The purpose of this research was to examine the naturalistic decision making processes of leaders of outdoor adventure activities. The research focus was on field-based identification of the characteristics of leadership experience, followed by their use under controlled experimental conditions employing computer simulations. The sample consisted of 104 experienced outdoor leaders and enabled examination of the differences between intermediate and advanced performance in recognition-primed decision making. The outcomes provide laboratory-based support for the information that leaders' attend to in making a decision. Consistent with naturalistic decision making, the advanced leaders processed information within an option rather than examining information across options. A higher level of familiarity with the setting predisposed the application of expertise and gave increased confidence in the decision made. Applications of this research include the use of computer simulations in outdoor leadership training.
Participation rates in outdoor adventure activities have reached all-time high levels, with increasing numbers of adventure tourists and students in programmes which feature risk and adventure (McGillivray & Frew, 2007; New Zealand Department of Labour, 2010). More people are undertaking outdoor adventures such as hiking and mountain biking with friends and family groups as part of their leisure lives (Sport & Recreation New Zealand (SPARC), 2008). In New Zealand, all school children are engaged in outdoor education activities through the school curriculum and many tertiary institutions offer courses in outdoor recreation. Consequently, numerous students are receiving outdoor adventure experiences through formalised programmes.
There are a worrying number of incidents and fatalities across outdoor adventure in both tourism and educational contexts (New Zealand Department of Labour, 2010). For instance, there have been over 20 fatalities in formal education and tourism adventure recreation in NZ in the last two years (2009-10). Of these, over half have been a consequence of decision errors (e.g. Devonport, 2010). Undoubtedly, decisions made by leaders in outdoor adventure activities affect safety and the quality of leisure experiences for participants. The New Zealand Department of Labour Report (2010) to the NZ Government identifies that a skilled, qualified and experienced workforce is extremely important to the outdoors. They suggest that the outdoors is a dynamic and uncontrolled workplace where weather conditions and the risks presented by height, water and speed compound safety management scenarios and call for "quick decisions and excellent judgment" (p. 36).
The outdoor leadership literature identifies decision making as an essential component (Berman & Davis-Berman, 2009; Galloway, 2007; Martin, Schmid, & Parker, 2009; Tozer, Fazey, & Fazey, 2007). While there are numerous theories of decision making, this paper adopts the perspective of macrocognition, broadly defined as understanding how people actually make decisions in complex, naturalistic environments (Schraagen, Klein, & Hoffman, 2008). More specifically, naturalistic decision making (NDM) informs the work, where decisions by experts are guided by prior experiences to understand a situation, identify a course of action and implement it. Increasingly, NDM has attracted the attention of outdoor recreation researchers (see Galloway, 2002, 2007).
Little is formally known about how an outdoor leader makes a decision in an outdoor adventure environment (Galloway, 2002). In particular, what information is recognised and how it is interpreted, how options for action are thought through and selected, and how decisions are enacted in the field. In a broader sense a cohesive curriculum for training decision making does not exist; decision making is difficult to assess in leadership qualifications, there are few teaching resources and it is difficult to teach because of the need for a strong base in experience. …