Competence Development of Crisis Managers


Competence Development of Crisis Managers

In unserem EU-geförderten Entwicklungsprojekt PsyCris (PSYcho-social Support in CRISis Management), über das ich schon berichtet hatte,  haben wir uns zum Ziel gesetzt, die Kompetenzen von Krisenmanagern, z.B. bei Flugzeugabstürzen, Überschwemmungen, Lawinenunglücken oder Terrorattacken, systematisch zu entwickeln. Die Zielgruppe ist hauptberuflich oder im Nebenberuf mit der Leitung von Kriseneinsätzen befasst, z.B. im Rahmen des Roten Kreuzes und der Feuerwehr, aber auch in politischen und militärischen Funktionen oder in Behörden. Die besonderen Herausforderungen in diesem Projekt liegen in den aussergewöhnlich  hohen Kompetenzanforderungen zur Bewältigung von Herausforderungen unter extremem Stress, Zeitdruck, physischen und psychischen Belastungen und dem Zwang, Entscheidungen über Leben und Tod zu treffen, obwohl nur ein kleiner Teil der notwendigen Informationen vorliegt.

Es leuchtet jedem ein, dass dafür Wissen und Qualifikation nicht ausreichen. Es werden Kompetenzen benötigt, die Fähigkeit, solche extrem schwierigen Herausforderungen selbstorganisiert und kreativ lösen zu können. Wir sind in diesem Entwicklungsprozess aber auch zum Ergebnis gekommen, dass sich diese Herausforderungen, wenn auch in geringeren Ausprägungen, ebenso im Prozess der Arbeit und des Führens wieder finden. Deshalb werden wir wesentliche Erfahrungen, die wir nunmehr in den Pilotprojekten mit diesem Kompetenzentwicklungs-System sammeln, auf die Lernarrangements in unseren Unternehmensprojekten übertragen.

Die Arbeitssprache in diesem internationalen Projekt mit Psychologen und Krisenexperten aus Israel, Spanien, Litauen, Norwegen, USA, Luxemburg, Österreich und Deutschland ist englisch. Deshalb ist die folgende Beschreibung der Konzeption, die wir nunmehr erproben, in englischer Sprache gehalten.

Extract of „Proceedings of the ISCRAM 2015 Conference – Kristiansand, May 24-27“

Competence Development of Crisis Managers at the Workplace

Based on interviews with European crisis managers and other stakeholders, we identified specific learning requirements regarding psycho-social support in disaster management. Focusing on competence development, the underlying concept emphasizes peer-like exchanges and self-directed learning rather than passive, externally organized training methods. For that purpose a social learning platform is being developed in combination with competence development modules tailored to the needs of crisis managers. The envisioned social learning platform utilizes blended learning and social learning concepts and technologies to facilitate knowledge building, adapted and customized to the needs of the crisis managers. End-user requirements will be individually assessed in order to generate up-to-date content.

Crisis managers face additional stressors during a disaster exactly because of their leadership responsibilities (cf., Regehr and Bober, 2005). As these managers are involved in initializing PSS measures for victims and first responders alike, they have a key role when it comes to PSS in all phases of a disaster. Their knowledge about and attitude towards PSS will influence not only the structures they work in but also the larger community involved in the respective disaster situation (cf., Haus, Adler and Duschek, in press). Another aspect in the field of PSS is the need to involve, for example, public authorities, self-help groups, public health institutions, and other stakeholders to different degrees during the various phases following a disaster. Hence, crisis managers also need to be in a position to consider a disaster scenario from the perspective of different stakeholders (cf., Shrivastava et al., 2012).


In order to learn more about the actual training needs and learning requirements of crisis managers we conducted 34 extensive interviews with disaster managers from Austria, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Spain. Overall, it became apparent that there is need not only for more information and education but also a need for more offers for managers themselves as well as their staff. Not surprisingly, improvements on a system level are wished for (standards, structures, financing, communication) and more trainings and competence building measures in general. Concerning learning processes in particular, crisis managers expressed the following interests:

  • Reflections of in-depth analyses after operations
  • Learning from good and bad practices
  • (Real) case studies and simulations
  • More international exchange, specifically, learning from experiences with large- scale disasters in other countries

In other words, learning from each other was a common theme.


