Panel 14 – Crisis governance: Taking on the grand challenges

Conveners: Jeroen Wolbers (Leiden University), Sanneke Kuipers (Leiden University), Kees Boersma (VU University Amsterdam), and Charles Parker (Uppsala University)

Abstract: The purpose of this track is to bring together cutting-edge papers on the topic of crisis governance. Crisis governance is a complex process that has many facets. In its basic form crisis governance is about reducing the impact of a negative, intolerable event. As a crisis forms a threat to the basic structures or the fundamental values and norms of a system, crisis governance requires making vital decisions under time pressure in highly uncertain circumstances (Rosenthal et al., 1989). It entails ad-hoc organizing, directing and forging cooperation, enabling workarounds, but also taking symbolic measures that provide direction and guidance (Boin et al., 2013).

Traditionally, concepts like sensemaking, (Weick, 1993), decision-making (Klein, 1993), coordination (Comfort, 2007), meaning-making (Rosenthal et al., 2001), and accountability (Kuipers & ‘t Hart, 2014) have been central in the study of crisis governance (Hällgren et al., 2018). Recently, important developments have been noted pertaining to the shape of a crisis, such as the transboundary crisis (Boin, 2018), institutional crisis (Schmidt et al., 2017; cf. Boin and ‘t Hart 2000), and in its underlying dynamic, such as the role of fragmentation (Wolbers et al., 2018). The field has also been informed by other emergent topics associated, for instance, with disaster risk reduction in multi-level governance settings.

Despite the growing attention for crisis governance (Kuipers & Welsh, 2017; Hällgren et al., 2018), we still face a number of theoretical, conceptual, and methodological challenges in our field that are crucial to address in the NEEDS community.

  • First, crisis governance is normally studied as a unique event through single case studies, making it difficult to compare across cases (Roux-Dufort, 2007). We could develop a more systematic understanding of the similarities and differences across cases. We call for papers that provide systematic analyses and comparative case studies to identify and theorize patterns across crises and disasters.
  • Second, an important issue in crisis research is hindsight bias, which occurs when studies focus predominantly on tracing back the cause of failure in a crisis. Indeed, much of our knowledge is based on the (historical) reconstruction of crisis governance. We call for studies that use in-depth and real-time data on crisis governance processes, despite of its positive or negative outcome.
  • Third, we lack an encompassing model to explain the effectiveness of crisis governance. Contextual factors seem to have a large role in explaining whether crisis response is effective or not, but can we develop a more generic model that theorizes when crisis governance is effective?

We would like to challenge our fellow academics to advance our knowledge of crisis governance, and call on you to bring forth your own ideas in empirical or conceptual papers on crisis governance that address these challenges and stimulate our discussion at NEEDS4.

The track is hosted by the Leiden University Crisis Research Center (CRC) and the VU Amsterdam in collaboration with the Department of Government and the Center for Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS) at Uppsala University.


Boin, A. and P. ‘t Hart (2000). Institutional Crises and Reforms in Policy Sectors. Government Institutions: Effects, Changes and Normative Foundations, Boston, MA: Kluwer. H. Wagenaar. Boston, Kluwer Press: 9-31.

Boin, A., Kuipers, S., & Overdijk, W. (2013). Leadership in times of crisis: A framework for assessment. International Review of Public Administration18(1), 79-91.

Boin, A. (2018). The Transboundary Crisis: Why we are unprepared and the road ahead. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management.

Comfort, L. K. (2007). Crisis management in hindsight: Cognition, communication, coordination, and control. Public Administration Review67, 189-197.

Hällgren, M., Rouleau, L., & De Rond, M. (2018). A matter of life or death: How extreme context research matters for management and organization studies. Academy of Management Annals, 12(1), 111-153.

Klein, G. A. (1993). A recognition-primed decision (RPD) model of rapid decision making (pp. 138-147). New York: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Kuipers, S., & Welsh, N. H. (2017). Taxonomy of the Crisis and Disaster Literature: Themes and Types in 34 Years of Research. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy,8(4), 272-283.

Kuipers, S., & ‘t Hart, P.(2014)Accounting for Crises, Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability, 589-602

Rosenthal, U., M. Charles and P. ’t Hart. (Eds.) (1989). Coping with Crisis: The Management of Disasters, Riots and Terrorism. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas

Rosenthal, U., Boin, R. A., & Comfort, L. K. (2001). The changing world of crises and crisis management. Managing crises: Threats, dilemmas, opportunities, 5-27.

Roux‐Dufort, C. (2007). Is crisis management (only) a management of exceptions? Journal of contingencies and crisis management15(2), 105-114.

Schmidt, A., Boersma, K., & Groenewegen, P. (2018). Management strategies in response to an institutional crisis: The case of earthquakes in the Netherlands. Public Administration.

Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative science quarterly, 628-652.

Wolbers, J., Boersma, K., & Groenewegen, P. (2018). Introducing a Fragmentation Perspective on Coordination in Crisis Management. Organization Studies, 39(11), pp. 1521–1546.