Supporting collaboration in Crisis Management Networks

Three solutions: increased automation, social ties, and extended use of common systems

Crisis management systems (CMS) are human-machine networks consisting of a diversity of actors working together towards achieving the common goal of saving human lives and values. In addition to organizations and people with different capabilities, CMS are important in coping with disastrous events. These systems are meant to support humans in coordinating the handling of an event, and providing information and decision support.

Collaboration is a core requirement for efficient crisis management. The HUMANE typology and framework is helpful in understanding the implications the network’s characteristics have on collaboration. It can provide valuable insight to how to strengthen the design of CMS to better support collaboration and efficient crisis management. The following are three examples.

Increasing machine agency through higher degree of automation

CMS are often intended for use by several crisis response organizations and they are often designed with a high level of human agency and a low level of machine agency. The human actors of the network are given great freedom to configure the system to fit their organization’s needs. The background for this design rational is that the variety of crisis management organizations often have different requirement, thus the system needs to be flexible to fit the needs of all its user organizations.

It can, however, be argued that applying higher degree of automation to certain parts of CMS could streamline human-machine networks for crisis management and make them more efficient. By assigning appropriate tasks to the system, the crisis responders can be given greater leeway to perform tactical or strategic activities, such as planning the handling of an event, making decisions, or other activities that are based on human experience and knowledge and require handling from human actors.

Strengthening the social ties of dispersed human resources

The strength of social ties in crisis management networks varies. The challenge of social ties is especially apparent during handling of a crisis that require the collaboration between several actors and organizations, where social ties are often weak. Knowing the role and authority of one another is an important part of knowing others within crisis management. It is often assumed that a person with a certain work position will handle his or her responsibilities in a sufficient manner. However, weak social ties can sometimes hinder efficient collaboration between people or organizations, as the essential knowledge of and trust in each other is missing.

A well-designed crisis management system has the potential of increasing social ties. By providing a common platform for collaboration, providing information about participating actors and organization, and being a means for information sharing, CMS can strengthen collaboration between crisis responders.  In addition, common meeting arenas and training sessions where people across crisis management organizations are trained together, preferably with a common crisis management system, is of high importance for strengthening social ties.

Extending the use of a common crisis management system

There exist a variety of CMS. An issue in today’s crisis management networks is, however, that different crisis management organizations often use different systems that do not support sharing of information, communication, and coordination across the systems. This clearly limits and affects the efficiency of collaboration during management of crisis events. Furthermore, the lack of use among some organizations has implications on the network’s motivation for using the system, which might have implications on the use itself, as users might not see the value of the system when important collaboration partners are absent.

To function as common platform, all relevant crisis management actors should ideally use CMS with possibility of supporting collaboration through joint coordination, communication, and sharing of information. Such system should hold the possibility of integration with other systems.