DR. OGBAN OGBAN-IYAM
Department of political science
University of Nigeria,
Crises as turning points or crucial points and/or unstable conditions towards improvements or deterioration of events, processes and state of affairs, pervade nearly all, if not all aspects, our existence: in private and public spheres and in physical and non-physical “world. An understanding of a crisis and the strategies deployed for its management determine the degree and rate of deterioration or improvement that follows a crisis. The nature and dynamics of a crisis often include, among other things, a build up stage, uncertainty of possible outcome, criticality of time and issue of urgency, presence of tension, need for appropriate knowledge, location, leadership and followership, physical resources, and power relationship context of a crisis. Games and simulations of different spheres of our existence are suggested mechanisms for preparing for and enhancing crisis management
Virtually all of us have participated in the management of one crisis or another. Crises pervade nearly all aspects, if not all spheres of our lives: in the public and private sectors, at individual, family village, local government, national and international levels.
Mankind has lived daily with critical situations since the beginning of recorded history. Floods have threatened and have, in fact, swept away farmlands and populations; tires have engulfed otherwise secured human treasures; explosions have threatened and have “suddenly”” wrecked otherwise safe factories; important functionaries such as heads of families, organizations and government have suddenly died and left difficult gaps to be tilled; people have been trapped underground in mines without adequate food and air for days; leaders have had to jump out of bed to deal with military and/or civil insurrections; otherwise peaceful activities or days have been spoilt by horrific bombings, armed attacks, ethnic/religious violence, riots, earthquakes, and volcanoes; nation-states have been attacked by others without warning; unfamiliar and strange epidemics have swept across countryside, cities, national boundaries without ample warning; and otherwise healthy persons have suddenly collapsed in work places or in festive occasions. The well-known attack of the trade center in New York on September 11, 2002 and the resulting calamity is now history. The list is interminable. What has been or is done in the face of these threatsor after the disasters ha/e made great difference been life and death or between few deaths and numerous deaths; between little or no damage and devastating damage.
The outcome of these crises situations has depended a great deal on the strategies of their management.
In this paper and discourse, I shall endeavour to do two major things, namely:
- Discuss the nature and dynamics of crises, and
- The strategies of crisis management.
But before undertaking these main tasks, I shall endeavour to clarify certain terms or at least state in what sense I should be understood when I use them. And these are (a) crisis, (b) management and (c) strategies. At the end of these main tasks, I shall attempt a summary.
In this paper and discussion, I shall employ the concept “crisis” to mean: a turning point, a crucial point; a crucial point; and unstable condition in political or economic affairs in which an abrupt or decisive change is pending… a sudden change in the course of an acute disease either towards improvement or deterioration. [The Illustration Heritage Dictionary and Information Handbook, 1977:314].
It is important to note that a crisis always entails potential greater gain or loss; negative of positive direction; greater or lesser danger; safety or insecurity, etc, practice and process of giving direction as well as exercising control essentially in an interpersonal relationship (Ogban-Iyam, 1991:2). Koontz and others (1980:xx) suggest that management consists more or less of planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling. We use the concept strategy to mean:
“the science or art of military command as applied to overall planning and conduct of large scale combat; The act or skill of using strategies in politics, business, courtship or the like (Illustrated Heritage Dictionary and Information Handbook 1977: 1273); The act of planning operations in war, especially of movement of armies and navies into favourable positions for fighting; … (Hornby, Gatenby and Wakefield 1968: 997)
The critical point about strategy is the arrangement and deployment of human and material resources for the purpose of gaining an advantage over an opponent(s) and to achieve success. In this respect, there is an overlap between management and strategy. They both entail planning and deployment of resources with management being wider in scope and often embracing strategy. Strategy is a particular type of planning and deployment of resources in order to successfully prosecute a war or what amounts to a war (Ogban-Iyam 1991:3).
In this paper and discourse, a crisis management strategy means an advantageous planning and control of a crucial and/or critical situation/turning point.
It must be stated at this point that I am not dealing with crisis prevention which is a legitimate and relevant subject for serious discussion and is related to crisis management but not the same. Crisis- prevention is what most human beings try to do on a daily basis no matter how unsuccessfully.
Crisis prevention ought to be the first line of defence while crisis management is the second and last line of defence. There are a number of recurring societal upheavals: social, religious, economic, political and environmental in character which we cansuccessfully prevent at our current level of development while there are some others which we cannot prevent because either the commitment, knowledge and skills for prevention are absent or the physical resources for doing so are lacking or both. Those crises we can-prevent, we must, while those we cannot prevent, we must learn to manage well.
Unfortunately, it would appear that Nigeria has a very poor record of “crisis” prevention thus many events become subject for crisis management.
In order to manage crises well, we must have a clear understanding of the nature of a crisis.
