A common framework of standards and protocols.  Digital twin goals also associated with future performance and asset management.

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Early Engagement and clear specifications

Early engagement – earlier identification of delivery and risk challenge; options; relationship building across the whole supply chain.  pp22-23 tested at first business case stage but note the complications anticipated in fair marketplace and transparency.  [This seems to conflict with drive for innovation.  How can innovation and open market discussion be accommodated together?]

Innovation – pp23 – open to new ways of thinking; revisiting processes and continuous improvement.  [This seems to conflict with standardisation (and collaborations across sectors and platforms).]

Social value and SMEs – pp23 – early engagement suggested to engage with SMEs and to wider social value initiatives. [this is however left with the supply chain to manage amongst itself – see next]

Early supply-chain involvement (ESI)

Deemed to offer more effective design solutions and overall VfM.  Includes formal engagement of Tier 1 alongside Tier 2 and 3.

pp24 – ESI deemed to need good leadership, governance, commercial management, and wider strength in capability. Above all, building trust with open and collaborative process “in sharing ideas and innovative solutions”. [it remains unclear how commercial sensitivity can sit alongside incentive to share innovation. In this early stage any optioneering opportunity and early evaluation of risk alongside a public sector is lost. Instead reliant upon the supply chain to organise itself across competitive boundaries away from public sector stewardship or prioritisation.]

Outcome based approach

pp24 – Outcomes focused on whole life value, performance, and cost; to include social value model in informing procurement route.  Outcomes, not scope, to unlock innovation and continuous improvement.  Outcomes defined at outset.  Clear and measurable.  Definition of “whole life value” being developed with industry in 2021. [the key question will be how is short-term VfM and long-term asset value to be reconciled against short-termism politics and similarly short-term media and public attention – government and politics are the only influence able to redirect these messages by long-term planning of their own.]

pp25 – Design underpinned by stakeholder informed objectives which meet requirements and specifications.  Specification that are not too prescriptive to allow for innovative solutions.  [These goals seem contradictory.  How is it possible to define all stakeholder needs; develop design against clear specifications; allow for innovative solutions; support standardising solutions and cross-sector platforms across long-term strategic partnerships; and present all necessary information to promote fairness to bidder decision making. This is a wish list – not clear delineation of how to prioritise and why]

It is also envisaged that there will be several design and specification stages but no means to envisage how this will be supported by the necessary upfront stakeholder management, control, and clarity of priority that will not suit all.

See also:  Infrastructure Procurement RoadMap 2013; Collaborative models of construction procurement 2014

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

People and Governance

Approvals follow Green Book and Orange Book requirements. 

Contracting authorities are required to have streamlined approval processes geared toward outcome success; consider strategic approach and by extension to focus upon additional means to identify portfolio potential; account for complexity, cost, and risk determining rigour of process; use “Should cost” benchmarking; involve accountable Senior Role Owners (SROs) who own the business case and cross-functional teams.

See page 73 matrix.  OKUA.  Owner (Joint-Owner); Knowledge experts; Understanding; Awareness.  [this seems to create difficulty when separating accountability and responsibility]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA)

Part of First Business Case stage.  Objectives and outcomes defined from the outset.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.  Five potential approaches namely: Transactional – traditional standard competitive service delivery

Hands-on Leadership – complex and in need of close supervision and active stakeholder management more than cost focus.

Product Mindset – lessons learnt focused for optimisation via repeatable manufacturing type approach.

Hands-off design – outcome focused without specifications that influence solution.

Trusted Helper – client is focused upon core business and seeks a supplier who can work within the operating procedures or technical challenges better than the client.

