I’m very happy to share with you that our research proposal on ‘Enhancing smart disaster governance: Assessing the potential of the net-centric approach’ has been awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). NWO is the national research council in the Netherlands that promotes quality and innovation in science by distributing research grants through a competitive system. In the ‘Smart Governance’ call NWO stimulated the conduct of systematic, multidisciplinary and comparative research into the nature and origins of smart governance. In the call we were stimulated to develop partnerships between the academic community, public, and private organisations in order to secure knowledge valorisation.

The Smart Governance call is based on the idea that the future competitiveness of the Dutch economy and our quality of life will be determined to an important extent by our ability to strengthen and innovate the country’s social infrastructure. A crucial element of this infrastructure is its system of governance. Systems of governance should allow individuals, groups, and corporate actors to undertake effective collective action. The Dutch economy and our society are facing a number of major challenges. Meeting these challenges requires smart modes of governance, because traditional systems have failed or there are serious doubts regarding their adequacy for solving today’s problems. A mode of governance is considered ‘smart’ when it is conducive to timely and effective collective problem-solving under conditions of high problem complexity and contextual uncertainty and volatility. Such modes may involve more direct forms of regulation but may also involve the incentive structure provided by the environment.

As a PhD candidate at the VU I have worked extensively with Kees Boersma, Peter Groenewegen and Julie Ferguson to develop our expertise and network in the field of crisis management. In this proposal we extended our collaboration with two other experts: Arjen Boin and Bartel van de Walle. The proposal builds on our state-of-the-art knowledge and recent publications in this field. I’m very happy this is acknowledged by the reviewers. Our proposal is qualified as ‘excellent’ by the reviewers and the committee.

‘The reviewers and the committee are in agreement that the proposal is very well written and thought through. Both reviewers point out that the research questions are well defined and framed in a strong theoretical approach. Reviewer 2 considers the analysis of data from web 2.0 platforms to be very innovative. The committee agrees. The reviewers and the committee consider the research team to be uniquely positioned to undertake this research and are very impressed by the range of academic and practitioner partners.’

Indeed we have put a lot of effort in building our consortium. We are very excited to be working with the following partners in the coming years:

In addition, the proposal was endorsed by safety region Brabant Zuidoost, CrisisMappers (Patrick Meier), Ushahidi, Crisisplan, and VNG International (Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeentes).

The grant enables me to continue working at the VU as a PostDoctoral researcher in the coming years, and to co-supervise 2 new PhD candidates to be hired on this project. I’m looking forward to some more amazing years as a researcher, and towards an exiting collaboration with our research team and consortium partners.

These are our research plans for the coming years:

This project will identify disaster response practices and conditions that can lead to net-centric governance. We define netcentric governance as the organization of a response to disasters by making use of self-directed networks of heterogeneous stakeholders, in an environment enabled by shared technological and organizational infrastructure. We will study whether net-centric governance offers an alternative for formal top-down command and control practices, by drawing on the potential of community networks.

Netcentric governance is studied in two different social contexts. Humanitarian work represents weak governmental response structures, but ample experience with social media. The Dutch context represents an over-regulated governmental response structure, but less experience with the use of social media in disaster response. Net-centric governance in these cases can support heterogeneous response networks, building on interconnected goals and ensuring better cooperation.

We will combine ethnographic studies with network analysis and semantic analysis, to understand response practices and to chart patterns in information streams among and between heterogeneous networks. The Safety Regions’ project ‘Netcentisch Werken’ for crisis response in the Netherlands, and Ushahidi and CrisisMappers, citizen-based social media platforms in humanitarian relief as used by NGOs, provide the cases.

By analyzing the consequences of interconnecting response organizations with community networks, we will identify the possibilities of a more adaptive disaster governance. This project aims at developing principles of net-centric governance, to be implemented in both humanitarian and national disaster response. The project will contribute to a more legitimate and reliable, that is ‘smart’ disaster response to foster societal resilience.