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«Crisis Decision Making Through a Shared Integrative Negotiation Mental Model Willem van Santen Catholijn Jonker TU Delft / Peak & Valley TU Delft ...»

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Van Santen et al. Crisis Decision Making through a Negotiation Mental Model

Crisis Decision Making Through a Shared

Integrative Negotiation Mental Model

Willem van Santen Catholijn Jonker

TU Delft / Peak & Valley TU Delft

w.van.santen@peakandvalley.nl c.m.jonker@tudelft.nl

Niek Wijngaards

D-CIS Lab / Thales Research & Technology Netherlands niek.wijngaards@icis.decis.nl


Decision making during crises takes place in (multi-agency) teams, in a bureaucratic political context. As a result, the common notion that during crises decision making should be done in line with a Command & Control structure is invalid. This paper shows that the best way for crisis decision making teams in a bureaucratic political context is to follow an integrative negotiation approach as the shared mental model of decision making.

This conclusion is based on an analysis of crisis decision making by teams in a bureaucratic political context.

First of all this explains why in a bureaucratic political context the Command & Control adage does not hold.

Secondly, this paper motivates why crisis decision making in such context can be seen as a negotiation process.

Further analysis of the given context shows that an assertive and cooperative approach suits crisis decision making best.

Keywords Shared Mental Models, Crisis Management Decision Making, Negotiation.


There are no hard and objective criteria that exactly define when a crisis is at hand. People use the word crisis to characterize situations or epochs that they somehow regard as extraordinary, volatile, and potentially far- reaching in their negative implications (Boin et. Al, 2005, p137-138). Rosenthal states that a crisis is a serious threat of the basic infrastructures or of fundamental values and norms of a social system. During a crisis, little time for decision making and a high level of uncertainty enforce the making of critical decisions (Rosenthal, 1984, p.25).

Traditionally, crisis management is handled from a net-centric point of departure (van de Ven et al., 2008, the Netherlands department of the interior en kingdom relations 2008, Alberts and Hayes, 2005, pp. 201-222). In this view the crisis management is best represented as a network of actors that cooperate to achieve common goals. In that network, there is a commander in chief that commands and controls the actions of the actors in the network. To be able to operate successfully in a networked crisis context, several conditions should be fulfilled.

For instance, it is important that every actor has actual and correct information, that the information is shared among all actors, that there are shared (common) goals and that actors are willing and able to work together to achieve those goals (van Santen et al, 2007; Alberts and Hayes, 2005).

Although there is a number of constant factors that characterize crises (Wybo and Latier, 2006), the nature of crises has changed over the years (Robert and Laitha, 2002). The regional scope of crises is getting larger and crises are politiziced (‘t Hart et al., 2001). To adapt to these changes and to improve the quality of the decisions during a crisis and the speed of the crisis decision making process, tools and techniques have been and are being developed to route the right information to the right place at the right time. This is done to avoid information overload of the human decision makers. Typically, these tools and techniques have a netcentric point of departure.

Evaluations of crises, however, time and again show that in and between crisis teams these netcentric conditions are not met. It appears that there is no real multidisciplinary coordination or cooperation, goals are diverse and often not shared, information is not accessible and information systems are not optimally used (Rosenthal, 1984, Rosenthal et al., 1991, Boin et al., 2005, Helsloot, 2008). Analysis of Dutch crisis management procedures have shown that rules and regulations are suboptimal for good performance of crisis management teams Boogers et Proceedings of the 6th International ISCRAM Conference – Gothenburg, Sweden, May 2009 J. Landgren, U. Nulden and B. Van de Walle, eds.

Van Santen et al. Crisis Decision Making through a Negotiation Mental Model al, 2003; Scholten, 2008). From the above, it can be concluded that there is a need to optimize the way crises are handled.

This paper focuses on crisis decision making on the above-operational levels. We argue that crisis decision making takes place in multi agency (multi disciplinary) teams in a bureaucratic political context. In a bureaucratic political reality, there is no unity of command. The multi-agency crisis management teams have characteristics of self-managing teams. For instance, such teams have no hierarchical team leader. Furthermore, we observe that in crisis decision making, although there is a common (often abstract) interest to solve the crisis, the individual interests can be so diverse that they lead to conflicting preferences and actions of participating organizations. Finally, we observe that in a crisis decision making process, each team member tends to address his1own convictions, responsibilities, goals and resources. In practice, shared or collaborative problem analysis seldom takes place (van Santen et al., 2007). Based on these observations we conclude that the Command & Control adage does not hold for these multi-agency teams.

For the above-operational levels, this paper investigates the value of multi-issue, multi-party negotiation as a description of crisis decision making in bureaucratic political context. Our analysis shows that crisis decision making in bureaucratic political context can indeed be seen as a negotiation process. As a result an assertive and cooperative approach is best suited, and crisis decision making teams should have a shared integrative model of negotiation as their dominant and shared team model of crisis decision making.

To support these claims this paper is constructed as follows. The first section focuses on bureaucratic politics in crisis management with observations from Dutch crisis management experiences. The section “A Negotiation Perspective of Crisis Decision Making” provides an analysis of crisis decision making, and emphasizes useful contributions from the negotiation field of research to crisis decision making. The section “Mental Models in Collaborative Decision Making” defines the notion of (shared) mental models in crisis decision making. The section “Mental Models of Negotiation in Crisis Decision Making” combines the notion of shared mental models for decision making in crisis decision teams with that of the appropriate negotiation theories to propose a description of a team process of crisis decision in a bureaucratic political context that is based on integrative bargaining and shared mental models. The concluding section also presents some further lines of research.


