According to the research, which was funded by ESRC, the key to an effective response to environmental crises lies in social and relationship factors, as much as in technical efficiency and strong leadership. The researchers found that organisations that make use of informal contact networks to build mutual trust are more flexible and are better equipped to deal with surprise shocks than those that rely on a rigid and more formal communications system.
"If we take the risk of rapid climate change seriously we must be sure that organisations are able to change and adapt," says Dr Mark Pelling, who led the research. "For example, a small investment in developing informal communications networks and valuing individuals with these skills could significantly improve their effectiveness," he said. "Perhaps it is time to rethink job descriptions."
The findings of the project, which was part of the ESRC Environment and Human Behaviour Programme, were based on the response of three stakeholder groups in the UK agricultural sector to the BSE and foot and mouth crises and examined how they might deal with possible future abrupt climate change.
The groups included scientific officers at DEFRA, representatives of the Environment Agency and the Welsh Assembly and members of a dairy farmers' cooperative. The data collected from interviews, focus groups and workshops suggested that informal networking between people in different organisations broadened their knowledge and understanding, as well as establishing trust which could enable decisions to be taken more quickly in emergencies.
Contact: Becky Gammon
Economic & Social Research Council