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Organizing after Crisis

The Challenge of Learning


Edited By Nathalie Schiffino, Laurent Taskin, Céline Donis and Julien Raone

How do actors organize after crisis? Do they «simply» return to normal? The post-crisis phase is anything but a linear process. Actors and their practices may be transformed by learning from crises and by implementing the lessons.
In this volume, 19 contributors from 7 countries analyse how learning happens after crisis in a dynamic political environment where framings, strategies, discourses, interests and resources interact. Exploring various policy sectors, they ask whether and in what ways organizations in charge of crisis management perform well. Where political responsibility is located? What changes do lessons trigger at political, organizational and individual levels? The book answers these questions by addressing issues like blame and responsibility but also the influence of communication, social dynamics and the institutional environment.
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Arjen BOIN

Leiden University, The Netherlands

Paul ‘t HART

Utrecht University and School of Public Administration, The Netherlands

Learning to Learn from Crisis: The Hardest Challenge?

A good twenty-five years ago, when we were just beginning to learn about the patterns and challenges of crisis management, our colleague at Leiden University, sociologist Menno van Duin was writing his dissertation in the office next to ours. Menno studied how the Dutch government had learned, or failed to learn, the lessons articulated in a series of official post-disaster investigations that had been published in the decades prior. His excellent dissertation explained that although implementing such lessons is expected by the public and embraced by politicians, the road to this kind of institutional learning is long and treacherous. Learning does take place, he found, but it may take a very long time.

Learning is a slippery concept. When can we really observe that ‘organizations’ learn, rather than people within them? If we see a crisis being followed by some policy and organizational changes, to what extent are these changes a product of ‘learning’ or of the political expediencies of the post-crisis accountability environment? And how do we meaningfully distinguish between what triggers momentum to learn, and what substantively inspires the lessons that are being drawn? Organizations and polities may fall into the trap over over-learning from the most recent crisis, and thus ending up taming one category of risks...

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