Approaching disaster management through social learning

Geoff O'Brien, Phil O'Keefe, Zaina Gadema, Jon Swords

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose Coping with and adjusting to disruptive challenges has always been a characteristic of human development. Formalisation of this has led to the emergence of a number approaches addressing disruptive challenges. Often formalised practice has a narrow focus. Increasingly complex challenges require a refocus of formalised approaches. Drawing from these approaches, the purpose of this paper is to posit that a greater focus on preparedness through pre-disaster planning is needed for a more holistic approach to disaster management. Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews the evolution of disaster management thinking and practice and proposes that changes are needed to the dominant disaster management model. These changes are drawn from a number of alternative perspectives. Based on the uncertainties surrounding complex or “wicked” problems, for example, climate change and variability, this paper develops a more holistic approach. Findings Responding to “wicked problems” requires a greater focus on preparedness. In terms of disaster risk reduction a greater emphasis on pre-disaster planning is needed driven by social learning processes. Originality/value Faced with an increasingly uncertain and complex future, current approaches to conceptualising disaster management are inadequate. This paper develops an approach that is likely to be more effective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-508
JournalDisaster Prevention and Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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