Engineering decisions: Information, knowledge and understanding

Colin Brown and David Elms

Structural Safety, Volume 52, Part A, January 2015, Pages 66-77,


The success of engineering outcomes largely depends on the quality of decisions made in the engineering process. The likelihood of poor decisions leading to unsatisfactory results, including safety issues, can be reduced by identifying potential problems in the associated decision processes. This paper concentrates on one aspect of decision making – on the knowledge an engineer requires for making a decision. The first section develops ideas as to how the necessary knowledge and understanding can be acquired, and how, importantly, its quality or dependability can be assured and maintained. These ideas are then considered in four contexts: the initial decision on structural form, structural design, construction, and finally, use and maintenance. As the discussion develops, a number of recommendations emerge. These are distilled into a series of “lessons”. While they are principally intended for the practicing engineer, there are also significant implications for engineering education.

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