- Nature and Dynamics of a crisis
It is my considered view that most crises, if not all, have certain common characteristics. These characteristics need to be appreciated if the appropriate strategies for their management must be found and employed. The following are some of the main characteristics:-
- build up stage;
- uncertainty of the possible outcome;
- the criticality of time/issue of urgency;
- presence of tension;
- need for appropriate knowledge;
- leadership and followership;
- physical resources; and
- power relationship context of crisis.
- Build up stage:
Turning or critical points do not just occur. They build up, however imperceptibly. Fortunately, the build up or gestation process of crisis situations are in many cases perceptible to a keen observer. However, there are a number of instances when the build up stage is virtually imperceptible. Science and technology have done much to enhance human perceptiveness. Earth movements and atmospheric changes which culminate in volcanoes, tonadoes, storms, flood and other natural crisis situations are increasingly being subjected to scientific study. However, the elements of build up stage in crisis situations have implications for the anticipation, prediction and management as we shall examine later. Another common feature of a crisis situation is the issue of uncertainty.
Most crises are marked by some degree of uncertainty about their end. No matter how prepared a doctor is about dealing with a sickle-cell anemia patient, whenever he/she has a crises, the doctor cannot be certain that the patient will survive that crisis. Similarly, even when a war, earthquake or hurricane\is anticipated, nobody is certain about the exact outcome or the extent of damage of property and loss of human lives. However, the situation is more likely to be worse if such a potential crisis situation is not anticipated. The atmosphere of uncertainty as to whether what worked in the past will still be potent is one of the elements of a crisis.
- Urgency/Criticality of Time:
In many crisis situations, time is usually of essence. Each moment counts in determining in what direction the crisis may eventually be resolved. The time of occurrence of a crisis situation may also determine how it is eventually resolved. In a number of cases, it matters whether it is night or daytime, morning or evening, beginning or end or term/session/year/tenure, etc. The application of a correct solution at an appropriate time is helpful.
Crisis situations almost always stretch human nerves and are tension situations in which human beings often loose their senses of decency and comportment in an attempt to either survive or obtain a positive result. In short, they are trying occasions even for the most disciplined persons.
- Need for Knowledge:
Another feature of a crisis situation related to uncertainty is the fact of dire need of exact knowledge of what to do. Human faculties are faced with immense challenge and are often tested to their limits. Consider when one is, for instance, confronted by an unexpected creditor when one has no money but does not want to give the impression that one cannot pay. Depending on the debtor’s knowledge and skill, he many either find a face-saying excuse or loose face for want of a satisfactory solution. The point is that in a crisis situation, one is not always sure that one knows enough to deal with the crisis.
The location of occurrence of a crisis situation may also determine how the crisis is
resolved. Is it at home, at work, in a lonely spot, a crowded place, etc? A crisis
whose resolution requires the presence of helpers may be badly resolved in a
lonely place or where ready help cannot be obtained. An earthquake in a country
where the state of science and technology is rudimentary may not only kill several
people, but may lead to a severe outbreak of diseases due to the primitive health
facilities and rescue technology. Many people survive or die in major disasters
depending On when and where such mishaps take place. Where the resources for
successful management of a crisis are available disaster has been avoided or
- Leadership and Followership:
A crisis situation which involves two or more people often calls for leadership and followership. Such a situation frequently requires one of those involved to accept or undertake the responsibility to initiate and direct action. This is because such a state of affairs is also marked by uncertainty as we had pointed out earlier. Leadership qualities are not often very widely spread-in the normal population. If within the population concerned a number of structures and leaders earmarked for dealing with such crises already exist and stand up to the occasion, all well and good. However, if this is not the case, the emergence of an appropriate leadership may make the difference. In a similar vein, an unwilling and daft followership in a crisis situation can be a liability whereas a good followership is an asset to crisis management.
- Physical Resources:
Beside the criticality of time, mental, psychic and physical energies in virtually all crisis situations, physical resources are of essence. Rarely do human beings make an substantial achievement without deploying physical resources”. Ready availability or otherwise of relevant physical resources be they drugs, guns, transport equipment, first aid equipment, sand bags, fire extinguishers, storm shelters, radiation shelters, cameras, electricity, water, alternative escape routes, food and clothing, information technologies, experts, workmen, votes alliances, stationery, etc, make a difference.
- Power Relationship Context of a Crisis:
Most crises whether or not one person or more is involved, often take place withina power relationship.
Each crisis generally affects certain strata of society more than others. As usual, some are beneficiaries while others are losers. At least, some gain or lose more than others. When it affects those who are dominant in the society, virtually all resources are mobilized to resolve the crisis in their favour whereas when it affects the less dominant group such a crisis receives less attention by the powers-that-be.
