Organisational resilience after the Canterbury earthquakes: A contextual approach

Joanne R. Stevenson

University of Canterbury, PhD thesis, 2014


Following a disaster, an organisation’s ability to recover is influenced by its internal capacities, but also by the people, organisations, and places to which it is connected. Current approaches to organisational resilience tend to focus predominantly on an organisation’s internal capacities and do not adequately consider the place-based contexts and networks in which it is embedded. This thesis explores how organisations’ connections may both hinder and enable organisational resilience. Organisations in the Canterbury region of New Zealand experienced significant and repeated disruptions as a result of two major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks throughout 2010 and 2011. This thesis draws upon 32 case studies of organisations located in three severely damaged town centres in Canterbury to assess the influence that organisations’ place-based connections and relational networks had on their post-earthquake trajectories. The research has four objectives: 1) to examine the ways organisations connected to their local contexts both before and after the earthquakes, 2) to explore the characteristics of the formal and informal networks organisations used to aid their response and recovery, 3) to identify the ways organisations’ connections to their local contexts and support networks influenced their ability to recover following the earthquakes, and finally, 4) to develop approaches to assess resilience that consider these extra-organisational connections. The thesis contests the fiction that organisations recover and adapt independently from their contexts following disasters. Although organisations have a set of internal capacities that enable their post-disaster recovery, they are embedded within external structures that constrain and enable their adaptive options following a disaster. An approach which considers organisations’ contexts and networks as potential sources of organisational resilience has both conceptual and practical value. Refining our understanding of the influence of extra-organisational connections can improve our ability to explain variability in organisational outcomes following disasters and foster new ways to develop and manage organisational resilience.

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