[in the absents of early engagement and proactive public sector input – contractors are likely to develop assumed risk profiles based upon these five approaches – particularly if public sector simply return to contract only interest as the hands off means of project control]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning 

Effective contracting

Project scorecards are being tested through 2021.  There are intended to be integrated into business case baseline post completion.  Reference is also made to them being part of the project contract and KPIs.  [Note: no specific reference to them forming part of project controls beyond contract]

Key performance indicators are deemed part of a  good contract – includes appropriate specifications and performance indicators; incentivising the priority outcomes; proportionate to project size and complexity; quantifiable and measurable metrics; and inline with wider government metrics; and top three metrics available to public scrutiny.

Commercialise the delivery model means being specific about intended benefit and value and chosen with these at the core of the decisions made.  “One of the most effective ways to deliver outcomes is to create contracting environments that promote collaboration and reduce waste.  Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40.  [Why focus on contract for positive relationships?  This is cooperation. To collaborate a closer relationship is necessary. Building a shared control environment seems much more collaborative if sharing is a key desire.]

Commercial approach “how much delivery responsibility are we willing, able, or need to take on?” pp41

Procurement strategy consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility. [this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk].

Contracting strategy pp42 this seeks early risk allocation; roles / responsibilities and rights / obligations being allocated directly into contract.  Contract deemed the place where key elements of project including specifications.  [Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43 and 44, which is prescriptive to three forms.  By this early commitment to contract form, this falls into the ‘risk transfer in preference to risk management and control’ trap].

Keeping bid costs down and use of frameworks. [this will be good news for long-term relationships but it is inevitably going to stifle competition.  The relationships with SME supply chain within JVs not with Government is inevitable.  Whilst this page acknowledges the SME barrier to entry of bid cost, all wider sentiment of engaging via JVs of tier one contractors’ conflicts with any means to accommodate SME directly and more efficiently.]

Stage two : Publication

Stage 2 : Publication

Going to tender

Setting the tone encourages upfront preparations prior to going to tender.  It also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct v.2 dated February 2019 which whilst not legally binding does offer direct access to the Central Commercial Teams in the Cabinet Office (and in extreme circumstances Gareth Rhys Williams as Government Chief Commercial Officer via pp5 of this CoC).  This code states, “risk is allocated to the party best able to manage it…share intelligence on supply chain risk…we will endeavour to create and maintain a culture that facilitates collaboration between all suppliers and government…” (pp7 ibid).  “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 ibid).

Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set.

Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios [does this mean government is best able to manage more risk?].  Internal control, and proactive approach is referenced pp47 [but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle].  Risk appetite is referenced in context of innovation but also references optimal outcomes [rigid contract forms do not support this sentiment]

Stage 2 : publication

Risk allocation

pp48 Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them and supported by good risk management and be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market.  [it is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap.]

Risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.  A good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers.  [there is no reference to early identification of critical controls best suited to manage risk identified]

Fair return is intent upon avoiding cost driven impacts upon project success, with a profitable outcome to supply chain deemed a sustainability objective.

Stage 2 : Publication

Payment mechanism and pricing approach

Output drivers should be central to payment and the level of risk around the scope and requirements.  pp50 Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate [this indicates risk is to be treated as a tradeable commodity, not a threat to outcome].  Do’s focus on early warning and joint-decisions, outcomes focus, indexation, and data sharing.  Don’ts list lack of clarity in scope and evaluation; liability limits; avoiding risk pricing due to time constraints; and avoiding the transfer of information gap risk to supply chain.  [there is no consideration given to the control environment beyond contract and price]

Onerous contracts pp51 is a term used to trigger discussion with supplier on cause and options.

Further reading: Green Book; Orange Book; Outsourcing Playbook; Cabinet Office Two Stage Open Book; Construction Hub Value Toolkit.

Section three : Selection

Section 3 : Selection

Due diligence during selection

SQ Standard Selection Questionnaire to be used.  Payment systems to be assessed for all contracts over £5m p.a.

Section 3 : Selection

Assessing economic and financial standing of suppliers.

Key principles financial standing to perform work; be fair and transparent to not prejudice competition; use Contract Tiering Tool.

