New research: Organisational responses to dilemmas and emergencies

New research: Organisational responses to dilemmas and emergencies

In this the first of a three part posting I will look at an interesting and useful large-scale research study examining how the emergency services cope with difficult incidents in Europe. The paper has just been published by researchers from Central Michigan University and the University of Illinois.

Part 1 (this part) The dilemmas organisations face

Part 2 The 6 ways organisations deal with dilemmas

Part 3 Press and balance

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The study is particularly interesting because it looks at the organisational responses to dilemmas, rather than the individual responses on the ground.


Part of the dilemma organisations face with difficult and complex situations that require a novel response is that they have to bring together different elements of the organisation that each have different perspectives, cultures and aims. Additionally, to make the situation more complex they also often have to work with outside agencies, professionals and others to solve these new and difficult situations. This doesn’t just apply to the emergency services, a lot of the organisations I work for also often have to combine with and collaborate with departments and outsiders like consultants and clients in order to solve the more intractable problems and dilemmas.


Once this form of ‘multi-agency’ approach is needed to solve a problem a secondary set of issues arises such as competing or conflicting goals, demands and perspectives. Even just inside an organisation the cross-organisational differences of perception and response to situations create tensions, paradoxes and secondary order dilemmas.

This study looked at how organisations deal with these secondary order tensions, paradoxes and dilemmas created by the need to respond to the original, more complex and pressing situations they are trying to solve. These types of situations are rife in the emergency services, especially when dealing with problems that one service on their own can’t solve. An example would be abuse cases where a range of agencies like social services, housing, charities, police, medical services etc. all need to have a unified response.

Next post: The 6 ways organisations deal with dilemmas

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page

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