Panel 13 – Institutional learning in times of increased refugee movements and humanitarian crises

Conveners: Patricia Schütte (Public Safety and Emergency Management, Bergische Universität Wuppertal) and Cordula Dittmer (Disaster Research Unit (DRU), Freie Universität Berlin) 

Abstract: At the peak of the increased refugee movement from the Middle East to Central Europe between late summer 2015 and spring 2016, public institutions, disaster relief organizations, and civil society faced circumstances that some labeled the “refugee crisis”. In many European countries, relevant stakeholders instantly operated at full capacity and formed ad-hoc networks to tackle the overwhelming situation in a cooperative approach. Such responses can been found in other (humanitarian) crisis situations and evoke the question how institutional learning takes place and can be facilitated.

Applicants to this panel are invited to contribute to the following topics (but not limited to):

– Evaluation of experiences during the refugee movements, and other (humanitarian) crisis situations: How do the specific circumstances influence relevant stakeholders and their interorganisational collaboration? Which specific types of cooperation and ad-hoc measures can be identified? Which challenges and opportunities unfold in the collaboration of stakeholders?

– Strengthening stakeholders for future crises:

o Which “good practices” and “lessons learned” can be identified and worked up for similar crisis situations in the future? How can stakeholders (jointly) prepare for crises to be able to act together?

– Promoting interorganisational learning:

o How to design a sustainable knowledge management that integrates all perspectives and necessary package of measures in order to support key actors when dealing with challenges in the future? How and what can they learn together? How can technology facilitate interorganizational learning?

– Theoretical and conceptual perspectives on institutional learning:

o Which concepts and theories are already used? Are new concepts/theories emerging? What is specific for concepts such as learning and knowledge in the field of crisis and disaster management?

Long Abstract:At the peak of the increased refugee movement from the Middle East to Central Europe between late summer 2015 and spring 2016, public institutions, disaster relief organizations, and civil society faced circumstances that some labeled the “refugee crisis”. In many European countries, relevant stakeholders instantly operated at full capacity and formed ad-hoc networks to tackle the overwhelming situation in a cooperative approach.

Such responses can been found in other (humanitarian) crisis situations and evoke the question how institutional learning takes place and can be facilitated.

In order to preserve organizational knowledge over time, a knowledge management system needs to be maintained. Organizations themselves do not have a memory per se. And individuals change their positions, they retire, they leave, which makes it hard to keep knowledge in a systematized manner.

Good practices and modes of cooperation are currently more a kind of a “black box” when taking a closer look at how stakeholders adapt to crisis situations, how they built up their ad-hoc networks, what their successes and failures were. It can be assumed that, especially in such demanding situations, there are no additional personal resources to keep an extra eye on management approaches in real time. Even at “peace time” resources for extensive wrap-ups are scarce. Therefore, it is little wonder that detailed documentation and evaluations of approaches, responses, practices in situations such as the increased refugee movement 2015/16 are often missing. Without such documentation and evaluation organizations might “forget” how they acted once and, in the last resort, repeat their own mistakes in future crises or use up valuable resources to re-invent approaches, responses and practices.