Policy and behavior in humanitarian organizations


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Policy and behavior in humanitarian organizations the institutional origins of operational dysfunction
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vii, 232 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Walkup, Mark
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Political Science thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Political Science -- UF   ( lcsh )
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non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 1997.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 215-231).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Mark Walkup.
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For Barbara



ABSTRACT .. ............... .



Predominant Criticisms of HOs: Everyday Forms of Policy Dysfunction ....... 3
Explaining the Shortcomings
The Role of Institutions and Organizational Culture ....... 9
Looking Ahead: An Overview of Chapters ...... 15


Defining the Terms .. .. 20
Disasters .. .. 20
Nongovernmental Organizations 22
Intergovernmental Organizations 25
Aid Workers 26. .
Finding the Field ... 28
Defining the Methods .. .. ... .. ... 30
Participant-Observation as Teacher and Colleague of HO Personnel 34
Inter-iews sMth HO Personnel 36
Analysis of Personal Correspondence with Aid Worker 37
Review ofGras Literature .38
Participant Observation in Field Offices and Refugee Camps 39
Dadaah Refugee Camps 40
Kakuma Refugee Camp 42
Ikafe Refugee Settlement 43
Nairobi and Lokichokio 45
Discussion of Methods 46


Between Beliefs and Behavior ................ .... .. ... .... 49
The Allure of Rational Choice Theory ................ ............ 52
The Renaissance of Institutional Theory ......... .. 55
Filling in the Gaps: Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory .............. 59
Organizational Culture: A Theoretical Synthesis? ......... ... ...... 62
Culture Types and "Motivating Fantasies" ....................... 66


HO Field-Level Bureaucrats: The Humanitarian "Superhumans" .. ........ 70
Unfulfilled Expectations .................. ....... 73
The Limits of Benevolence ......... ..... 75
Value Conflict ..... ..... .. 80
Ethical Dilemmas ....... .. ........ 85
Management Onentation 90
The Fear Factor ... ... ..... .......... 92
Personnel Relations in a "Total Institution": Cohesion or Disintegration 97
Psychological Distress The Consequences of Caring 103
Personality Types .... ..... ... ... 107


Aid Worker Options Exit. Voice. I.oyalt. or Neglect 112
Aid Worker Coping Mechanisms 14
Stage One Overwork 117
Stage Two. Detachment .... 119
Stage Three Projection 122
Stage Four Delusion 125
The Institutionalzation of Culture 128


HO Survival in the Humanitarian Industrn 136
Institutionalized Defensi\eness
Survival Strateg for a Threatening Environment 142
Institutionalized Delusion Managing Threats to Internal Coherence 147
Organizational Structure .' Myth and Ceremon\ 150

Field Reporting Procedures .. .. ... ............... ........ .. 156
The Uses of Language As Activity in HOs ............................ 158
Myths, Ceremony, and Evaluation ................................ 161

AND COLLECTIVE ACTION .................................... 169

The Logic of Coordination .. .... ....... ........... .. .... 169
The Humanitarian Remgme .. .. ............... 171
The Levels of Coordination ... .. 175
1 he Common Property Framework .. ......... ... ... ...... 179
The Physical Attributes: Access to Donor Funding and Affected Populations 181
The Patterns of Interaction and the Limits of Coordination .... ..... 184
Visibility .. ..... 184
Necessity for Distinct, Identifiable Image ... 185
Donor Demands for Accountabilitv ... ... ..... ......... 186
Unequal Distribution of Costs and Benefits ................... 186
Differences in Ideology and Constituency 187
Differences il Operational Specialization ........ ..... 188
Incomplete Recognition of Authority ...... 188
Theoretical Arguments .... 189
HOs and Propert Ownership .. 190
The Decision-making Arrangements of Coordination .. 192


Assessment of Theory .. 01
The Significance of the Analssis ........ 205
Application and Limitations 207
A Research Agenda 209




Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Mark Walkup

December 1997

Chairman: Goran Hyden
Major Department: Political Science

This study examines the causes and consequences of dysfunctional policies of

humanitarian organizations (HOs) that provide emergency aid to populations affected

by crises Based on panicipant-observation and informal interviews among HO

personnel. it demonstrates that dysfunctions result from institutions that develop over

time through two sources 1 ) individual-level aid worker coping mechanisms, and 2)

organizational-level dynamics of the dual tasks of market survival and internal

coherence These institutions shape the behavior of HO personnel in ways that often

counter the stated organizational objectives The first part of the study describes the

complex dilemmas encountered in humanitarian work and explains how aid workers use

four stages of coping mechanisms--overwork, detachment, projection, and denial--to

deal with their resulting psychological distress These individual coping mechanisms

become institutionalized. The second part of the study moves to the organizational level

to describe the set of institutions that function to protect organizational survival and

coherence from the threats of the external environment. In particular, HOs perpetuate

myths that coalesce identity and give meaning to personnel. However, while these

myths sustain staff morale and organizational survival, they undermine the

organization's ability to deal sensitively with clients, learn from evaluation, and

coordinate with other HOs These institutions form a unique organizational culture type

characterized by defensiveness and delusion. By explaining the dynamics of these

important organizations, this dissertation can help to improve HO performance and

ultimately the quality of life of those in their care.


The world has witnessed massive human tragedies of ethnic conflict and forced

migration in the 1990s in such places as Kurdistan, Sudan, Bosnia, and Rwanda These

protracted crises that threaten human life have sensitized the public to the essential role

of humanitarian organizations that provide emergency assistance amidst these and many

other human and natural disasters The increasing frequency and severity of

humanitarian crises and the subsequent blossoming of emergency aid budgets have

resulted in a world-wide growth in the numbers and influence of organizations that

provide aid in these crises The diverse group of actors that will be called humanitarian

organizations (HOs) includes the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the

specific intergovernmental organizations (1GOs) that are organized with operational

objectives to respond to such emergencies To be sure, many organizations have

humanitarian object es Howe\er for this discussion "HO" refers exclusively to those

organizations focused on responding to the consequences of human crises that render

populations vulnerable to numerous casualties and widespread suffering. Notable

examples would include CARE. Medecins Sans Frontieres. Oxfam. Save the Children.

and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

As many people have come to depend on the resources and services of HOs,

their shortcomings have become more evident. In particular, the stakeholders in HO

operations are increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of learning, innovation, and

improvement among HO policies and practitioners. In fact, a resistance to such

necessary change is evident This resistance ultimately inhibits the ability of HOs to

fulfill their objectives Therefore, in order to improve the functioning of these

invaluable organizations, we need to understand the origins of this resistance and

determine why it is so persistent. This study traces this resistance to the institutional

dynamics of the unique organizational culture of HOs. In short, it outlines the origins

and manifestations of these institutions and shows how the resulting behaviors affect

policy effectiveness

In so doing, this study offers an analysis of interest to several groups First. for

those who interact with HOs (donors, government agencies, and clients), this analysis

provides a guide to HO behavior which can assist them in their relationships with these

organizations Further, HO personnel can find an interpretive view of their experiences

in these pages which ma\ help them to validate and understand their frustrations and

learn to overcome them Organizational and policy analysts from many disciplines will

find value in the organizational culture approach used to uncover meanings and

dynamics that otherwise would remain hidden Scholars from both the development

administration and public administration camps will find a unique explanation for the

failures of the policy process in social welfare organizations The analysis also

contributes to the discipline-spanning debate between rational choice theorists and


institionalists in their search for a parsimonious, predictive theory of human action. The

answers provided to the research questions can inform those in positions to improve

policy design and implementation. Perhaps most importantly, solutions to such policy

problems are essential for the health of millions of people whose lives are significantly

affected, for better or worse, by HOs. More than anyone, this study is dedicated to


Predominant Criticisms of HOs: Everyday Forms of Policy Dysfunction

With the exception of journalists such as Graham Hancock, (The Lords of

I'overty. 1989) and a few academics such as B.E Harrell-Bond (Imposmg Aid:

i:meriency Assistance to Refugees, 1986), criticism of HO policies and performance

was once taboo The public generally bestowed great faith in these individuals and

organizations who. they assumed, boldly and selflessly served those in desperate

situations Todax. however. with the boom in the humanitarian aid industry and the

resulting increase in numbers and sizes of HOs, their performance is now hotly debated.

