The Rise of Transboundary Crises: Surveying Crisis Management Capital

By January 11, 2018Uncategorized

Arjen Boin, Lavinia Cadar and Maureen Weller

The prospect of transboundary crises forces governments to reassess their crisis management toolbox. In recent years, modern systems have proven frightfully sensitive to disruptions that originated in some unrelated faraway domain. The financial crisis, the flood of immigrants, the threat of cyber warfare – these are all examples of transboundary crises. These crises do not respect borders and create daunting challenges for governance.

The TransCrisis consortium is investigating these challenges and exploring how governments can prepare for transboundary crises. It is clear that transboundary threats require new forms of governance. Time-proven processes and ways of organizing are no match for the transboundary crisis. Governments need to work across boundaries to create the crisis management ‘capital’ that is required to minimize the impact of these events.

What might that ‘capital’ look like? According to our perspective, this includes all the organizational means, processes, and experiences that are relevant to the fulfilment of the strategic tasks that typically demand attention in any large-scale crisis response (these tasks are derived from Boin et al, 2016).

We recognize five tasks:
1. Early detection: recognizing that something is afoot that may have an impact in one’s domain.
2. Sense-making: understanding what is happening during the crisis.
3. Critical decision-making and coordination: recognizing which decisions must be taken now, and making sure these decisions are made and implemented.
4. Crisis communication: explaining to the public what is happening and what people should do (and should not do).
5. Accounting: explain to relevant institutions how the crisis was handled and why it was handled that way.

The underlying assumption is simple: the better these tasks are handled, the better the crisis response is likely to be. If one accepts this assertion, several questions arise: What do we have available? Is our organization ready to fulfil these tasks? What, exactly, should we be looking for to answer these questions?

It is not easy to assess an organization’s crisis preparedness, especially if you do not know what to look for in an organization or in a sector.

The TransCrisis consortium has created a tool to do exactly that. We designed a survey tool that helps to ask the right questions and quickly gauge the crisis readiness of an organization or set of organizations. It measures the transboundary crisis management capital of an organization. The Survey consists of questions that should be answerable without deep knowledge about the organization. The answers provide the input for a ‘performance dashboard’ that one can use to track the organization’s crisis management capital over time. The surveyor is invited to provide a grade for each question, which allows for an overall score. The questions and the scores generate three types of input: on preparation, on available means, and on the legitimacy base an organization or policy sector needs to perform well during a crisis. These are the indicators of the dashboard.

The Survey tool follows three steps:
Step 1: Decide what the object of analysis is. The tool can be used in three different ways:
a) Take a crisis, identify the organizations that play(ed) a role in the response, and score their capacities to deal with that particular crisis.
b) Take an organization and assess its capacities to deal with a crisis.
c) Take a policy sector, identify potential risks, identify the organizations that play a role in the response, and score their capacities to deal with crises that may flow from those risks.
Step 2: Determine the weight of the three performance categories and assign “earnable” points for each question.
Step 3: Collect data to answer the questions and complete the dashboard.

The Survey Tool can be accessed here and also provides for illustrations drawn from TransCrisis research.

This tool serves the needs of both practitioners and academics. For instance, an agency director can use it to assess the organisation’s readiness level to respond to transboundary crises. The survey will help to identify the capacities the organisation is lacking in order to inform strategic decisions on budget and training for crisis management. For researchers, this tool helps to compare the readiness and performance of organizations that may be involved in transboundary crisis responses.

To be truly effective, this tool requires further fine-tuning by being tested against known failures and successes. For that reason, we invite practitioners and academics to use this tool and provide us with their feedback.

Arjen Boin, Paul ‘t Hart, Eric Stern and Bengt Sundelius (2016). The Politics of Crisis Management. Cambridge University Press (second edition).

The authors are writing in a personal capacity and their views do not represent the TransCrisis consortium as a whole. The authors are based at Crisisplan BV in Leiden, The Netherlands (