Stage four : Evaluation and award

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Evaluating bids and contract award

Value over cost pp56, and social value pp57, low-cost bidding is defined as anything more than ten percent below average or the Should Cost estimates – and are referred to Cabinet Office pp58

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Resolution Planning and ongoing financial monitoring

Assessment of impact of supplier failure, and upfront resolution planning.  Note it is the supplier who is required to provide Service Continuity Plans and exit plans; separate from contracting party’s contingent plans [no reference to shared project plans].  Financial mitigations include bonds, PCGs.  Project bank accounts to be used as standard.

Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Stage five : contract implementation

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Successful relationships

pp64 successful relationships deemed to be means for better VfM and advocates standard forms of contract.  Early engagement to include delivery teams and designers.  Management of contract deemed key early strategic decision.  pp66 principles of collaboration, openness, transparency, and flexibility referenced based upon contractual delivery; role allocations; and upfront agreement to dispute resolution. [no reference to decisions of critical controls only contract management].

Reference to one team “win together, fail together”, [but no expansion on what this approach means.]

Early workshops suggested to set expectations of standards, behaviours, and ways of working, success criteria, impact on wider goals [seems a little late to be considering behaviours as these are generally set into a project by the way it was set-up.  Perhaps this would be better as a KPI of the governing party…]

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Transition to Operation

pp68 Prepare from set-up.  Soft landings deemed to be smooth transition from construction to operations.

Exchanging data is included as a critical success factor, and referenced “golden thread” of intended purpose of building or infrastructure.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  [the lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.]

Lessons Learnt stated as ongoing process during a project and feedback presented via Cabinet Office email address [no project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered].

v | b | trust

The remainder of this article will focus upon relationships, cooperation or collaboration, and the sentiments of trust that result.

The distant observer further highlighted

This distant buyer sentiment that public sector becomes in construction is not a new phenomena. It is characteristic of public sector. My MSc dissertation revisit of PFI concluded the buying attitude of the authority party was hands-off in the extreme. Reliance on others to do the checking and the terms of contracts to offload the risk if all else failed. The distant public sector interest inevitably offering space for the ebb and flow of very different powers and influence to take hold over time. This Construction Playbook offers little to suggest anything beyond fire and forget contract control will remain.

Project Control

There is no focus on critical project controls per se. Internal control, and proactive approach to risk management is referenced pp47 but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle. KPIs and pay mechs geared towards outcomes; risk allocation; control; and reporting; is all driven through contract management. Frameworks, standardised contracts, boilerplate clauses, are all advocated. This seems completely at odds with efforts to develop collaborative one project ideas. Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40. Key performance indicators are deemed part of a good contract.

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA) offers five potential types but there is no guidance on how this will change control environment or wider governance.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.

Flexible or fixed?  pp42 contract is required to allocate agreed risk allocations and specifications into contracts.  Managing relationships (pp66 referenced one team “win together, fail together” but no expansion on what this approach means.  Both these sentiments are at odds with the wider sentiment to commit to specific contract forms. Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43-44, which is prescriptive to three forms.

Role allocation is based upon the internal owner, adviser, and awareness needs.  No consideration is given to project roles therein, and no accountability vs responsibility considerations (cf. pp 73 matrix).  Contracting parties are encouraged to consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility.  However, this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  The lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.

Lessons Learnt – No project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered.

Risk Management

There is reason to be nervous that deep pockets syndrome will continue. Party best able to manage doctrine is maintained.  Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them pp48, “a good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers”.  However, later statement clarifies that risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.

This document also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct.   This code states, “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 Supplier Code of Conduct).

Risk allocation appears to be a tradeable commodity not a threat to success.  Outputs and the level of risk around the scope and requirements should be key to payment mechanisms.  Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate (pp50).  Risk should be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market (pp48).  It is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap that plagued PFI.

