In this the first of a three part posting I will look at an interesting and useful large-scale research study examining how the emergency services cope with difficult incidents in Europe. The paper has just been published by researchers from Central Michigan University and the University of Illinois.
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The study is particularly interesting because it looks at the organisational responses to dilemmas, rather than the individual responses on the ground.
Part of the dilemma organisations face with difficult and complex situations that require a novel response is that they have to bring together different elements of the organisation that each have different perspectives, cultures and aims. Additionally, to make the situation more complex they also often have to work with outside agencies, professionals and others to solve these new and difficult situations. This doesn’t just apply to the emergency services, a lot of the organisations I work for also often have to combine with and collaborate with departments and outsiders like consultants and clients in order to solve the more intractable problems and dilemmas.
Once this form of ‘multi-agency’ approach is needed to solve a problem a secondary set of issues arises such as competing or conflicting goals, demands and perspectives. Even just inside an organisation the cross-organisational differences of perception and response to situations create tensions, paradoxes and secondary order dilemmas.
This study looked at how organisations deal with these secondary order tensions, paradoxes and dilemmas created by the need to respond to the original, more complex and pressing situations they are trying to solve. These types of situations are rife in the emergency services, especially when dealing with problems that one service on their own can’t solve. An example would be abuse cases where a range of agencies like social services, housing, charities, police, medical services etc. all need to have a unified response.
Next post: The 6 ways organisations deal with dilemmas
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