Are you ready? A framework for implementing the Safe System Approach
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The number of traffic fatalities has increased by more than 10% from 2020 to 2021, with 42,915 killed in 2021. This increase is considered a crisis by State and Federal traffic safety agencies and has motivated the traffic safety community to find new solutions such as the Safe System Approach (SSA) to reach zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries (“Vision Zero”).
For many agencies, adopting the Safe System Approach (SSA) represents a transformative change in how they operate. To be successful, transformative change requires a change management process. A key part of this process is to prepare the agency for change. Change Readiness can have several components, including being motivated and committed to change as well as being confident in one’s ability to change.[i]
The Maryland Highway Safety Office (HSO) recently partnered with Leidos to pilot test a self-assessment tool they are developing to measure change readiness. Called the Safe System Approach Readiness Scale (SSARS), this tool is based on a change process model derived from multiple theories for managing organization change.[ii] As shown in Figure 1, Change Readiness is the core component of this model. Without sufficient readiness, the change process will fail.
This model represents the factors predicted to influence the successful implementation of the SSA and can be used to develop a change management plan to increase readiness and implement the SSA. It can also be used to monitor the progress of the agency’s increasing readiness for change.
Change Readiness Model and Self-Assessment Tool
The online self-assessment tool takes about 5-minutes to complete and contains questions designed to measure each component of the change process model (see Figure 1). The model outputs predict engagement in SSA behaviors (Change Engagement); for example, I am already using the SSA. Change engagement is determined directly by our willingness to change (Change Readiness); for example, I feel confident we will be able to use the SSA successfully. Initially, change readiness is inspired (motivated) by our perceived responsibility to make needed changes (Change Salience); for example, Our agency is expected to do more to improve traffic safety.
Thereafter, Change Readiness grows when we believe the following:
- Our agency culture is consistent with the planned change (Culture Readiness); for example, Zero traffic fatalities is the only acceptable traffic safety goal.
- Our agency is committed to the change (Commitment Readiness); for example, Our agency has a clear vision of the success we can achieve by using the SSA.
- Our agency provides resources that enable change (Capacity Readiness) for example – I have sufficient training and tools to effectively use the SSA.
In addition, we need to facilitate and maintain change by encouraging agency staff not only to change their own behavior but also to support the overall change process itself (SSA Citizenship); for example, I help others use the SSA. Finally, feedback that change efforts are successful (Change Feedback) can further increase Change Readiness by showing that change is both attainable and beneficial.
Pilot Test Results
Maryland HSO staff completed an online version of this change readiness self-assessment tool. The numbers in the purple circles in Figure 1 are the correlations between each model component, which represent the strength of the relationship between adjacent components. All the predicted relationships were statistically significant (p < .05), which indicates the proposed model is a valid representation of the change process involving readiness for change.
Our interest in this pilot study was to systematically identify strategies that will let the Maryland HSO grow its readiness to implement the SSA. Figure 2 shows the summary graph of the current level of change readiness. These numerical values are based on a scale value representing the average rating of agreement (7-point scale) with several statements that measured different dimensions of readiness for change. Higher values indicated greater readiness for change. These results indicate that many HSO staff are fully ready for change. However, some staff indicated they are not ready yet or had relatively low reported readiness.
These results showed us that the HSO could increase its readiness for change. The underlying change model (see Figure 1) can then be used as a framework for identifying potential strategies to increase readiness for change:
- Increase perceived need and responsibility for change.
- Increase alignment of agency culture with SSA principles.
- Increase perception that agency is prepared and committed to change.
- Increase awareness and availability of resources necessary for change.
- Create a culture that empowers citizenship behaviors.
- Develop a communication plan that provides reinforcing feedback.
The self-assessment tool can provide a highway safety office and its partners valuable feedback on their staffs’ overall comfort level with the Safe System Approach and is an important first step in developing the traffic safety culture necessary to get us to zero fatalities in our communities, our regions, and our States.
[i] From this perspective, change readiness is similar to “hope” for change, defined as “the perceived ability to produce pathways to achieve desired goals and to motivate oneself to use those pathways.”
[ii] For example, Schell and Ward (2022), Ward et al., (2022), Combe (2014), Rafferty et al. (2013), Weiner (2009), and Kotter (1995).