Bigger picture required.  Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios. How does this work between contracting parties? Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set. Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Conclusion : a step closer but not a bridge

There is reason to applaud this new engagement and initiative to present greater clarity of how construction is to be procured across the public sector. My concern remains that this guidance continues a long tradition of them and us contracting with the private sector. A buyer attempting to present a united front but not a uniting goal. As this country looks to build its way through the 21st Century I hope this is just the first step toward closer ties and smarter buys. But to collaborate is to take account of all sides. To lead is to be presenting clarity of vision, interest in control, and steps that build trust between parties, not better contracts for when one falls.

A step in the right direction. But plenty more to go…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Is seeing, believing?

What truth can we know from sensed perspective?

This blog is a brief summary of my own thoughts before going into tutorial discussions this week. It might be interesting to post a before and after perspective to a great question set within my cognitive psychology module this week.

Group question: What does the distinction between sensation and perception imply when discussing one’s “truth”?  If there are, in fact, multiple “truths” what does the lack of objective reality mean for scientific psychology?

I had a few immediate pithy sentences come to mind. Who do you believe?  The truth is out there…  You can’t handle the truth!  Is the truth even knowable?

I was tempted to reflect upon philosophical truth in wider sense but personal truth seems hard enough. The hard problem…

Physiological truth

The bounds of our experience are closely connected to our senses. Therein how we interpret the information received. Technology allows us to expand some of the ranges of our senses but even with this expanded translation of reality we perceive, interfaces are crossed between us and the reality known. If indeed reality itself is more than a belief.

Even without artificial aid, the sheer scale of data we gather is extraordinary. From lecture materials just read, the precision of the data captured by our eye is almost innumerably complex. The interconnections of cells and pathways connected to sight are 100,000,000,0004,000 which presents more possible connections than there are atoms in the universe. From this unimaginably large array of data connections – once over whatever interface exists between reality and perception – we can then process what we determine to be thousands of objects at any one moment. To which data we may add touch, hearing, smell, and taste; bodily awareness and spacetime positioning. Even considering just the relays of these receptors not all is fully understood. By example, there are receptors in our skin we know exist but only best guess their purpose.

Perceived reality

What then of the processing itself?  We have innate abilities considered unique in the animal world.  Our physiological orientation associated with touch concentrated in body parts unlike other mammals.  Our tongue physiologically more acutely connected by touch than cats, or dogs, rabbits, or rats.  Our fingers more intimately registering a range of touch.  Klatsy et al. (1985) 95% of 100 common objects (e.g. fork, brush, paper clip) correctly identified by blindfolded subjects i.e., identified by ‘feeling’ them.  At some point in our anthropology, tongues enabled sound to be morphed into repeatable and more complex phrases of noise.  The dexterity of our opposable thumbs offering information gathering potential and control enough to mould and craft.

The brain’s Somatosensory cortex receives and processes the layers of information derived from touch. Each skin location is represented by a corresponding cortical area (orderly ‘topographic map’ of body). The processes space in the brain demonstrated to be greater for some areas of the body than others.

somatosensory cortex
(Graphic source unknown but adapted from Penfield, W. & Rasmussen, T. The cerebral cortex of man. New York: Macmillan, 1950, via UoN lecture notes)

This is a mapped area of the Somatosensory cortex. Devised from Penfield & Rasmussen, 1950 work on patient responses during brain surgery.  The amount of cortex are reserved for more sensitive skin areas are represented by larger areas of cortex where ‘more neural hardware’ is present.

Not mentioned in these lectures was a wider comparison of other more distant specie relations. The octopus has the same number of neuronal cells as a dog (~500m), and twice that of a cat. Yet only 10% of those are in each of it’s two brains, with the majority of the rest divided equally in each of its eight arms. Our principle sense is sight – imagine that! The octopus dominates its perspective via its sense is smell – through its skin. It also has semi-autonomous ability to morph specially adapted skin to mimic hue, form, and texture of the environment it is in. How different must the organisational structures be to have more decision-making made near the source. The High Reliability Organisation of the animal world. Here then are senses and interactions with a less centralised perception in a range of information alien to our own. What truth does it smell that we cannot see?

