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Cursus: 202100089
Crisis Management in Technological Domains
Cursus informatie
Studiepunten (ECTS)5
Contactpersoonprof.dr. R. Torenvlied
Contactpersoon van de cursus
prof.dr. R. Torenvlied
prof.dr. R. Torenvlied
AanmeldingsprocedureZelf aanmelden via OSIRIS Student
Inschrijven via OSIRISJa
This course is intended for master students in the engineering sciences and social sciences alike who are interested in the ways errors, unexpected events, and crises are managed. Technologies and innovations bring great promises but can also be prone to unexpected events. When handled in specific social and organizational contexts, technologies produce adverse events that may, eventually, turn into a crisis with profound societal impact. Some scholars argue that we live in a “risk society” and must accept adverse events given our limited capacity to control the world. Other scholars focus on natural hazards, such as: volcano eruptions, tornados, or tsunami hazards. In the present course we focus on applications of technology in social and organizational contexts that helps us: (a) understand the root causes of crises in technological domains, and (b) foster a smart design for crisis prevention and crisis response.
The present course learns students:
  1. to understand and analyze the root causes of crises in technological domains from an integrated public management—technology perspective.
    1. Students learn to understand and analyze the asymmetrically distributed benefits and costs/ risks of technologies that make specific populations in society more vulnerable to errors, unexpected adverse events, and crises. (Societal level).
    2. Students learn to understand and analyze human error, conflicts of interest, myopic behaviors, and organizational defects in applications of technology that result in a crisis. (Organizational level).
    3. Students can evaluate the root causes of a specific crisis event based on their analytical understanding.
  2. to understand and analyze the effective design of (crisis management) organizations that enable the prevention of (and response to) errors, unexpected events, and crises in technological domains.
    1. Students learn to understand and analyze the design of public management systems/ organizations that can effectively manage human error and unexpected events (Societal and organizational levels).
    2. Students learn to understand and analyze the design of effective crisis management systems (societal level).
    3. Students can evaluate the public management/ organizational design for crisis prevention and response in a specific crisis event, based on their analytical understanding.
Adverse events and technological advancement. Technologies and innovations aim to foster the improvement of human condition. Although this is true for many technologies/ innovations and for different technological domains, there is a downside: technologies sometimes produce adverse events. When an adverse event has a profound societal impact and when the event thwarts existing decision-making structures, it will turn into a crisis, threatening the legitimacy of the technology and the system it uses.
Examples. With the rise of advanced technologies and complex interdependencies between sectors, crises nowadays have become a “new normal.” Examples are abundant. Students in mechanical engineering may think about the malfunctioning software system in the Boeing 737MAX that resulted in two air crashes in 2018/19 and a grounding of the plane for multiple years. They may also think about the space shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003 that put an end to the U.S. space program for decades. Students in civil engineering may think about the Morande bridge collapse in Italy in 2018, or about the devastating collapse of an apartment building in Miami in 2021. In the field of chemical engineering an example is the 1984 Bhopal Union Carbide pesticide plant explosion. All these events have in common that technologies were embedded in societal and organizational context that made them potentially harmful. Students in advanced technology may think about the design errors that resulted in the Three-Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011) nuclear disasters. Students in technical medicine, bio-medical engineering or health sciences may think about the Covid-19 pandemic crisis response (2020/21), medical incidents, or the recall of Philips CPAP devices because of carcinogenic polyurethane materials (2021). Students in computer science may think about responses to cyber attacks on industries, public organizations, and public utilities.
These examples are neither exhaustive nor exclusive for engineering studies; they are as meaningful for students in the social sciences alike. For example, the industry-wide implementation of bypass software for exhaust tests in diesel cars was an unprecedented scandal. It involved (tacit) collusion between automobile manufacturers and (inter)national regulatory agencies that was revealed in 2015. The implementation by the Dutch tax authority of highly restrictive anti-fraud regulation, in combination with biased and automated (ethnic) profiling, resulted in the impoverishment of thousands of citizens and the fall of the Dutch cabinet in 2021.
Public (crisis) management approach. Public management is the subfield of public administration that studies the functioning of government systems. In modern government systems politics interacts with bureaucracy, public sectors, and industries. Taking an organizational and inter-organizational perspective, public management explains the performance of government and public agencies. Public management helps to understand how government structures shape crisis prevention (through regulatory agencies and inspectorates) and respond to crisis (through organizing for crisis management). In the present course we integrate a public management perspective with a technological perspective to design organizational structures that effectively prevent and respond to crises in technological domains.
Design of the course. The course consists of three main parts.
  1. The first part provides students with a macro perspective on technological development from a public – private perspective. You will learn that the benefits of societal risks and their costs are unequally distributed. Governments (the public) often pay the costs for technological development and bear the risks of failing technologies. By contrast, the private sector often obtains the benefits of technological development and shies away from risks, that are passed on to consumers and citizens. This has profound implications for the capacity of technological domains to avoid catastrophes by self-organization, balancing with needs for government oversight and inspection.
  2. The second part provides students with an (inter-)organizational design perspective on crisis prevention, preparation, and response. You will learn why some ways of organizing prepares us much better for dealing with unexpected events than other ways. This organizing implies trade-offs between efficient serial programming of organizational decision-making and, more corrective, parallel programming of organizational decision-making. Crisis prevention requires organizational ‘mindfulness’: a preoccupation with potential failure. We also study alternative ways to organize for crisis response, addressing the fundamental trade-off between central coordination and room for local improvisation.
  3. The third part is woven through the two other parts. In this part you will perform a case study of a particular crisis event of your choice. This enables you to choose a subject in a technological domain of your interest. Using the knowledge and analytical skills you obtain in the first two parts you will be able to fully evaluate the process that has led to the crisis and to the effectiveness of the crisis response. Through weekly assignments (formative) you build towards a full case study report that serves as the final (graded) assignment of the course.
Participating study
Master Public Administration
Verplicht materiaal
Mazzucato, Mariana. 2018. The Entepreneurial State: Debunking Public versus Private Sector Myths. Second edition. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-98610-4. (or 2015 book). € 10.
Weick, Karl E. and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. 2015. Managing the Unexpected: Sustained Performance in a Complex World. 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-86241-4. € 22.
Torenvlied, René. 2021. Reader Crisis Management in Technological Domains. Collection of articles to be announced through canvas.
Course material
Crisis evaluation reports and documentation to be collected for your case study.
Aanbevolen materiaal
Rainey, Hal. G. Understanding and Managing Public Organizations. Fifth Edition. San Francisco: Wiley and Sons.
Dekker, Sidney. 2011. Drift into Failure: From Hunting Broken Components to Understanding Complex Systems. Franham, U.K.: Ashgate.
Torenvlied R., E. Giebels, R.A. Wessel, J.M. Gutteling, M. Moorkamp en W. Broekema. 2015. Rapport Evaluatie Nationale Crisisbeheersingsorganisatie Vlucht MH17. [Report Evaluation National Crisis Management Organization Flight MH17]. Den Haag: WODC/ Enschede: University of Twente. (in Dutch, available online).
Vollenhoven, Pieter van. 2019. Een Kritische Waakhond voor de Veiligheid? Reacties op een Brief. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans. (in Dutch, available online).


Individual assignments

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