Collaborative approaches to the post-disaster recovery of organisations

Tracy Hatton

University of Canterbury, PhD thesis, 2015


Organisations play a vital role in assisting communities to recover from disasters. They are the key providers of goods and services needed in both response and recovery efforts. They provide the employment which both anchors people to place and supports the taxation base to allow for necessary recovery spending. Finally, organisations are an integral part of much day to day functioning contributing immensely to people’s sense of ‘normality’ and psychological wellbeing. Yet, despite their overall importance in the recovery process, there are significant gaps in our existing knowledge with regard to how organisations respond and recover following disaster.

This research fills one part of this gap by examining collaboration as an adaptive strategy enacted by organisations in the Canterbury region of New Zealand, which was heavily impacted by a series of major earthquakes, occurring in 2010 and 2011. Collaboration has been extensively investigated in a variety of settings and from numerous disciplinary perspectives. However, there are few studies that investigate the role of collaborative approaches to support post-disaster business recovery. This study investigates the type of collaborations that have occurred and how they evolved as organisations reacted to the resource and environmental change caused by the disaster.

Using data collected through semi-structured interviews, survey and document analysis, a rich and detailed picture of the recovery journey is created for 26 Canterbury organisations including 14 collaborators, six non-traders, five continued traders and one new business. Collaborations included two or more individual businesses collaborating along with two multi-party, place based projects. Comparative analysis of the organisations’ experiences enabled the assessment of decisions, processes and outcomes of collaboration, as well as insight into the overall process of business recovery.

This research adopted a primarily inductive, qualitative approach, drawing from both grounded theory and case study methodologies in order to generate theory from this rich and contextually situated data. Important findings include the importance of creating an enabling context which allows organisations to lead their own recovery, the creation of a framework for effective post-disaster collaboration and the importance of considering both economic and other outcomes. Collaboration is found to be an effective strategy enabling resumption of trade at a time when there seemed few other options available. While solving this need, many collaborators have discovered significant and unexpected benefits not just in terms of long term strategy but also with regard to wellbeing. Economic outcomes were less clear-cut. However, with approximately 70% of the Central Business District demolished and rebuilding only gaining momentum in late 2014, many organisations are still in a transition stage moving towards a new ‘normal’.

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