Studying Organizationally-situated Improvisation in Response to Extreme Events

August 2004 (VOL. 22, NO. 2)

Download this article

Extreme events such as large-scale natural disasters create the need for cooperation within and among responding organizations. Activities to mitigate the effects of these events can be expected to range from planned to improvise. This paper presents a methodology for describing both the context and substance of improvisation during the response phase. The context is described by (i) analyzing communication patterns among personnel in and among responding organizations and (ii) determining the appropriateness of existing plans to the event. The Substance of improvisation within this context is described by modeling the behavior and cognition of response personnel. Application of the methodology leads to descriptions of improvisation and its context that may be stored in machine-readable format for use either by researchers, responding organizations or designers of computer-based tools to support improvised decision making. Data collection strategies for implementing the methodology are discussed and selected steps illustrated using a data set from a large-scale natural disaster.