The coordination‐information bubble in humanitarian response: Theoretical foundations and empirical investigations

Tina Comes, Bartel van de Walle, Luk Van Wassenhove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


Humanitarian disasters are highly dynamic and uncertain. The shifting situation, volatility of information, and the emergence of decision processes and coordination structures require humanitarian organizations to continuously adapt their operations. In this study, we aim to make headway in understanding adaptive decision-making in a dynamic interplay between changing situation, volatile information, and emerging coordination structures. Starting from theories of sensemaking, coordination, and decision-making, we present two case studies that represent the response to two different humanitarian disasters: Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the Syria Crisis, one of the most prominent ongoing conflicts. For both, we highlight how volatile information and the urge to respond via sensemaking lead to fragmentation and misalignment of emergent coordination structures and decisions, which, in turn, slow down adaptation. Based on the case studies, we derive propositions and the need to continuously align laterally between different regions and hierarchically between operational and strategic levels to avoid persistence of coordination-information bubbles. We discuss the implications of our findings for the development of methods and theory to ensure that humanitarian operations management captures the critical role of information as a driver of emergent coordination and adaptive decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2484-2507
Number of pages24
JournalProduction and Operations Management
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • adaptation
  • coordination
  • decision-making
  • humanitarian operations
  • information
  • sensemaking


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