In tact. criticism has become not onl\ more accepted, but even fashionable in some

social arenas This criticism has arisen for several reasons. First, with the rapid

proliferation of new HOs came man\ individuals and organizations with good intentions

but little experience and capability Their ensuing problems tainted the reputation of

many proficient HOs Second. better media coverage increased the visibility of and

interest in humanitarian operations during the 1980s by bringing the operational realm

of disaster response into peoples living rooms. The "CNN factor" is a double-edged


sword, however, in that media publicity raises not only funds for their operations, but

concerns about HO policies as well. Third, with the increasing political complexity of

operational environments, HOs found that every action or policy fashioned in the name

of non-partisan goodwill would undoubtedly encounter disapproval from some groups

regardless of the policy's overall effectiveness This criticism frequently came from

individuals who perceived the aid to be exclusive and partisan in its benefit. especially

when delivered among combatants or in politically or ethnically factionalized

environments. It was in the interest of such disapproving actors to launch as much

criticism as possible to publicly discredit these HOs. Fourth, in periods of debate over

bilateral foreign aid spending, HOs often were used as convenient scapegoats.

Politicians seeking to cut foreign aid budgets tried to avoid claims that they were not

compassionate to the needs of the impoverished Therefore, such politicians

strategically attacked the credibility and effectiveness of HOs who implemented this aid

to hide the politicians true isolationist perspectives Fifth, HOs fortunately began

allowing more social scientists to participate in their policy processes to advise them on

the impact of their policies on the beneficiaries and host populations. But this research-

based advice frequently\ challenged core policies, and social scientists began publishing

the disappointing results of evaluation research that revealed HO weaknesses and


In sum, 'aid criticism. whether research-based or not, has become a cottage

industry, a de facto subfield of social science disciplines, and a political agenda

Unfortunately, the criticism holds much truth Increasingly, HOs are facing up to the


fact that some of their practices are less than laudable. Here, I speak not of the specific

scandalous cases of corruption or fraud highlighted by investigative journalists' reports,

but of the more widespread operational ineffectiveness and misdirections-what we can

call "everyday forms" of policy dysfunction.

To understand these forms, 1 adapt a perspective offered by Scott (1985), who

proposed an innovative approach to understanding the "unseen" yet highly significant

"everyday forms of peasant resistance" to state or economic oppression. While most

analyses of responses to oppression focus on overt behavior--mass demonstrations,

riots, and revolution--Scott highlights the importance of everyday forms--foot dragging.

petty theft, poaching, tax evasion, and so on. Adapting this approach to the context of

HO dynamics. I propose that aid workers behave in ways similar to peasants. The

difference is the focus of resistance Aid workers resist not against organized tyranny,

but against perceived oppression in the form of client demands, pressure from outside

observers, and the imposition of the controlling ideology of humanitarianism to which

they must adhere. Although the focus is different, the behavior patterns of resistance

are similar These everyda, forms of policy dysfunction are played out bv generally

good individuals who know the\ are not behaving optimally (.e they know the rules

and proper ways to conduct their actions), but they do what they need to get by. The

strategies are widespread Individuals tacitly support one another in their resistance by

encouraging certain behaviors that counter the interests of their organization's objectives

and clients, while covering up evidence of resistance But this is done with little formal

coordination Although sporadic and predominantly individual in nature, these acts of


collective intent are informally coordinated by networks of understanding and

conspiracies of silence which require no formal organization. The boundary between

what is considered collective action and individual shirking or lawlessness is indistinct;

however, there must exist some form of recognized solidarity and trust, symbolic unity.

and mutual interest in protecting each other through concealment. These everyday

forms become accepted practice; people turn their heads and feign ignorance, believing

that such practices are necessary for policy effectiveness and individual survival.

