[Last amended: 16 Jun 16]


The context for my work is that I am trying to develop a mental model of operational flexibility for when the elasticity built into any plan or rule-set is not able to cope with the variation in the environment. Here is my first attempt to describe it. As you will see, the context is complex. It does not help that there are multiple definitions of all the terms that I use in the model, therefore, rather than debating every option, I intend only to define how I intend to use each.


I see a central issue as being the relationship and the movement between the components in the model. The basic components are set out in the diagram of Bricolage below. This model accepts that the variation in the environment is likely to exceed the inherent flexibility. The question then becomes "what utility is there to cope" once the elasticity of the original plan or rule-set has been exceeded.  


The question therefore becomes: "How does an organisation escalate to cope with increasingly complex  situations?"  Strand Two of this research looks at this issue. Strand 2 Part 1 looks at how we might judge the elasticity of a plan or rule set and Strand 2 Part 2 looks at providing "principles to guide decision-making" once the existing order starts to break down. Within the diagram we can see the escalation of chaos from left to right across the page. On the left is the predictable world where plans and rule-sets can be applied. Within the boxes that have the red dashed lines are the ways that we might cope with chaos. This again moves to more chaotic situations on the right side of the page.

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Risk Governance Management Specialists Web-BricolageSchema

Dimensions of Escalating Response


At this stage it appears that within any escalating response there are a number of dimensions that need to be considered.

• The first dimension is the mental approach adopted by the people involved (the decision-makers).

• The second dimension is the resources (or capabilities) available to the decision-makers.

• The third dimension is the timeframe within which the resources can be made available.

• The fourth dimension considers how the resources will be organised so that they can be most readily utilised when needed.

Once again I would suggest the adoption of a Catalytic Cube [to follow] as a way of addressing these dimensions.



Dimension One - Mental Approach


Immediately we see that Dimension One is more complex than being a simple single unified dimension. In general this dimension concerns who determines what actions are permissible and who has the authority to decide. This is a multi-faceted problem. The first facet is whether the decision-making is done centrally or is devolved to the most approximate level (labelled "decentralised") [see Crisis Coordination]. The second facet is the drivers for action. These may be divided into whether action is prescribed, whether only the aim of any action is prescribed or whether acceptable action is culturally defined.  The third facet concerns the level of risk than can be taken in order to achieve a desired end state or avoid an unwanted end state; this requires a clearly defined risk appetite.  The fourth facet is trust. That is, the trust between high level decision-makers and the operational decision-makers. This trust is built by ensuring that operational decision-makers are very highly trained and have been able to prove themselves in practice.


Traditional crisis management uses an escalatory scale of three stages. These are: [1] routine operations, [2] high tempo operations and finally [3] emergency operations. Within a perfect world paradigm the expectation is that each of these stages can be planned and pre-prepared; this approach often focuses on continuing centralised decision-making. Within a normal chaos paradigm this approach is considered to be unrealistic. Central to the normal chaos paradigm is the belief that the best way to cope with an ever changing environment is to decentralise decision making. To help those making the decisions, often under great pressure, this paradigm sees the need to offer carefully defined principles that are designed to guide decision-making. The table below tries to tabulate a possible new categorisation of escalating responses.

Web-Bk1-Mental ModelTable

Dimension Two - Resources


Dimension Two looks at the resources that are available to the decision-makers or could be made available to them. These resources could include manpower, equipment or procedures. One of the considerations here is whether the deployed teams have the skill, training, experience or endurance to use any additional capabilities. The alternative would be to deploy new teams and equipment to solve the problem being faced. It is envisaged that these resources will need to be categorised in order to make them more manageable. A provisional categorisation is set out below (the labels have yet to be decided):


Dimension Three - Timescale


Dimension Three looks at the timescale that would be required to deploy and employ existing or additional resources. Whether the timescale is measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days or weeks will depend on the nature of the problem and the solutions.


Dimension Four - Organisational Configuration


The question for this dimension is: "How may a Flexible Organisation help Operational Flexibility?" The second diagram offers the results of earlier research in how we might think about flexible organisational structures. Whether this has actual utility in this context has yet to be established.


Previous research has looked at ways of designing flexibility into an organisation. I have used Atkinson's model as part of my masters research where it proved to have great utility in a similar area of research.  As yet this dimension has not been adding into the thought experiments done so far. At this stage my mind remains open as to whether this model will help in these situations and how we may populate the table below.


An alternative approach may be to categories organisation by type.


  • Type 1 organizations (called Established) are the emergency services and other organizations having responsibilities related to the cause and the impact of the disaster. They carry out the same tasks with the same collaboration structure but may expand their conventional efforts.


  • Type 2 organizations (called Expanding) are an expansion of a collective of Type 1 organizations in the sense that a coordination structure is added. The constituent parts of the collective still carry out their regular tasks.


  • Type 3 organizations, (called Extending) such as for example bus services or hotels have no anticipated emergency responsibility, but may become involved as they can add valuable manpower, expertise and other resources.


  • Type 4 organizations are called Emergent because both what they do and how they do it are new.


As there are mark similarities between these two approaches they may, in due course, be combine in some way.