From the above, and from additional exchanges with stakeholders and potential end-users, we could confirm our initial hypothesis that an adequate and acceptable concept to foster competence building for crisis managers needs a shift from passive, externally organized instructions to self-organized learning. More precisely, such a concept would

  • utilise and value the experiences and expertise of the managers themselves,
  • facilitate peer exchanges in a trusting learning environment,
  • enable exchanges and communication on a national, but also international level,
  • use practical and relevant learning material
  • be flexible in content (to account for the different requirements in different countries, and also for the rather diverse target group), and finally
  • be flexible when it comes to usability (thus being compatible with daily work and ongoing responsibilities).

Based on foreground, we pursued an approach combining principles of blended learning and social learning at the workplace. The social learning platform will be internet-based in order to allow optimal accessibility, also across borders. In that way, a learning environment is offered that combines practical, problem-oriented workshops with periods of self-directed online learning and communication and workplace learning. This blended learning approach shows its advantages in greater flexibility: less dependence on the time constraints of trainers and trainees, more time for reflection, and meeting different needs and learning styles (Caravias, 2014).

One particular focus has been placed on competence building through relational (and possibly international) embeddedness (Anderson, Forsgren, and Holm, 2002). Under the assumption that competences are best developed via peer-like exchanges, the concept of learning partnerships has been considered fundamental in the development process of this learning environment. Taken together, we follow the overall trend in vocational learning that reconnects learning processes to workplace and practice, taking into account the significance of social and more informal learning processes (Sauter and Sauter, 2013).


Capitalising on the possibilities of “Web 2.0”, the learning environment benefits from today’s social communication, networking and information features, such as: blogging, forums, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, podcast or RSS feeds. Individual E-portfolios support the documentation of one’s learning processes and competence development (“learning career”). Concerning surface and content structure, multimedia instructional design principles as described for example in Zhang, Wang, Zhao, Li and Lou (2008) are considered.

We developed a overall framework, set-up and methods of the platform’s underlying structure. The circular layout indicates how the self-organized learning process is connected to a learning community, which gets supported by different tools for organising the learning process and modules, the feedback and individual (self-)assessment. The envisioned results are two to some extent independent “products”. In the qualification part, crisis managers can acquire relevant, supplementary knowledge depending on their requirements through a number of methods (e.g., case studies, more formal E-learning, etc.). The envisioned competence development thrives on the social and informal learning processes and the emerging community of practice.

Drawing on Wulf, Brands and Meissner (2010), who investigated how a scenario-based approach can be used to facilitate strategic planning, the platform uses case studies of previous disasters in order to elicit concrete problems as well as lessons learnt based on the disaster managers’ experiences. In addition, these case studies include links to supplementary information, allowing the crisis managers to deepen their understanding of that particular case or specific aspects within it. The insights gained are further discussed and reflected upon during face-to-face workshops, webinars, and via self-directed learning.

Under the assumption that crisis managers would benefit most from peer-like exchanges to develop their competences further, we suggest to encourage the formation of learning partnerships of at least two trainees. Their learning arrangement may be defined by mutual agreements regarding their learning requirements. We further suggest assigning an additional e-coach to scaffold the learning process. The envisioned internet-based concept would allow each learning partnership to stay in constant communication, either amongst themselves or with a defined learning community and their e-coach. Hence, the platform not only functions as a virtual classroom, but also as a forum where questions, reflections and achievements may be discussed with other experts. The learners would also have the opportunity to receive on-going feedback and support in order to optimise their individual learning strategies.

Following the initial case study phase, the learners are presented with the possibility to transfer their individual reflections directly into their existing working environment in order to further deepen their knowledge. The underlying idea is for the learner to explore how the newly gained insight could be adapted to the respective structures. In yet another step, the learner could try to implement new aspects that came as a result of the training so far, during a practical exercise to put them to the test. For these stages we also envision the platform to be a valuable space to exchange experiences and to create new customized knowledge.

In fact, we expect that the described social learning concept may build a community of practice (expert network) and fosters team building in which new information can continuously be fed back into the process, rendering the platform a dynamic, self-updating learning environment.

P.S. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 312395.

OTHER CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS of ISCRAM 2015 (Proceedings of the ISCRAM 2015 Conference – Kristiansand, May 24-27)
Christine (Tine) Adler
Jona Meyer
Maria Hagl
Margit Raich


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