Submissions & Registration now available for 

17th International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making

CTA in Effect: Case studies demonstrating the benefits of Cognitive Task Analysis

Improving the Effectiveness of Scottish Crime Scene Examinations

Share Post:

crime scene do not cross signage

Primary Submitter:

Amanda Martindale,


Crime Scene Examination

Generic description of sponsoring organization or customer:

A forensic services unit that delivers world-leading, high-quality and value-for-money forensic services to meet the needs of criminal justice partners and the expectations of the public.

Cognitive Task Analysis Method(s):

Applied Cognitive Task Analysis (Militello & Hutton, 1998)

Number of Participants:

Total Number of Highly Proficient Performers (Scene Examination Supervisors) = 12; Percentage of Overall Population = 60%


Initial data collection: 3 months. Further data collection & synthesis: 6 months


Findings share
Co-production of new knowledge: Cognitive demands tables were produced from the ACTA (by region). Written reports and presentations described the methods and key insights. All products were provided to the partner in editable, digital formats.

Instructional and/or training experience
Translation of research findings into guidance documents: Scenario-based training tool generated and licensed to the forensic services unit for immediate use as a training tool for Scene Examination staff.

Demonstration of value

Evidence of value
This research provided the forensic services unit with a unique opportunity to invest in their people and incorporate professional judgement and decision-making into multiple facets of the organisation. This research not only raised understanding of the cognitive demands in crime scene examination, but has led to cultural and policy changes, particularly around the training of scene examiners in Scotland. Importantly, the increased level of preparedness of 120 crime scene examiners, who attend approximately 25,000 incidents each year, has contributed to the wider Criminal Justice System and to the Public of Scotland.

Specifically, the CTA research led to changes in three critical areas:

  1. It developed a scenario-based training tool for major incidents which allowed the forensic services unit to identify differences in professional judgement and decision-making application and staff proficiency in different geographic regions of Scotland, and focus training needs in these areas.
  2. The variances identified via the study outcome enabled the forensic services unit to introduce areas of harmonisation in its approach to major incidents, strengthening and standardising its contribution to police investigations.
  3. It influenced the development of internal training courses. Since 2018, the forensic services unit has delivered cognitive bias and strategy setting within its Level 1 and Level 2 courses with elements of scenario-based training. Additional scenario-based training is planned for upcoming courses for Forensic Services’ Senior Forensic Scene Examiners as they transition into the new operating model.

Partner-provided perspective
The forensic services unit Head of Scene Examination wrote: “we have been able to harmonise our initial approach to complex and major incidents which has strengthened and simplified teamworking dynamics, and improved effective deployment of resources from different areas [and] has standardised our contribution to the Police investigation, [as] evidenced by positive feedback from our Criminal Justice partners”.


Used in the case study
Crandall, B., Klein, G. A., & Hoffman, R. R. (2006). Working minds: A practitioner’s guide to cognitive task analysis. MIT Press.

Militello, L. G., Hutton, R. J. B. (1998). Applied cognitive task analysis (ACTA): A practitioner’s toolkit for understanding cognitive task demands. Ergonomics, 41 (11), pp1618-1641.

Hoffman, R. R., Ward, P., Feltovich, P. J., DiBello, L., Fiore, S. M. & Andrews, D. H. (2014). Accelerated expertise: Training for proficiency in a complex world. Psychology Press.

Prior publication about this work
Martindale, A., Collins, D., & Morton, V. (2017a). Cognition at the crime scene: Identifying cognitive demands on professional judgement & decision making expertise of crime scene examiners. Paper in conference proceedings of 13th International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making, Bath, UK. 20-23 June 2017.

Martindale, A., Collins, D., & Morton, V. (2017b). Development of a scenario-based training tool for crime scene examination response to a complex and major incident. Paper in conference proceedings of 13th International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making, Bath, UK. 20-23 June 2017.