Master of Public Policy   Master of International Affairs  

Organisational failure and public policy disasters

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed different degrees of vulnerability and resilience in government and public administration across many nations. We have good reason to acknowledge that public and private governance and organisational structures, when under stress, reveal latent fault-lines and weaknesses that otherwise would have remained undetected. Successful crisis management, however, rests on early warning systems and sufficient levels of preparedness – known in the related literature as high reliability requirements. The question of how and why these requirements are frequently not fulfilled (even under relatively favourable conditions) is obviously relevant when it comes to the topics of learning and prevention. This course addresses that very question by instructing students in making in-depth inquiries into complex cases of ill-fated policies and organisations, based on causal process tracing and a chosen theoretical framework. The subject is the analysis of organisational failure and public policy disasters from a variety of perspectives in an attempt to enable students to assess the risks of failure and to contribute to appropriate risk reduction and crisis management strategies.

The empirical cases to be analysed fall into three different categories:

  1. Socio-technical systems (the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010; the Fukushima accident of 2011; the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) aircraft certification process and the case of Boeing 737Max)
  2. International organisation and security agencies (the collapse of the UN mission and the subsequent genocide in Rwanda in 1994; the inability of the international community to protect the UN “safe area” Srebrenica during the Bosnian war in 1995; the failure of US security services prior to 9/11 to analyse the terrorist threat and to prevent the attack on September 11, 2001)
  3. Civil administration (the break down of disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the collapse of the CTV Building, Christchurch, during the Earthquake in New Zeeland in 2011; the fire at Grenfell Tower in London in 2017).

This course is for 2nd year MIA and MPP students only.