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Studying Humanitarian Organizations Using Common Pool Resources



Gonçalves P.


Froese Buzogany R.



Recently, natural and man-made disasters have increased in frequency and in impact and will increase fivefold in number and severity within 50 years (Thomas & Kopczak, 2005). As a result, humanitarian organizations (HOs), governments, academics and the wider community have implemented programs to mitigate damages caused by disasters (relief programs) and to improve social well-being (development programs).

This is not an easy task for HOs, due to the high number of actors, constraints imposed by donors, time pressures, delays, feedback loops and uncertainty. Interactions among actors, for instance, can create inefficiencies in performance (i.e. number of people relieved) caused by competition for media attention and funding, lack of coordination, high turnover rates and corruption. The challenge that HOs face to perform, be efficient, and to make the right decisions can make the difference between life and death.

Further, there has been little research analyzing HOs systematically, including behavioral aspects and dynamic settings. To bridge this gap in the literature, we use a common-pool resources (CPRs) perspective as a novel approach to study competition and cooperation problems in the humanitarian sector. Our approach:

  • Develop a System Dynamics (SD) simulation model of the base case
  • Design an interactive game based on the SD model to collect data while actively engaging the decision maker in the context of interest
  • Run a decision-making experiment using the game to study how people make decisions when faced with tradeoffs
  • Econometrically analyze the results to understand how the CPR approach is reflected in HOs and whether policies such as central coordination agencies and face-to-face communication could improve the system

Additional information

Start date
End date
48 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Division I - Humanities and Social Sciences