Title: Emergency decision making: an exploration of tensions between communities of practice

Authors: Sarah Redshaw; Valerie Ingham; Stephen Loftus

Addresses: Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury-Wodonga (Thurgoona) Campus, Elizabeth Mitchell Drive, P.O. Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia ' Australian Graduate School of Policing & Security, Charles Sturt University, Panorama Avenue, Bathurst NSW 2795, Australia ' Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, 400 O'Dowd Hall, 2200 North Squirrel Road, Rochester, Michigan 48309-4401, USA

Abstract: Through the lens of 'communities of practice' (Wenger, 2000) we examined decision-making boundaries and tensions in multiagency settings. Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with operational decision makers from services across Australia. Data analysis was contextual and narrative, focusing on meanings signifying cultures and practices. Results indicate that protocols and guidelines which provide boundaries for a community of practice, could at times become an obstacle. Participants reported difficulties in sharing a 'common level of understanding' and 'getting the bigger picture'. The strongest theme was the importance placed on building relationships between services prior to emergency events. We found capability of multiagency decision making is enhanced when informal multiagency networks are already in place. These networks contribute to building a shared understanding. We propose that multiagency communities of practice could be enhanced if services increased their level of formal multiagency engagement and promoted the informal multiagency networking of their members and teams.

Keywords: emergency decision making; emergency management; multiagency decision making; collaboration; communication; communities of practice; CoP; formal networks; informal networks; Australia; emergency planning; multiagency networking.

DOI: 10.1504/IJEM.2015.069517

International Journal of Emergency Management, 2015 Vol.11 No.1, pp.62 - 75

Received: 12 Mar 2014
Accepted: 06 Jan 2015

Published online: 20 May 2015 *

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