Structures for collaboration and networked adaptation: Emerging themes from the COVID-19 pandemic
Keywords:COVID-19, cross-sectoral collaboration, coordination, wicked problems
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that is “creeping” in its onset and “slow-burning” in its duration. It is characterized by extreme uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity, presenting an unprecedented need for response across sectors and political-administrative levels. While there has been an explosion of research papers into the national strategies for handling the pandemic, empirical publications on the local and regional management are still scarce. This paper presents early empirical insights into key collaborative functions in Norway and Sweden, with an ambition to contribute to a research agenda focusing on the collaborative practices of pandemic crisis management. Our findings point to a set of themes that are all related to emerging collaborative structures, that fill holes in pre-established structures for dealing with crises, and that have been important for being able to effectively deal with the pandemic. At the municipal and regional levels, we see more examples of well-adapted collaborative practices than we see the wickedness of the problem causing inertia and paralysis. However, the emergence of new structures indicates a need to adapt organizational structures to the existing problem, and the duration of the current crisis allows for significant evolution of collaborative structures within the various phases of the pandemic. The lessons that can be drawn from this reveal a need for reconsideration of some of the basic assumptions of crisis research and practice, in particular the so-called similarity principle that is a cornerstone of emergency preparedness organization in many countries, including Norway and Sweden.
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