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Mission impossible: operations management in complex, extreme, and hostile environments

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2022
Number of pages250
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • van der Vaart, Taco, Supervisor, External person
  • Teunter, Ruud, Supervisor, External person
Award date31/03/2022
  • University of Groningen, SOM Research School
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This PhD thesis seeks to advance knowledge on operations management (OM) challenges and strategies for crisis management in general and humanitarian relief in particular. Although knotty crisis situations are increasing in frequency, duration, and impact, their implications for OM remain ill-understood. I use the humanitarian context as a research setting because its features inherently render it challenging. Through comprehensive empirical studies, I explore the implications of complexity, extremity, and hostility for the operations of international humanitarian organisations (IHOs).

The most crucial insights concern how contextual features impact IHOs’ decision space and outcomes. In studying complex emergencies as an exemplar phenomenon that induces complexity because of its politically charged nature, I find that inherent tensions between host government and IHOs interests lead to logistical inefficiencies for IHOs. Host government regulation and enforcement capabilities determine their nature and severity. My exploration of extremity caused by overlapping disasters leads to the curious finding that humanitarian supply networks exhibit resilience to overcome, and benefit from, unprecedented crises. Nonetheless, resilience capabilities and considerations become unsuitable as crises become long-drawn out. To explore the implications of hostility, I study operations in armed conflicts. Results show that when strategizing, the main trade-offs are cross-cutting between Humanitarian Action (HA) principles and OM performance objectives. Interestingly, the same IHO strategy leads to different results across conflicts. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that alternatives to conventional OM strategy and practices are needed in knotty contexts. The findings will be of interest to researchers and practitioners in OM, HA, and crisis management.