During crises, decision making processes tend to get centralized. Crisis management operations are performed on the operational level and above that operational level several decision making teams are active to analyze the situation and decide on what actions should be taken at what time. The decision making teams operate in a hierarchical structure. Each decision making team has a team leader. The team leader reports to a team leader on the next organizational level. So, for every crisis there is a suitable command and control structure with a single commander in chief at the top. The command and control approach is generally accepted as the best way to deal with time critical and complex problems.

In practice, we feel that there are features of crisis management decision making that prevent the proper working of the command and control approach. First of all, the changing nature of crises (i.e. de-regionalization and politization) demand a coordination approach of crisis management decision making (Boin et al., 2005 p 147, Helsloot 2008, Scholten, 2008). Secondly, crisis management decision making during crises takes place in (multi-agency) teams (Devitt, 2008, Boin et al., 2005, p.12). The members of these teams do not know each other very well and do certainly not work together very often. There is no hierarchical relationship between the team members and the team leader. Thirdly, the decision making process (above operational level) is spread among a number of interested parties: small crisis teams or policy centers, advisors, interest groups, etc (Rosenthal et al. 1991, ‘t Hart et al. 1993, Devitt and Borodzicz, 2008, Boin et al. 2005, p. 12, p. 43). In the multi-agency environment where the crisis takes place, every actor can have a different perception of the size, nature and content of the threat and the time constraints the crisis imposes. In fact, what some see as a threat others see as an opportunity (Rosenthal et al. 1991, ‘t Hart et al., 1993). According to Rosenthal, there is little evidence for the assumption of consensus, unanimity and solidarity in managing crises. Based on these observations, we conclude that the command and control perspective cannot represent the practice of crisis management decision making.

The main organizations involved in crisis management, i.e. police organizations or fire brigades, communities, government agencies, government departments) have a bureaucratic nature. Holsti states that in a bureaucratic environment the decision making process is heavily constrained by legal and formal norms (Holsti, 1990, 118).

These constraints enhance the rationality of decision making, but also have some disadvantages. One of these 1 ‘His’ should be interpreted as ‘his/her’.

Proceedings of the 6th International ISCRAM Conference – Gothenburg, Sweden, May 2009 J. Landgren, U. Nulden and B. Van de Walle, eds.

Van Santen et al. Crisis Decision Making through a Negotiation Mental Model disadvantages is the existence of parochial perspectives2 (where you ‘stand’ depends on where you ‘sit’). Team members feel themselves representatives of their own organizations, and not primarily member of the team.

Rosenthal has developed a theory about the way government agencies interact: bureaucratic politics, or bureaupolitics. Bureaupolitical behavior takes place in the following environment (Rosenthal et al. 1991,

Rosenthal et al. 1987, Pröpper 1993):

1. many actors in the policy-making arena

2. actors have diverging and conflicting interests

3. no one actor has overriding influence

4. decisions are inherently compromises

5. the decision outcomes tend not to anticipate the requirements for effective implementation.

According to (Rosenthal et al, 1991), bureaupolitical behavior also takes place in crisis management. And the behavior that Rosenthal described in 1991 still fits the current practice of crisis management (Boin et al, 2005, pp 48-49); Scholten, 2008; Brainich von Brainich Felt, 2004). To illustrate this, we have presented in figure 1 a short empirical scan of Dutch Crisis Management experiences. This scan indicates that the above mentioned conditions for bureaucratic political behavior are still met. As there seems to be no formal and univocal hierarchy in crisis management situations, the decision making process should be based on a coordination approach. In that process of coordination, we have to accommodate that participants show bureaupolitical behavior3.

An empirical scan of Dutch Crisis Management In June 2004, the Dutch Government presented a policy plan for improving crisis management in the Netherlands. In that policy document was stated that (Department of the

interior and Kingdom Relations, 2004, p. 34):

–  –  –

These empirical observations, which are derived from several evaluation reports of crises and disasters and our current interpretations of past observations, support the analysis in this paper. As a result of these policies, disaster management in the Netherlands aims to strengthen central control over counter measures.

Crises in the Netherlands (and also in other countries) are, when possible, handled at a local level. In the Netherlands, during crises, the overall (administrative) command rests with the coordinating mayor of the local regional community and the operational command rests with the regional operational leader (Scholten, 2008). Although this regional structure aids in centralizing crisis management decision making, there are still limitations to this 2 Although they become less dominant in times of crisis, these parochial perspectives are still relevant (Rosenthal 1993, Holsti 1990) 3 Crises impose many special demands on leaders (Devitt, 2008, Boin et al. 2005, pp 10-15). Team leaders have a large impact on team building and team performance. The team development can influence the bureaupolitical behavior of team members. These aspects are left out of scope in this paper.

Proceedings of the 6th International ISCRAM Conference – Gothenburg, Sweden, May 2009 J. Landgren, U. Nulden and B. Van de Walle, eds.

Van Santen et al. Crisis Decision Making through a Negotiation Mental Model

–  –  –

For our analysis of the interaction between team members in crisis decision making, we want to model the behavior of the members of crisis management teams. For this modeling activity we will use theories of negotiation and of mental models. In the next section first a negotiation perspective on crisis decision making is explored, after which mental models are explored that govern the behavior of the crisis decision making participants.


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