Disaster management leadership and policy making: a critical examination of communitarian and individualistic understandings of resilience and vulnerability

A photograph of a man sitting at a desk looking at two computer monitors, wearing a headset with a microphone.

This event is being organised and run by the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet)

Many policy makers today accept that climate change poses substantial risks to human and natural systems and that effective adaptation is essential. An important element of adaptation policy making and disaster risk management is how to best combine individual with communitarian approaches to resilience building. The difficulty for effective leadership in this effort resides in comprehending various understandings of, and approaches to, resilience and their real-life consequences for affected populations to deal with disasters induced by climate change.

Here, we conduct a comparative analysis of 89 influential disaster management leaders in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. We examine the extent to which their perspectives on resilience and vulnerability are framed by either communitarian or individual-focused notions. Our quantitative analysis of an initial questionnaire and subsequent content analysis of interview transcripts indicate three core findings.

Firstly, a tendency towards a communitarian understanding of resilience emerging from the questionnaire was replaced by a more diverse picture during the interviews, including a stronger focus on individual resilience.

Secondly, most leaders asserted it was reasonable to expect citizens to be resilient to climate change, particularly when feeling overwhelmed by their responsibility for providing protection during extreme events.

Finally, world views among leaders that encourage individual responsibility occluded systemic or reflexive thinking and action to minimise loss. Our study highlights the need for a relational leadership framework underpinned by an ethic of compassion that supports leaders pursuing and implementing policies that reduce harm and suffering in the face of disasters influenced by climate change.

About the Speaker

Mark Crossweller has 36 years of experience in crisis, national security, and emergency management, leading major strategic reform in governance, strategy, policy, operations, and capability. Between 2012-2019 Mark was responsible for briefing the Prime Minister and Cabinet on disaster management and providing strategic policy advice on climate and disaster risk reduction and resilience.

Mark is now the Founder and Director of Ethical Intelligence and Senior Advisor to KPMG advising on climate and disaster risk and leadership ethics. He is currently finalising his PhD research on the ethical premise of leading people through the adversity and loss of disasters.

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This seminar presentation is in-person only

Image credit: Photo by CDC(USA) on Unsplash