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By The Intersector Project
February 23, 2016
This Research to Practice feature from The Intersector Project focuses on a recent article published in American Review of Public Administration that explores the relationship between community social capital — broadly understood as networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular community — and the presence of formal and informal collaborations in emergency management planning.
Emergency management (EM) has evolved to rely increasingly on collaboration across federal, state and local levels of government, and the business and nonprofit sectors. In response, researchers have devoted attention to the factors that increase the likelihood and effectiveness of such collaborations – factors like form of government, the professionalism of emergency managers and more. A new study, “Social Capital and Emergency Management Planning,” aims to add to the field by examining the effects of community context on EM collaboration, particularly networks of social capital. The authors of this study envision social capital as a “community resource from which collaboration might arise.”
Key to the authors’ examination of social capital is distinguishing between networks that link individuals of differing “demographic, political and social boundaries” (bridging networks) and those that arise among similar individuals and that “reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups” (bonding networks). They ask how these factors affect capacity for collaboration, which they see as “the creation of stable relationships in planning for future and perhaps multiple crisis” rather than one-time, short-term collaborations that are likely reactive. Referencing previous research, the authors call this long-term collaboration the “soft infrastructure” of collaborative processes. The authors look at both formal and informal modes of collaboration, with formal collaboration defined as formal agreements and MOUs and informal collaboration defined as joint planning and informal cooperation. This distinction is meaningful, as a majority of EM local government managers identify informal contacts with other organizations as those most called upon in times of evacuation or other emergency.
Ultimately, this work finds that the relative presence of bridging networks in relation to bonding networks in communities makes it more likely that informal modes of collaboration will form among the many stakeholders of long-term EM planning. The authors also find that awareness of potential threats and the use of technology affect collaboration in EM planning. These findings highlight strategies for EM professionals, public officials and managers overseeing services where timely delivery after disaster is crucial, and where required responsibilities are shared among diverse stakeholders.
Takeaways for practitioners
The fabric of everyday life supports emergency response and recovery. Gaining a better understanding of the texture of everyday life and livelihoods, particularly in cities and counties where social networks span demographic, political and social categories holds great potential. It is an opportunity to learn more about the potential for social capital to increase public preparedness for disaster and readiness to collaborate. Practitioners’ accounts of witnessing such stories in action and how they accelerate emergency response and recovery in their community would be invaluable to this end.
For Further Reading
Additional reading and useful tools for EM collaboration include:
From The Intersector Project Toolkit:
From The Intersector Project Case Library:
From Intersector Insights:
Author: The Intersector Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cross-sector collaboration as a way to address society’s pressing issues. We work to provide practitioners in every sector with the tools they need to implement collaborative solutions to complex problems.