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The ‘Problem of Many Hands’

The ‘Problem of Many Hands’ (POMH) and its Threat to Accomplishment of Engineering Ethics

Black and white photo of many hands reaching upward

Friday, February 22
Noon – 1:00 PM
RUCH 103

Commonly, engineering involves collaborative behavior between members of work teams, and cooperative behavior between work teams and between teams from different contractors.

Collaborative behavior requires shared knowledge of the project and process, including informal knowledge that is acquired ad hoc in the project. Cooperative behavior is often mediated by contractual requirements and other official or semi-official instruments. Informal and ad hoc knowledge acquired in an engineering project is often not, or not adequately, communicated through contractual, official, or semi-official instruments.

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This introduces a risk in engineering projects where cooperative rather than collaborative behavior is the norm. In such instances we frequently observe a phenomenon known as the ‘problem of many hands’ POMH in which informal and ad hoc — but important — knowledge is not shared between teams and different contractors. POMH can threaten the success of projects and can lead to loss of control over the intended engineering outcomes of a project and resulting violation of standards of ethics in engineering. POMH can also lead to loss of public trust in an engineering company and large scale litigation that threatens the viability of an engineering company.

This seminar will help attendees identify, describe and analyze factors contributing to POMH, and identify and describe ways to avoid and/or recover from instances where POMH occurs.


About the Presenter

Don Winiecki, EdD, PhD
Professor of Ethics & Morality in Professional Practice
Organizational Performance & Workplace Learning – Boise State University

Don is an instructional technologist and sociologist. Since concluding that ‘technology is society made durable’ Don’s focus has been on the intersection of technologies and society, and the way technologies encode and reinforce both our grandest visions and our darkest secrets. With the idea that we cannot avoid either of these Don works to help the inventors and developers of technologies to become more aware of these facts and to equip them with tools permitting them to ensure the good and impede the rest.  He has been a faculty member in the Boise State College of Engineering since 1996.


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