An Overview of Key Human Factors Approaches and Methods


The aim of this chapter is to introduce the key human factors and systems thinking methods that were employed throughout the research programme described in this book. Throughout the chapter, Boxes 2.1 through 2.12 provide examples of how the methods were used in the research. Chapter 3 then describes how these methods were integrated within the overall research programme.

As introduced in Chapter 1, a defining characteristic of this research programme was that it adopted a systems approach to rail level crossings, underpinned by the principles of sociotechnical systems theory. This necessitated adopting a multitude of research methods, both to capture performance at all levels of the system hierarchy and to address different stages of the system life cycle, ranging from analysing the existing system functioning through to redesigning the system. The various methods we adopted for the research programme can be grouped under four broad categories:

  • 1. Data collection methods for understanding human behaviour and performance: These methods focus on collecting data about human performance within an existing system and include observation, verbal protocol analysis, cognitive task analysis interviews, subjective workload measurements, usability and preference measures, eye tracking and vehicle parameters. Such measures can be obtained from naturalistic or semi-naturalistic studies of behaviour, including on-road instrumented vehicle studies (see Chapter 4) or laboratory-based studies such as those undertaken in driving simulators (see Chapter 9).
  • 2. Data collection methods for understanding performance of the overall system: These methods, which include document review and interviews with subject-matter experts, involve collecting data to understand other aspects of the system of interest, beyond users and their interactions with technology and the immediate environment.
  • 3. Systems-focused analysis methods: The next set of methods described are analysis methods, which assist to structure raw data to gain insights into system functioning. These include network analysis, Hierarchical Task

Analysis (HTA), the Systematic Human Error Reduction and Prediction Approach (SHERPA) and Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA).

4. Human factors design methods: Finally, we introduce some human factors methods and tools that can assist to take a systems thinking and sociotechnical systems theory approach to design.

These methods are summarised in Figure 2.1, showing the levels of the system that are addressed by each, based on Rasmussen’s (1997) risk management framework.

We hope that the discussion of these methods will provide valuable context for understanding the research presented throughout this book, as well as useful guidance for those wanting to use similar approaches in their own work. Readers who wish to use the methods are directed to the appendix, where more detailed procedural guidance is provided.

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