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STRAND 1

[Last amended: 13 May 16]

 

Within the context section, one of the dimensions discussed is the divide between centralised and decentralised decision-making. This subject has been debated at great length within the academic literature covering risk, safety, disaster and crisis management. I do not intend to go over the issues here. Rather I will just state that, from my perspective, while centralised decision-making provides some benefits, it is less effective in crisis management. It is seen to stifle initiative and delay action unnecessarily. An assumption of this piece of work is that we want to devolve decision-making to those best placed.  Devolving decision-making authority does however bring its own problems. When this function is devolved, the issue becomes one of ensuring that separate actions do not work against each other. When preventing failure of foresight, this issue should be reviewed under the principle of  the "effect of action"; in this case it is possible unintended consequences that should concern us.

 

I have produced a mental schema in order to facilitate the discussion. Central to the schema is the three headed hydra that is crisis management. The three heads consist of [1] the political dimension, [2] the operational dimension and [3] the need to communicate with the public, which is labelled "crisis communication".

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There is limited debate about the necessity for each of these dimensions and the need for each to communicate with their own audience. My interest is to examine how the three heads might coordinate their effort to deliver a common end. Here we make the assumption that there is a commonly agreed purpose. This is not always the case. There are clear examples, for instance, where the political and operational objectives work against each other. These circumstances are outside the scope of this work.

 

So how might the three headed hydra coordinate its effort. The traditional structure is modelled on the military's command and control structure. From a historical and cultural perspective this structure makes a lot of sense. Firstly the military is seen to be familiar with crisis situations and so would be expected to have developed a way of managing these situations. Secondly, in the event of having cosmological episodes (that is ones where the world around you no longer makes sense), those effected often look for a messiah figure to put their world back in order. This leads to the demand for someone to take charge of events and to fix them. Two problems here, the first is that the military are finding new ways of working as they feel that their traditional methods are no longer appropriate. The second is the a suitable god-like figure rarely emerges!

 

Research in many fields has shown that a complex situation needs complex solutions (often termed requisite variety). Simple solutions, such as a clear command and control structure, rarely work. The US military are developing network-centric warfare; this is also referred to as net-centric warfare or network-centric operations. This seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive advantage through the robust computer network that keeps  geographically dispersed forces well-informed. It seeks to provide us with information and communication technologies to improve situation analysis, accurately control inventory and production, as well as interunit relations. This is thought to provide operational flexibility and agility more effectively. In many ways it is akin to the benefits purported to come from the use of "big data". The central tenets of network-centric warfare are:

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  • A robustly networked force that has improved information sharing.

  • Information sharing and collaboration enhance the quality of information and shared situational awareness.

  • Shared situational awareness enables self-synchronisation.

  • This, in turn, should dramatically increase mission effectiveness.

 

The key thing here is the idea of self-synchronisation  or as it is also called "self-organising". This issue becomes how to induce self-organisation within any such structure. The method currently under investigation comes from work done on chaordic systems. This approach focuses on the definition of the purpose and "a few simple rules" (or principles as I prefer to refer to them) [see STRAND 2 Part 2].

 

One final issue on the schema arises from the field of communication theory that promotes the idea that communications constitutes organisations (or CCO). This is consistent with organisation theorists who see that organisation structures depend on how the individuals involved see the organisation. This relates to what is espoused versus what we enact. The argument is that no matter what the organisation espouses, the organisation is structured in the way those affected see it as being structured. I have experienced this when working with a very large blue chip company. The company had restructured so many times those I was working with did not know where in the structure they currently resided. They focused on their task and the personal network they required to deliver; the formal structure was irrelevant to them. CCO uses the traditional node and link model of communications theory. The debate is whether the structure, the communication means  or message constitutes the node or the node linkages in the model. My interest in this debate is whether effective communication is about structures receiving messages via communication means or whether messages are passed to structures via the communication means. To put this another way, in the context given, should our communications paradigm give priority to the message or the structure in order to be most effective. The question (part of STRAND 2 Part 1) is which approach is more elastic?