The Trickle-Down Effect: Policy Decisions, Risky Work, and the Challenger Tragedy

by Diane Vaughan



The Challenger disaster cannot be accounted for by reductionist explanations that direct attention only toward individual actors, nor by theories that focus solely on communication failure or the social psychological dynamics of the infamous eve-of-launch teleconference. The cause of the tragedy was rooted in historic organizational and environmental contingencies that preceded the launch decision. By tracing the connection between top policy decisions and decisions by engineers and managers assigned to do risky work, this analysis contradicts conventional understandings about what happened at NASA. As a consequence, this case contains new lessons for both managers and students of organizations.

California Management Review

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Published at Berkeley Haas for more than sixty years, California Management Review seeks to share knowledge that challenges convention and shows a better way of doing business.

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