Intentional change

Crucially and uniquely, is our capacity to imagine and to symbolically rework information into repeatable and transient inner form and temporal bound.  Within these mechanisms we gain insight.  We predict.  We learn.  We find ways to repeat, communicate, and adapt.  I am yet to encounter the psychological explanations for this within this course, but other reading informs me this is unique to us. Noam Chomsky is on our syllabus but not until next term. Crucially this symbolism enables intervention, interpretation, adaptation and theme. A rework of information as translated from nature whilst not fully knowing what that necessarily means.  We operate through best guessed grey spaces.  Summarise, approximate, prioritise.  We predict based upon imperfect information, errors, and change. What is truth when there is always a necessary approximating and therefore an unknown?

Scientific truth

By what measure can we deem science as singular truth? And by extension therefore psychology. As examples, Aristotelian revisions by Galileo.  Newtonian physics revised by Einstein who for twenty plus years thereafter resisted but slowly accepted the notion of quantum mechanics – which his theories cannot fully square.  Within living memory for many was the witness of the Kuhn vs Popper debate which pitted the historic realities of the settled science practices vs the acclaimed scientific method of falsification, which Popper advocated was our norm but which Kuhn reflected upon as no more than an ideal. Reality vs best practice therefore not harbouring singular truth – or at least not for long. Within this framework of discourse sits the question of whether mathematical precision can ever replicate what our limited instruments of measurement can perceive as real.  And to what extent the bounds of human knowledge and sensory perception can be extended by the technology we build – and may one day soon be replaced.

Moral and ethical truth

Kant, Hagel, Nietzsche or Foucault all parked for another day. Here I will only dwell upon legal truth – as onus of proof. In the narrowest of definitions here sit more interfaces of truth.  Innocent until process demonstrates guilt.  The ownership of a better, more believable, subjective truth. The intent or the transit by a letter in the post assumed sent.  Or the intentions of words – contract or intent – hermeneutics – at the risk of the drafter or interpretation of the reader as forever at risk of latter-day revisits of old truths.  New science to old facts. Fingerprints or DNA affording hidden reality to be revealed.  All of which requires a level of trust in the moral and ethical agreements of people, and the technology by which we rely.  We have a sensed record and perception of its meaning, but is this ever unquestionably right, or unequivocally true?

Socratic discourse, know more to know we know less

This is a group question for debate amongst peers this week.  A moment of perhaps coming to our senses or a sense check of what is known.  Offering perhaps a sensible solution.  Perhaps seeing is believing as we push this around all week.  Even if we collectively agree on what we think we might know, can we be sure we agreed to the same thing?  Can we be sure we communicated it without error?  Can we ever really know anything?  Or just hope to narrow the gap on the unknown.

In truth, Socrates was probably right.  If Plato’s writings in his name are to be believed. To be wise, is to know we do not know…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

A theory of pain

How automated are your emergency systems?

This is a brief blog – I am in the middle of a three hour lecture frenzy – but here’s an interesting diagram to revisit in a projects context.

Gate control theory (Melzack and Wall 1965, 1988)

In explaining how specific touch fibres interact, Ronald Melzack and Patrick D Wall presented a gate control theory which distinguished two systems of communication in relaying messages of touch to the brain. Depending on source of information a gateway mechanism determines whether to use the separate pain pathway. The pain pathway is believed to pre-date other touch based sensing pathways.

As I read this, and follow up the references, I have command and control type responses to project pain in mind. And how effective or otherwise gateway responses are at organisational or project level in emergent events preparedness.

One more model to chalk up as a comparable between the communication, cooperation, coordination, and competition challenges we face every day in our projects. To be continued…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: