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Making humanitarian relief networks more effective: operational coordination, trust and sense making

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Abstract

Effective coordination of humanitarian assistance activities remains elusive. This paper briefly addresses some of the reasons for what is widely perceived as a coordination dilemma in humanitarian affairs and argues for a new conceptualisation of the issue. Rather than continue to request that more authority be vested in a single organisation to secure coordination through top-down control, it contends that it may be timely to consider whether relief agencies involved in an emergency should be reconceived as social networks and efforts made to achieve changes in their organizational cultures that encourage operational coordination across institutional lines. Since such labours imply the need to trust, this article explores what forms of trust might be employed to promote improved coordination among relief institutions and how those relationships could themselves be conceptualised. Finally, while acknowledging that coordination is not costless, it suggests that its effective pursuit may be advantageous even in scenarios where aid organisations balk at cooperating to secure it.
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Keywords: coordination; humanitarian relief; sense making; social networks; trust

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Co-Director, Institute for Governance and Accountabilities, School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, US

Publication date: 01 December 2005

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