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Cognitive Systems Engineering

This page lists resesarch papers in the field of cognitive systems engineering.

Many cognitive engineering researchers went on to do work in the field of resilience engineering. See for resilience engineering papers.

Some papers have a (TWRR) link next to them. This stands for Thai Wood's Resilience Roundup. Thai publishes a newsletter that summarizes resilience engineering papers.


Joint cognitive system

A cognitive system produces "intelligent action", that is, its behavior is goal oriented, based on symbol manipulation and uses knowledge of the world (heuristic knowlege) for guidance. Furthermore, a cognitive system is adaptive and able to view a problem in more than one way. A cognitive sytem operates using knowledge about itself and its environment, in the sense that it is able to plan and modify its actions on the basis of that knowledge. It is thus not only data driven, but also concept driven. Man is obviously a cognitive system. Machines are potentially if not actually, cognitive systems. A [Man-Machine System] regarded as a whole is definitely a cognitive system.

The revised definition of a cognitive system is a system that can modify its behavior on the basis of experience so as to achieve specific anti-entropic ends.

Hollangel, Roth, and I were looking at a new kind of system―an emergent system that rises in the interactions among (1) the demands the world imposes on cognitive work, (2) the interplay of multiple agents who do cognitive work (joint and distributed cognition), and (3) the properties of the artifacts, reprsentations, and tools that enable cognitive work.

Cognitive systems engineering

The central tenet of CSE is that a [Man-Machine System] needs to be conceived, designed, analyzed and evaluated in terms of a cognitive system.

We define cognitive systems engineering as the effort to support the cognitive requirements of work.

The core ideas of Cognitive Systems Engineering shift the question from overcoming limits to supporting adaptability and control. The base unit of analysis is the Joint Cognitive System, not people versus technology; and the key process to study, model and support is how people cope with complexity.

Though it was never written down in this way, I still maintain today that the core of an effective cognitive systems engineer is the ability to design problems that challenge the boundaries of plans, procedures, and technologies. And the inverse holds as well. All plans, procedures, and technologies have bounds; these are hard to find and they move around over time; plus designers ovestestaimte the range of situations the artifacts they create can handle.


Lectures on the study of cognitive work by R.I. Cook. (My notes are at


Case studies

These papers are case studies referenced in Joint Cognitive Systems: Patterns in Cognitive Systems Engineering.

Domain: Medical (hospital intensive care unit)

Artifact: the bed book

Domain: space (mission control)

Artifact: voice loops

Domain: aviation (cockpit)

Artifact: speed bugs


Questions operators ask about systems

From Joint Cognitive Systems: Patterns of Cognitive Systems Engineering by Woods and Hollnagel (p119)

  • What is it doing now?
  • What will it do next?
  • How did it get into this mode?
  • Why did it do this?
  • Stop interrupting me while I am busy.
  • I know there is some way to get it to do what I want.
  • How do I stop this machine from doing this?
  • Unless you stare at it, changes can creep in.

Info we can get from stories

From Working Minds by Crandall, Klein, and Hoffman, p70

  • The cues and patterns that experts perceive
  • The rules of thumbs they have devised
  • The kinds of decisions they have to make
  • The features that make decisions tough
  • The features that make cases typical
  • The features of rare cases

Levels of Supervisory Control

From To Intervene or not to Intervene: The Dilemma of Management by Exception by Dekker and Woods:

The subordinate:

  1. offers no assistance: human supervisor must do it all;
  2. offers a complete set of action alternatives, and
  3. narrows the selectiond own to a few, or
  4. suggests one, or
  5. executes the suggestion if the supervisor approves, or
  6. allows the supervisor a restricted time to veto before automatic excecution, or
  7. executes automatically, then necessarily informs the supervisor, or
  8. informs them after execution only if they ask, or
  9. informs them after execution if the subordinate decides to
  10. decides everything and acts autonomously, ignoring the supervisor.

Other resources



  • Lisanne Bainbridge
  • Jeffrey M. Bradshaw
  • Matthieu Branlat
  • Beth Crandall
  • Steven Deal
  • Sidney Dekker
  • Cynthia Dominguez
  • Robert Eggleston
  • Paul Feltovich
  • Kenneth Ford
  • L.P. Goodstein
  • Marisa R. Grayson
  • Robert R. Hoffman
  • Erik Hollnagel
  • Edwin Hutchins
  • Matthew Johnson
  • Devorah Klein
  • Gary Klein
  • Morton Lind
  • Gavan Lintern
  • Laura Maguire
  • Laura Militello
  • Brian Moon
  • Donald Norman
  • Annelise Mark Pejtersen
  • Jens Rasmussen
  • Karol Ross
  • Emilie Roth
  • Nadine B. Sarter
  • Robert Sorkin
  • Kim Vicente
  • Sterling Wiggins
  • David D. Woods


  • attention
  • basic compact
  • bumpy transfer of control
  • clumsy automation
  • cognitive task analysis
  • cognitive work analysis
  • common ground
  • complexity
  • critical decision method
  • coordination
  • decision-centered design
  • demands
  • ecological design
  • directability
  • interpredictability
  • joint cognitive systems
  • macrocognition
  • naturalistic decision making
  • work-centered design
  • workload


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