Research Theme: Crisis Management and Sense-Making

A crucial condition for effective crisis decision-making is the organizational process of ‘sense-making.’ Sense-making refers to the processes through which individuals, groups, and organizations articulate clear questions and answers about a rapidly evolving threat situation. Sense-making allows leaders and decision-makers to simplify their account of the context they face, imposing a sense of order, reducing uncertainty, and guiding action. The less adequate the sense making process during a crisis, the more likely it is that the crisis will escalate. A better understanding of social processes of sense-making in crisis is the key to dampening crisis dynamics, which, in turn, enhances post-crisis recovery. 

While crisis researchers generally agree on the importance of sense-making, we do not know much about the conditions for effective sense-making, if and how the process can be learned or enhanced, and what can be done to improve it in crisis response organizations. The objective of this project is to increase our understanding of the dynamics of sense-making in crises of different types and explore the possibility of designing practices, organization and systems that prevent sense-making failures in crisis. Specific research questions include:

1. What are the common dynamic patterns of interaction among sense-making processes at the individual, group, organizational and the social system levels during crisis situations?

2. How does the variation in crisis type and crisis phase shape the interactions of sense-making processes between individuals, groups and organizations involved – and how do these interactions, in turn, affect actions taken (or not taken)?

3. How do crisis management institutions and the general formal and informal institutional environment affect the dynamics of sense making, the quality of decisions and actions, post-crisis learning and, more generally, organizational and system level resilience?