Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nongovernmental organizations in disaster and coordination: A complex adaptive systems view
by Yoder-Bontrager, Daryl, M.S., University of Delaware, 2014, 160; 1585187
Abstract (Summary)

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a major role in disasters around the world. As they carry out disaster work NGOs are often grouped together as the "NGO sector," although their varied size, scope, focus and country of origin make generalizations difficult. Coordinating NGO disaster work has been an ongoing challenge for governments and for NGOs themselves for reasons ranging from the wishes of NGO funders to uncertainty about what coordination means to competition for funds.

This thesis uses a complex adaptive system (CAS) framework to understand how NGOs may coordinate their own work. A complex adaptive system is made up of a set of independent agents that interact with each other to form a whole entity without the benefit of an explicit central control mechanism.

The qualitative study carried out semi-structured interviews with 16 NGOs active in disaster in Honduras to explore to what extent their interactions conformed to six characteristics of complex adaptive systems - 1) schemata; 2) self-organization; 3) communication and information; 4) rules; 5) learning and adaptation; and 6) aggregate outcomes, and relations with government.

Results of the interviews showed that many NGOs have multiple links among themselves with active communication channels that depend heavily on personal relationships. Interviews showed that collaboration among NGOs has increased over the past decade, although the degree of cooperation among them was inconsistent. Interviewees found it difficult to name an aggregate system-wide outcome. Government relations were found to be mixed - many NGOs had both positive and negative things to say about their relationships with government.

The NGOs were found to have both characteristics of a CAS and factors that did not fit a CAS description. NGOs must continually invest energy to maintain a system because entropic forces away from increased organization remain strong.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Trainor, Joseph
Commitee: Aguirre, Benigno E., Auger, Deborah, Comfort, Louise K.
School: University of Delaware
Department: Department of Disaster Science and Management
School Location: United States -- Delaware
Source: MAI 54/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Social research, Public policy, Organization Theory
Keywords: Complex adaptive systems, Coordination, Disaster, Nongovernmental organizations
Publication Number: 1585187
ISBN: 9781321611472
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