ICT Coordination for Disaster Relief

Research site: http://cohort.ist.psu.edu/

With Carleen Maitland, John Yen at the College of IST at Penn State and Benita Beamon, University of Washington. Dr. Tapia is currently serving as a co-PI (with PI: Maitland) under Award # CMMI-0624219 under National Science Foundation’s crosscutting Priority Area Human and Social Dynamics for the project titled “Inter-organizational decision making and organization design for improved ICT coordination in disaster relief” (award: $650,000, period: January 1, 2007 – December 31, 2009). Highly complex decision making involving multiple organizations, which have both shared and private interests, pose many challenges for organizational scholars. While agent-based simulations address some of these challenges they are often limited in studying how these different interests may influence an organization’s information sharing policies and hence inter-organizational decision making. Further, simulations are sometimes criticized for a lack of grounding in real world environments and may fail to assess the impacts of improved organizational decision making in the broader industry context.

We will address these limitations by integrating agent-based research on information sharing and decision making with a qualitative study of organization designs that influence information sharing, and analytic assessments of the industry-level performance improvements resulting from improved decision making. In particular, the research will address problems of information and communication technology (ICT) coordination in humanitarian relief, which were exemplified by the communication failures in the relief effort for hurricane Katrina. To facilitate coordination of ICT-related relief activities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a subset of the relief industry, have developed coordination bodies through which decisions are made. Our research on decision making will contribute badly needed knowledge in the critical area of disaster relief, while making fundamental advancements to theories of organization science, artificial intelligence and logistics. In particular we seek to answer the question: How do organizational designs and decision making processes for ICT-related coordination bodies in the disaster relief industry affect performance in both the organization itself and subsequently in the relief supply chain?

The research will be undertaken by a team of academics from Penn State’s interdisciplinary College of Information Sciences and Technology and the University of Washington’s (UW) Interdisciplinary Program on Humanitarian Relief (IPHR), who are joined by an international humanitarian relief consultant. This team will work on three integrated research tasks that will:

  1. Use qualitative methods to gather and analyze data on the organization designs and decision making processes of two coordination bodies,
  2. use that data to modify an agent-based architecture to perform sensitivity analyses of the effects of these designs on decision making, generating recommendations for improved designs, and
  3. employ analytic methods that use the outputs of the simulation to predict the effects of decision making improvements on disaster relief supply chain performance.

The coordination bodies who will participate in this study are the International Working Group for Emergency Capacity Building (IWG ECB), consisting of representatives from the largest relief NGOs, including CARE, Oxfam and Save the Children, among others, and HumaniNet, consisting of primarily smaller NGOs. This research will leverage existing assets of both the Penn State and UW teams, including the extension of a team-based intelligent agent architecture (R-CAST), a disaster event data set, and analytic models and frameworks for measuring relief supply chain performance.