What are the implications of all these to strategies of crisis management? Among other things, the following could be deduced:- that any strategy of crisis management that is likely to lead to positive results must:
- anticipate future crisis by understanding the build-up process and prepare people in
advance for a potential crisis;
- reduce tension among those to be managed and the managers during the crisis;
- build confidence and hope in all relevant actors in the crisis management;
- generate knowledge and heighten perception in the relevant crisis mangers and
- provide the right type of leadership for and during the crisis;
- mobilize the necessary resources in dealing with the crisis; and
- generate the right kind of response from the powers-that-be and/or change power
relationship in favour of crisis management.
From the foregoing, it is fairly obvious that no single strategy is likely to be capable of meeting all the conditions – (a) to (g) – specified above. This implies that some crises are bound to be poorly managed since all the strategies are not likely to be applied simultaneously. A typical example is a crisis situation that affects the poor and those who have little or no power in society or in the world. This is the case with regular outbreak of epidemics, famine, drought, in the areas least suited and prepared to cope with these events.
We shall now proceed to deal with crisis management strategies.
2. Strategy or Strategies of Crisis Management
Human beings, we generally observe, are creatures of habit. Confronted with problems, they and I guess, other living organisms, first recourse to how they have always solved similar problems. If a problem is unlike any they have ever solved or heard or read or known how others have solved before, they are usually dumbfounded, confused, frightened and/or paralysed. Therefore, if we must solve problems easily, then we must be thoroughly exposed to how different problems have been solved and how others can be solved so that we can always have a store of possible solutions and principles to guide us.
Philosophically, one could take the position that there is no need preparing for the future since the future cannot be fully predicted. The reasoning further goes that in spite of the best preparations some unforeseen factors take place. Why then should anyone bother himself with making contingency plans? After all, in spite of elaborate preparations, one single unforeseen factor can always demobilize a whole elaborate plan, while one can point to a number of elaborate plans that have come to nothing because certain unknown forces were not taken into account, one can also point to several plans that materialized like clockwork. For those who do not have a fatalistic attitude to life, rather than throw our hands into the air in despair in the face of failed plans, our position here is that more plans should be proceeded by systematic study of the relationships among the variables that are the focus of our plans.
In this sense, there is only one strategy of crisis management being in readiness to manage crisis -the differences in tactics notwithstanding.
The Boys Scout Movement motto “Be Prepared” summaries the answer. Any motorist, who always leaves home with a good checked spare tyre, is unlikely to be stranded on a highway because of a flat tyre. Although such a motorist is unlikely to foretell when and which place a tyre can go flat at any time and his advance preparation makes him manage such a crisis easily whenever it occurs. Anyone who trivialises this example needs to be reminded of some motorist who have either lost valuables in their vehicles or their good tyres to thieves when they had to abandon their cars in search of a vulcaniser because they had no spare tyre that could enable them drive their vehicles to a vulcanizer.
The other alternative strategy of not giving thought to what is likely to happen but dealing with events as they occur is not really viable. Few, if any sane person, no matter how fatalistic or carefree, ever use this strategy. Most people plan for the future. One’s plans for the rainy day may -n0t.be very elaborate. However, it would appear that most people think about the future and prepare for it. It may be as simple as attending school or sending a child to school or to learn a trade in order to get a job, preparing for an examination, or gathering firewood and keeping it out of the rain so that future ^cooking-may be possible. It may also be as complex as preparing for an earthquake, nuclear war fare, social unrest and other natural upheavals.
Our preferred strategy of crisis management can be enhanced through the
mechanism of games and simulation.
- Games and Simulation
War games, mock battles, mock parliaments, practice football matches, the game of chess, drama scenes of certain types of marriages and governments are known by many people. These are games. There is no great distinction between games and simulation. While games may be less formal than simulation, both are attempts to represent aspects of reality in what is more or less a laboratory setting (Stokey and Zeckhauser 1978: 89).
However, games are not simulations since they are not designed to replicate some entity. They are designed as “settings” that elicit the particular kinds of behaviour, the researcher wishes to study (Raser 1969: 87). More often than not, games involve human beings while simulations involve machines. There are however, times when human beings and machines are involved. Both games and simulations are models in the sense that they are representation of aspects of reality (Ibid: 89). A model is a special way of stating a theory. According to Raser (1969: IX):
games and simulations are “means by which serious scholars approach. serious, even crucial problems by creating artificial worlds in a manner not entirely dissimilar to that of children playing house of building, a space-ship out of cardboard, cartons and chairs”.
