Game theory is the scientific study of interactive decision-making with a special emphasis on understanding the interplay of conflict and cooperation between different stakeholders. Consider the interaction between the individual employee and the management organization. The objective of both management and the individual employee is to secure a strong commitment to process safety. But there are many time and attention demands placed on the individual employee, and numerous financial pressures on management. There can be a strong temptation to cut corners and sacrifice operational discipline in favor of simplifying a task and getting it done faster or cheaper. In game theory, this situation is known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is one of the simplest models of the conflicts that can arise between the goals of an individual and a social organization.
Game theory provides the tools which can allow an organization to foster cooperation between management and its employees towards the common goal of safety. Using a specific game-theoretical model known as the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, it is shown how cooperative behavior is the natural consequence of a balanced system of rewards and penalties. Here the term “balanced” means that both employees and their managers are subject to this system of rewards and penalties. By implementing a balanced framework for feedback, an organization can promote a commitment to process safety by fostering cooperation between both the employees and the managers.
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