Smart Disaster Governance NWO project

‘Enhancing smart disaster governance: Assessing the potential of the netcentric approach’ 2014-2019

PI and coordinator: Kees Boersma – VU University Amsterdam,

The research project ‘Enhancing smart disaster governance’ run from 2014-2019. It was based on a multidisciplinary approach executed by researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology and Leiden University in close collaboration with practitioners. The project was funded by the Dutch national research council Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the ‘Smart Governance’ research program. The research project aimed to identify innovative and effective disaster response practices. We were especially interested in the role that netcentric governance can play in improving disaster responses. Netcentric governance can be seen 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 examined net-centric governance as an alternative for formal top-down command and control practices, by drawing on the potential of citizens’ community networks. We used the central research question: “What is the potential for net-centric governance to disaster management in facilitating a more adaptive response, and what are the consequences for the connections between networks of response organizations and local communities?”

Netcentric governance was studied in two different social contexts. The first, international context is humanitarian work represents relatively weak governmental response structures, but ample involvement with emergent, citizen-based communication structures mediated for instance through social media. The second, Dutch context represents a densely regulated governmental response structure, but less experience integrating bottom-up forms of disaster response. The core of the project consisted of two PhD researchers, Femke Mulder and Arjen Schmidt coordinated by a postdoctoral researcher, Jeroen Wolbers.

The research question central to the first PhD project was: “How can heterogeneous information networks be mapped, interpreted and governed to make humanitarian response operations more adaptive?” The PhD candidate, Femke Mulder, analyzed information streams in the context of humanitarian disaster relief: the response to the earthquakes in Nepal and the conflict related crisis in Ethiopia. She combined (quantitative) semantic and social network analysis of crowd-empowered platforms, as well as (qualitative) ethnographic studies She conducted semi-structured interviews and on-site observations as part of quick-response research to natural disasters and similar unanticipated events.

The research question central to the second PhD project was: “How can heterogeneous information networks be mapped, interpreted and governed to make netcentric response more adaptive?” The PhD candidate, Arjen Schmidt, conducted research with our partnering Safety Regions. He paid attention to slow burning (institutional) crisis situations. Selected cases: human induced earthquakes in the Dutch province Groningen, and the response to the EU/refugee crisis.

De project’s post doc, dr. Jeroen Wolbers, focused on new organizational forms in response operations, an don the adaptive capacity of responding organizations and communities to cope with situations of uncertainty and complexity.

By analyzing the consequences of interconnecting response organizations with community networks, we identified the possibilities of a more adaptive disaster governance. Those new forms are based on principles of net-centric governance (programming and switching). At the same time, we recognized the problematic aspects in terms of network exclusion. Those include thelack of actual decision making power by citizens, the struggle of formal organizations and authorities to include spontaneous bottom up actions in their operations.

For more information (in Dutch): Crisis brengt veerkracht bij burgers naar boven

Project members:

  • Kees Boersma (PI, VU Amsterdam)
  • Dr. Julie Ferguson (VU Amsterdam)
  • Prof.dr. Peter Groenewegen (VU Amsterdam)
  • Prof.dr. Bartel van de Walle (Delft University of Technology)
  • Prof.dr. Arjen Boin (Leiden University)
  • Dr. Jeroen Wolbers (Postdoc)
  • Femke Mulder (PhD candidate)
  • Arjen Schmidt (PhD candidate)

Project partners:

Safety Regions: Groningen, Utrecht, Noord-Holland-Noord, Rotterdam-Rijnmond;
Netherlands Institute for Physical Safety;
National Police: national coordinating response room DLOC;
Oxfam-Novib and Cordaid