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Our paper ‘Introducing a Fragmentation Perspective on Coordination in Crisis Management’ is freely available on the Organization Studies website with courtesy to the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Open Access policy.
Organization Studies (OS) publishes top quality theoretical and empirical research with the aim of promoting the understanding of organizations, organizing and the organized in and between societies. OS is a multidisciplinary journal with global reach, rooted in the social sciences, comparative in outlook and open to paradigmatic plurality. It is included in the Financial Times Top 50 journals list.
Emergency managers struggle to coordinate response operations because in a crisis the circumstances change rapidly and operations often take place in different locations. In this article we describe that the way in which crisis managers coordinate deviates from the dominant integration perspective. In contrast, crisis managers cope with discontinuity and ambiguity by engaging in working around procedures, delegating tasks, and demarcating expertise. This changes the way in which they coordinate from integration towards making use of elements of fragmentation.
Why is it important?
For many years the integration perspective is dominant in coordination literature. While this explanation holds for relatively stable and predictable environments, in crisis situations it turns out to be impossible to achieve integration. By explaining how crisis managers actually work on the incident site, we increase our understanding of why integration is so hard to achieve and what alternative approach crisis managers develop to deal with an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment. Knowledge about the actual coordination practices on the incident site enables the response agencies themselves to innovate their preparation by updating their training and education programs.
What do we learn?
This article enables both scholars and crisis management professionals to rethink the way in which professionals operate in challenging circumstances. For too long crisis managers experienced that the dominant integration approach based on hierarchical command structures and protocols had serious limitations in practice, but lacked the repertoire to discuss how they deviated, adapted, and looked for other flexible solutions in practice. I hope that by introducing a fragmentation perspective, we contribute to that repertoire and develop a crisis management doctrine that lies much closer to the reality on the incident site.