Few in the humanitarian sector will be oblivious to the debilitating effects that result from inter-organisational clashes over mandates, their institutional ‘standard operating procedures’ and the seemingly relentless competition for resources.

Understanding Intergovernmental Friction During Disasters

With the above in mind, we would like to bring to your attention, an article by Northeastern University’s Professor Daniel Aldrich, Challenges to Coordination: Understanding Intergovernmental Friction during Disasters.  He makes very clear that ‘while idealized crisis response involves smooth coordination between relevant actors, friction between levels of government, between the state and civil society may be more common.’

And, while many in the humanitarian sector would recognise that general statement, all too few could point to analyses that explains ‘why’, in ways that go beyond conventional organisational behaviour models. To what extent, for example, do inter-organisational behaviour patterns depend upon types of disasters? To what extent are they determined by location, namely, in so-called developing or developed countries? Might the types of contributions required by the disaster affected be a determinant? How might complex systems – vertically and horizontally – be  positive or negative factors in inter-organisational behaviour? To what extent does inter-organisational behaviour reflect cultural norms?

Aldrich attempts to answer these and other contextually specific questions using a range of quantitative as well as qualitative methodologies. He has taken 18 different case studies, examining  nine factors and levels of friction for each that can undermine effective cross-level, inter-organisational coordination in times of disasters. And, he also offers suggestions about how such friction can be reduced! Read more here.

The Ferghana Valley exercise


You might also be interested to see different ways of surmounting inter-organisational barriers by exploring one of the Humanitarian Futures Programme’s scenarios, the Ferghana Valley exercise, in the Humanitarian Futures Toolkit. This particular exercise explores methods for assessing and utilising the ‘value-addeds’ and comparative advantages of different types of organisations – the private, military and humanitarian sectors – for dealing with complex crises; and, in so doing it explores means for promoting effective cross-sector collaboration.

The First Steps Initiative

Also, in our November’s newsletter you’ll find the results of an HF workshop on the First Steps Initiative, or, those very first things that those who have to implement organisational strategies and operational plans have to confront from the outset. Some of these definitely concern challenges arising out of inter-organisational behaviour in times of crises. The lessons that are drawn come from various sectors, including the commercial, military and parliamentary sectors as well as those from the humanitarian community. Take a look at the initiative’s concept note here.


Before closing let me mention that in a meeting at the US Department of State in early September, the prospect of ‘a new humanitarian paradigm’ was discussed with various US government departments and agencies. While there were many avenues explored, one that was of particular importance related to ways that the humanitarian community needed to learn how to deal with exponential increases in the types, sources and volumes of data that are available. As you know, some data are contradictory, some false, some re-enforcing, some accurate —  all are part of that emerging paradigm. But more of that in our next newsletter in November.