Predicting future crisis through change-pattern recognition
Change, in all of its forms, is certainly an inherent feature of societal development. As well adapted as we might be to our surrounding environment and habits this is, nonetheless, a temporary situation that is either in the course of changing, or is about to change. Understanding and predicting change is as important as handling it and controlling its outcomes. Predictive analysis in times of crisis becomes the lifeboat that will safely carry its passengers ashore.
Understanding current changes
Pinpointing the meaning and course taken by contemporary changes is a shot in the dark situation, blurred not only by incomplete access to information but also by the interfering subjectivity of those involved. Thus, it becomes obvious why some current controversies are repeatedly failing to be dealt with, such as the global warming battle. These cases also highlight the impossibility to grasp the real outcomes these changes will bring along. If the results of global warming, for example, could be envisioned before they will come into existence, perhaps more contra-reactive measures would be imposed to reduce the effects of the aftermath.
The question that arises, at this point, is where and how does a company fit into this context? An organization today is infinitely more exposed and more sensitive to changes than the individual is. Therefore, it should be prepared to face not only internal crisis, which crisis management mainly focuses on, but should also be aware of all the potential external crisis lurking around the corner.
The importance of the change pattern
When changes occur, which they do, they disrupt the status quo equilibrium and measures need to follow in order to readjust the situation and reach a renewed state of balance. Predicting and preparing for changes will not prevent them from happening, will not even guarantee success but they will, however, reduce the time of reaction and eliminate the surprise element which produces confusion during the decision-making process.
The change sequence pattern tells us that things happen in a cycle of linked events. Furthermore, each type or sub-type of change enables a prediction of additional patterns of societal response to change, namely, uniformities of societal behavior in relation to change. By knowing the pertaining culture of an organization, the surrounding environment and its extremes, any leadership team can gain a greater control of changes that are yet to happen.
Types of change and stages of development
There are four types of changes known to man, as provided by Lowell Juilliard Carr in Disaster and the Sequence-Pattern Concept of Social Change, namely population changes, cultural changes, relational changes and, finally, catastrophic changes.
No matter what type we are dealing with, comparative and analytical studies, such as the above-mentioned paper, have brought to surface a sequential pattern that each change brings along. It consists of 4 individual phases that reoccur with every change. The initial phase of change is called a precipitating or initiating event and it is considered to be the trigger that enfolds the ensuing episodes. The trigger event disrupts the balance. This is the second phase, entitled dislocated adjustment. Traditionally, this stage is the one that, ultimately, makes the difference between successfully controlling such a situation and completely failing to grasp it. It is a phase of confusion, nonetheless, when true, good leadership becomes obvious and indispensable. The following phases refer to readjustment and renewed equilibrium and are heavily dependent on how the second stage had been dealt with.
The dislocated adjustment phase
Catastrophes, whether man induced or natural, are the single events that clearly highlight the sequences recognized in change patterns, mostly due to the reduced timeframe between event occurrence, action and reaction.
The tragedy surrounding the World Trade Center event has cast, at some extent, a shadow on the prompt reaction of the New York emergency response departments. However, their crisis management strategies have reduced, even if to a small extent, the proportions of an even greater disaster. The 2015 Sewol ferry capsizing, however, is an example of the impairing consequences that slow response to change brings along. Because authorities were unprepared and reacted slowly, the possible search and rescue operation was compromised.
The above examples, although unconnected, reveal, in the case of change pattern analysis, the result brought forth by reactions to the second phase, the dislocated adjustment sequence. In the first case, the time since the triggering event occurred until the time when corrective measures were taken was extremely little. Hence, the situation was handled as best as it could have been in this given case and the level of preparation for such events was satisfactory. In the Sewol ferry case, however, the time of reaction was large, the level of confusion was high and the measures taken failed to reduce the extent of the catastrophe.
The conclusion that arises from these events is, as Carr points out, that “the manner of reaction after any type of change relies on a society’s culture, morale, leadership in addition to the speed, scope, complexity and violence of change.”
Change control challenges
Some might question as to why the focus in the change pattern isn’t concentrated on the triggering event, the first phase that generates and drives the change. The argument here is that the driver of contemporary changes is very hard to pinpoint.
Even though, in some cases, such as natural calamities, this driver is obvious, in most cases it remains hidden. The precipitating event can be represented by everything from a declaration of war to something less obvious, like a birth, a death or a public speech. For this reason, statistical analysis of historical data is of no predictive value, as it cannot rely on past events and experiences.
Although no organization or any other entity can prevent all changes from taking place and disrupting their equilibrium, some measures can be set in place to increase the level of preparation, to reduce the time of response and to make the right decisions at the proper time. However, it is impossible to sketch a standardized strategy of response to suit all types of changes, as aspects may vary according to culture, geography and nature of the occurring change.
A change management framework
The EU provides an extensive framework of its attempt to control, as much as possible, events that have not happened yet, in its 2012 Improving aftermath crisis management in the European Union report. The purpose is to “reinforce effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and visibility of EU disaster response, shifting from ad hoc response to a (more) predictable, pre-planned, pre-arranged system.”
The report provides a framework and further recommendations for an extended range of possible changes that might strike EU’s nations in the future, alongside preventive measures, reactive measures and so on. However, EU’s Crisis Management Commission points out that its plan is, and must remain, flexible, in order to continuously incorporate new strategies, new techniques and technologies as they are developed and tested.
Ultimately, change is unavoidable and it will eventually strike. What happens next, however, can be controlled, either successfully or not. Preparation is the central idea in such cases, as it will close the gaps between the time when change happens and the time when measures are being taken. Additionally, preparation and the existence of a coherent strategy reduce the pressure of the moment and eliminate the confusion surrounding unexpected events. Thus, decisions implemented further-on will, more likely, provide the desired results.
- Boin, R., A. (2008), Crisis Management, SAGE Publications Ltd
- Improving aftermath crisis management in the European Union, Institute for Environment and Human Security, United Nations University