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Social capital, administrative tradition and crisis management in the EU

The Persona project seeks to uncover and explain differences in norms and administrative systems that may impede or favour efficient cooperation in crisis management. An additional purpose is to develop alternative courses of action that may reduce those differences or possibly bridge them.

Emphasising social capital, the project presents studies of key actors and norm formation in crisis management, in order to identify how actors are affected by administrative tradition. To some extent other socio-economic factors, democratic values, attitudes to hierarchies and matters of accountability will also be considered.

The project is intended to provide a map of norms and administrative tradition, covering decision-makers within the central EU administration as well as the relevant authorities in a selection of member states.

The project is financed by MSB (the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency) and Uppsala University.




Refugee camp, Piraeus, Greece, 2016.
Photo: Sten Widmalm

How does the crisis manager react to a crisis?

Most of us are agreed that it is a good idea to coordinate the resources of the state and all its institutions when a crisis occurs. It may be a case of coordinating the Swedish Coast Guard with the Transport Agency when a hurricane is blowing up. Or the National Task Force having to work with the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority in the face of a terrorist attack. To prepare ourselves for events that cause chaos and suffering we set up bodies for emergency preparedness at national level. A large part of their work involves planning and preparing decision-makers for action in a crisis situation. There is similar collaboration and preparation for major crises between institutions of different kinds within the EU. But even if we create regulations and chains of command and train for threats of various kinds, people –individuals – are apt to act outside the “box” even if their mission is to act “rightly” or “correctly” in crises. Behaviour may be influenced by the degree of trust between colleagues, the lack of knowledge of one’s own organization and sometimes by routines that have become ingrained over the years. Sometimes this may provide the solution to a crisis. In other cases it may have disastrous consequences. But whatever the consequences, more is needed than a simple knowledge of the rules and authorities we have set up for crisis management. In actual fact we need knowledge of what other factors guide the actions of our officials. The Persona project is therefore intended to clarify the norms and administrative cultures that we know may affect individual action and outcomes in crisis situations.

We are carrying out the study in Sweden, in a number of EU countries and in the EU centrally. The knowledge gained will be used to give a better understanding of what guides the actions of our most influential decision-makers and to make us better prepared to lead and coordinate authorities affected by a crisis situation. ”Persona” actually means “character” or “mask” and describes the role, or different kinds of roles, that an individual takes: it may allude to the mask that an actor wears in a theatrical production – or the role assumed by a manager when discharging her or his duties. The point is that roles, masks and personalities together guide our behaviour. We have therefore to try to understand how they interact. It is against this background that we allow the Persona Project to be symbolized by René Magritte’s “The Pilgrim”. We ask ourselves what influences the behaviour of a manager, a supervisor or an official when the person’s position is at its most vulnerable.