Research Handbooks in Business and Management series
Edited by Helle Neergaard and Claire Leitch
The critical incident technique: an overview
It is almost 60 years since Flanagan (1954) published his seminal article on the critical incident technique (CIT), which was developed as a result of research conducted during World War II as part of the US Army’s Aviation Psychology Program for selecting and training aircrews (Butterfield et al. 2005). The aim of the research was to provide solutions to practical problems. To understand the specific behaviours resulting in the success or failure of flying missions, trainee aircrew as well as expert observers recounted and/or identified specific aspects of successful and unsuccessful incidents (Kemppainen 2000). Under the categories of aptitude, proficiency and performance common threads underpinning success and failure were identified, which subsequently informed the critical requirements of each role in an aircrew. The critical incident technique was defined as: A set of procedures for collecting direct observations of human behavior in such a way as to facilitate their potential usefulness in solving practical problems and developing broad psychological principles . . . By an incident is meant any specifiable human activity that is sufficiently complete in itself to permit inferences and predictions to be made about the person performing the act. To be critical the incident must occur in a situation where the purpose or intent of the act seems fairly clear to the observer and where its consequences are sufficiently definite to leave little doubt concerning its effects.
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