A theory on the other hand, is a set of propositions about reality (Ibid), such propositions seek to describe, explain, interpret and predict the relationship between phenomena (Keriinger 1973; 9; Leege and Francis 1974: 5). A theory deals with aspects of reality that may not be so evident to our senses. How do models and simulations differ one may ask? Raser suggests that a simulation is an operating “model that displays process over time and that thus may develop dynamically” (Ibid: 10). Theories, models and simulations are rooted in abstraction and simplification. Modern computers have made simulation the order of the day in any serious human activity (White 1999: 77-134; IEB/EXL/0040A Microsoft Excel Base: 1999; Alistair and others 2003; and SPSS 11.0 Brief Guide).
In constructing a simulation and/or game, components and relationships relevant for understanding the aspects of reality to be simulated ate specified. Generally what is relevant or not depends also on the goal of the simulator. Perfect replication although impossible, is not even necessary. Which elements are necessary or not depend on the theory of the events and processes under study. In simulating, for instance, an earthquake, one must abstract form theory of earthquake. The main elements of the theory, if any, will readily be the guide. One can then construct a number of variations in the specified relationship in order to see other possible consequences. Various imaginable sceneries can be built and their implications studied. After all, as they say, the sky is the limit to imagination. Various aspects of management such as planning, organizing, staffing, directing and control can be specified in the process of a crisis and the possible consequences studied. When simulations and games are creatively undertaken by those who are so trained in this process subject only to the limitations posed by societal power relationship, they can be in a position to manage crises in the area in which they have been trained with games and simulations.
Nobody thinks regular practice in civil defence and by football teams and soldiers is a wasted experience. Trainers of soldiers and footballers often vary conditions and terrain of practice in anticipation of future possible encounters. Although these exercises do not guarantee success, we know that in many occasions, the results could be worse without regular practice and necessary exposure. We save more time and money and have an idea of our weakness in advance of the real situation. We also minimize learning the hard way.
If we hope to manage future national crisis successfully, games and simulation of possible crisis situations for and by crisis managers and all those concerned isa sine qua non. The task of how to construct games and simulation belongs to another paper. A number of texts are suggested in the references. We shall summarize our discussion so far.
We have tried to come to terms with the words: Crises, Strategy, Management as well as simulation and game.
Our view is that a crisis is a critical condition or a turning point in a process which could develop for better or worse.
Management is simply taken as the process of planning, organizing, staffing, coordination and control of human and material resources in order to achieve set objectives.
We took strategy to mean advantageous planning and deployment of resources in what is more or less a military or war situation.
More often than not a crisis is marked by great tension and pressure of positive results, inadequacy of time and knowledge, great uncertainty, the dire need for effective leadership and followership,; as well as an urgent need for adequate resources.
Most crises often have a build up stage such that those who care enough or are perceptive enough and have; the relevant societal power, can often nib many crisis situations in the bud or engage in crisis prevention. However, this is not always the case. Crisis managers are not always perceptive or care enough, let alone have the relevant societal power to act. Crisis management is often confounded by the fact that there are beneficiaries and losers in most crisis situations. Similarly, crises affect different people in different ways. The poor and the less powerful are bound to lose in crisis situations. The power-that -be are rarely willing to resolve the crisis in favour of the poor, particularly, if such a resolution diminishes the power of the rich and powerful.
Since a crisis situation entails a build up stage, tension, pressure on time, energy, skills, knowledge, resources, leadership and followership, for any strategy of crisis management to be -successful, it must ensure that: tension and fear are reduced if not eliminated; knowledge, skill, material resources are mobilized; and that adequate leadership and followership emerge during a crisis situation. In addition, those who are likely to be adversely affected and who must have the crisis resolved in their favour must have commensurate power and authority to bear on the managers of the crisis situation.
We dealt at length, with what we considered the strategy of crisis management (which is a manner of planning, organizing, staffing, coordinating, directing and controlling a critical situation which in turn reduces paralyzing fear and tension, mobilizes the physical resources available, brings forth effective leadership and followership, mobilizes knowledge and skill and ensures that managers of crisis situations possess power commensurate with their responsibility.
Although strictly speaking, there is no one best strategy for managing all types of crises; my preferred strategy of crisis management is full anticipation and preparation for a crisis. In other words, we need to adopt the attitude that crisis situations are bound to occur. Not to do this and expect such situations to be properly managed is to live in a fool’s paradise. Even though the future cannot be fully predicted, we must be prepared to deal with the uncommon and undesirable at all times as much as we can. If we take the past seriously and realise that, plus or minus, past phenomena re-occur, we can better manage crisis situations.
The mechanism for ensuring that this strategy is adopted is by the process of gaming and simulation by and/or for relevant actors and managers in anticipation of crisis situations. This has to be so because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Only those who have been trained and prepared to anticipate and prepare for crisis management are likely to manage crisis effectively.
However, even with the best type of training in gaming and simulation of crises and crises management, it would generally be found that the power relationship among people determine in whose favour a crisis situation is resolved (usually in favour of the dominant few). This is particularly so in the Nigerian experience.
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