Modern societies are increasingly threatened by disasters that require rapid response through ad-hoc collaboration among a variety of actors and organizations. The complexity within and across today's soci¬etal, eco¬nomic and environmental sys¬tems de¬fies accurate predictions and assessments of damages, humanitarian needs, and the impact of aid. Yet, decision-makers need to plan, manage and execute aid response under conditions of high uncertainty while being prepared for further disruptions and failures. This paper argues that these challenges require a paradigm shift: instead of seeking optimality and full efficiency of procedures and plans, strategies should be developed that enable an acceptable level of aid under all fore¬seeable eventualities. We propose a decision- and goal-oriented approach that uses scenarios to systematically explore future developments that may have a major impact on the out-come of a decision. We discuss to what extent this approach supports robust decision-mak¬ing, particularly if time is short and the availability of experts is limited. We interlace our theoretical findings with insights from experienced humanitarian decision makers we interviewed during a field research trip to the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
Dr. Bartel Van de Walle is Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Tilburg School of Economics and Management at Tilburg University (the Netherlands). He served as a staff advisor on innovation and science policy to the Flemish minister of science and innovation and is board member of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO). His main research interests are in information and communication systems and (humanitarian) crisis management. Bartel is President of the Board of the international Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) Association since 2009.