Designing the staff ride

A staff ride is an experiential learning activity that enables systemic, cultural or psychological issues to become visible. This page contains information and resources to assist agencies run their own staff ride.

Learning resources - how to design a staff ride

Designing the staff ride - a vehicle for learning from bushfire and prescribed burning operations in Australia, and a guide to building organisational capacity for high reliability.

Bushfire CRC researchers and personnel for Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service have collaborated to apply research expertise to a practical learning activity. A staff ride can be run over two to three days of professional learning. The first day is the filed visit component of the staff ride, with the following days comprising of workshops on failure points. A staff ride is a highly effective way of developing an understanding of the issues and developing strategies and  commitment to change.

The manual (available under the download heading at the bottom of this page) and accompanying video (first video below) are designed so that any local agency can develop the skills to run a staff ride. Initially an agency might outsource expertise from Bushfire CRC on failure points, but the aim is for the agency to develop their own skills in this area. These resources are intended to assist with that process.

Also of value is the video below and this PDF slide presentation (right click and open in new window to view at the same time as the video), by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service's Sandra Whight, at the International Association of Wildland Fire's 12th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Sydney, October 2012.

Learning resources - evaluation report of Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment's 2012 Cobaw staff ride

The Cobaw bushfire staff ride presented a unique leadership training opportunity to examine the sequence of events, in significant detail, that occurred when a planned burn escaped from the Cobaw State Forest near Woodend, 75 kilometers north of Melbourne in April 2003.

This was the first bushfire staff ride conducted in Victoria. It was designed for fire managers and operational staff in the Department of Sustainability & Environment, Parks Victoria, Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Melbourne Water, and VicForests, together with Country Fire Authority volunteers and cadre staff involved in planned burning operations.

Unlike a simple historical tour, participants on the Cobaw bushfire staff ride were ‘put squarely in the shoes’ of those involved at the time and given the chance to analyse the fire ground for themselves. This gave participants the chance to make their own tactical decisions as to what they would have done in the same circumstances.

The Cobaw staff ride has proved a powerful form of experiential learning. Participants reported that they could see, hear and feel the environment where the decisions took place, and thus had an opportunity to learn from someone else’s experiences. Participants were challenged to push past the basic questions of ‘what happened’ and examine the deeper questions of leadership, decision-making and the human factors involved in fire management, together with identifying what opportunities there were to learn for the future. There is evidence that the Staff Ride experience engaged participants in deep and critically reflective learning in a way that was qualitatively different from other types of learning programs, addressing key learning gaps within the organisations.

View the Cobaw staff ride report below.

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