Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

NGO Decision-Making During Complex Disasters: An Ecological Approach

Decision-making for disaster management is particularly challenging given the urgency, stakes, and range of actors involved. Earlier studies of decision-making are dominated by positivist approaches in which models reify decisions as discrete objects and assume that decisions are made by “rational” and socio-environmentally disengaged individuals (Boholm et al., 2013; Cajilig et al., 2020). Meanwhile, there has been increasing interest in participatory approaches to decision-making for disaster management as evinced by domestic and international policy frameworks such as the Grand Bargain of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, the Sendai Framework, and the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. However, current notions of participation remain largely anthropocentric; these still do not consider the breadth of agents, humans and non-humans, that shape decision making processes. In this study, we build upon the work of those who underscore the relationality of decision-making. This proposed qualitative and ecological approach to studying decision-making apprehends decisions made within non-governmental organizations (NGOs), key actors in Philippine disaster management and development, in terms of how their effects reveal the interconnectedness of the social, political, material, affective, and environmental dimensions of disaster. This study will thus provide insight into operationalizing complexity within disaster contexts; it also highlights the ways of knowing that are essential to response-ability, the capacity to respond, within a fragile and virulent world (Barad, 2007).