The Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC) published a report describing the finding of a scoping exercise which aimed to inform a research design for the future evaluation of evidence which underpins decision-making in the shipping industry.
he evaluation was funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation to further understanding of how evidence is being used within maritime and whether products within the sector are evidence based, following an open call for proposals.
Policymaking at national maritime administrations
National maritime administrations write and modify national legislation to incorporate international regulations.
Whilst they are unusual, the report notes that the horizontal approach to the research identified some examples of local decisions by the UK MCA which went further than international standards and regulations. I
It was possible to identify traceable evidence underpinning such decisions in three cases and untraceable evidence in four cases. The vertical approach to the research identified five decisions by Norway which went beyond international regulations on lifeboats. In four of these cases underpinning evidence was referenced but proved untraceable
No cases where a decision to make or change policy/guidance was found for the Panama Maritime Administration using a horizontal approach or for Malta using a vertical approach.
Policymaking at company level
Changes in regulation drive changes in company practice. Incidents across their own fleets were a significant driver of change in relation to safety-related practice.
Incidents in the world fleet and reports of specific problems in trade publications and by P&I clubs also stimulated change. Academic research did not play a significant part in informing change within companies.
Kinds of evidence underpinning decision-making in shipping
According to SIRC, there is an overall lack of identifiable evidence underpinning documents relating to decision-making in the shipping industry. This is a challenge for academics seeking to evaluate the quality of the evidence which underpins decision-making in the shipping industry and it may have an adverse impact on decision making itself.
The findings give rise to the following hypotheses and tentative conclusions which might usefully be explored in the future.
- At IMO, flag state representatives would benefit from the inclusion of references to supporting evidence (of any kind) when considering decisions before them. This would assist them in understanding the basis for new proposals and it would allow them to follow-up on the evidence themselves so that they can arrive at better informed decisions.
- The IMO does not generate regulations based upon accounts of best practice but seeks to establish minimum acceptable standards taking account of the economic and social context of the shipping industry. In this context, much academic research relating to best practice and the potential for improvement via proactive change is rendered redundant and the evidence drawn upon is normally related to industry experience (of accidents for example) and expertise. Industry experience and expertise relating to accidents is self-evidently reactive in nature.
- Industry bodies representing seafarers and professional standards draw upon academic evidence and the evidence provided by practitioners and seek to influence decision-makers by shaping debates that may impact on regulatory agendas. However, their focus is oriented towards establishing best practice which does not often overlap with the establishment of minimum acceptable regulatory standards.
- Academic work may exert a significant influence on debates about best practice in the maritime field without being transparently identified as doing so. The value of much academic work in shaping policy agendas is likely to be hidden.
Recommendations for ways to undertake the future evaluation of evidence
- Any future evaluation should focus on decision-making at IMO.
- To conduct a substantial review a very large number of documents should be accessed and read.
- A minimum of five sessions of the MSC should be incorporated into a larger study.
- A vertical review should be included of IMO documents relating to a ‘hot’ topic.
- A review of the scale required would necessitate two full-time staff working for two years.
- A review of evidence underpinning decision-making in the shipping industry may yield disappointingly sparse results.
Recommendations of an outline nature with regard to methods of evidence classification and evaluation
The diverse nature of the evidence which is drawn upon by the IMO and Maritime Administrations and by bodies which seek to influence decision-making in the shipping industry poses challenges to traditional methods of evidence evaluation.
Current methods would need to be adapted and expanded to try to capture the value and robustness of evidence in this sector, requiring separate resource of a substantial nature
Recommendations relating to the expansion of the exercise
Finally, the report adds that a case study approach using between four and six different companies would be advisable.
“Such an exercise is unlikely to yield evidence that conforms to standards of peer-reviewed academic research. Evaluation standards and protocols for non-traditional evidence used in decision-making in the sector would need to be developed,” SIRC highlights.