These everyday forms of individual and organizational action include

suppression of feedback information from clients and outsiders, resistance to academic

research, construction of demand-limiting regulations, destructive competition with

other HOs. unethical advertising practices. cover-ups of mistakes, presentation of

Potemkin village-like projects. and choreographed popular participation. Sithembiso

N\.om. an NGO leader in Zimbabwe. points to a troubling paradox of foreign HOs they

are agencies which try to help others change and improve, vet they themselves are

resistent to change

They aim at creating awareness among people. yet they are not
themselves aware of their negative impact on those they claim to serve
They claim to help people change their situation through participation,
democracy\ and self-help and vet they themselves are non-participatory,
non-democratic, and dependent on outside help for their survival (Nyonm
1987 53

Endless examples of these eservdac forms and their unfortunate cumulative effects are

documented in academic literature, journalistic reports, policy evaluations, and the "war

stones" of any aid worker Therefore. a detailed review here is not necessary, although


the subsequent chapters do illustrate these problems in greater detail. To provide an

initial framework, the types of dysfunction discussed in this study are summed in the

following categories of individual and organizational behavior: 1) insensitivity to clients

and their participation: 2) resistance to evaluation and learning: and 3) counter-

productive relations with other HOs in coordination arrangements. Ironically, client-

centered decision processes, organizational learning, and effective coordination are

often espoused as cornerstones of HO "presentation of self' and advertising strategy,

vet they are the most elusive of policy goals to actually see in practice.

Certainly, every kind of organization functions with suboptimal performance.

However, as this studN demonstrates, from an organizational behavior perspective. HOs

display quite predictable tendencies to make the same mistakes again and again. Many

HOs explicitly admit their need for change and adaptability through improved

approaches to police% and practice Such admissions are frequently coupled with

increased attention to evaluation, personnel training, and receptivity to suggestions from

clients and researchers Yet these problems persist A defensive resistance to

innovation and information feedback causes HOs to make the same cost\ mistakes

repeatedly when the\ intervene in crises. sometimes doing more harm than good to

affected populations As the Africa Director for Save the Children (UK) admitted.

"NGOs can be as much a part of the problem in refugee camps as the solution "

Humanitarian efforts are rarely) supported with adequate and appropriate

resources to meet the expectations of donors and beneficiaries To make matters worse.

donors have become frustrated with the lack of resolution of humanitarian crises and the


absence of lasting, visible impact of aid on the beneficiaries, even though these factors

are beyond the control of HOs. Consequently, donors are translating this fatigue and

cynicism into more insistent demands on HOs for both financial austerity and visible

results-apparently reasonable concerns. Further, donors are attaching more strings to

their donated resources in efforts to secure greater control over the spending and policy

implementation practices of HOs. And important decisions are falling prey to the

whims of humanitarian fashion In short, donors are expecting more for less, and HOs

are adhering more to donor interests than to those of the affected populations.

Finally, the affected populations ultimately suffer the most due to these

institutionalized dysfunctions: and although their voices are not as loud as those of

donors, they are far from silent They. too, persistently voice their complaints because

of the lack of improvements in the distribution of resources and services. These

individuals and groups are very aware of the faults and dysfunctions, for they pax the

price for them every da\. Whereas HO workers can often disguise policy failures from

the donors, they find it very difficult to hide mistakes from the affected populations.

For aid workers in the field. who directly interact with affected populations, these voices

are the hardest for the conscience to ignore

This environment of incessant appeals, widespread criticism, and unresolvable

conflicts has produced increasing tension among the personnel and organizations who

operate in this middle ground, as they must remain accountable to multiple groups of

unsatisfied clients As this stud) argues, this tension lies at the root of the vicious cycle

of policy dysfunction

Explaining the Shortcomings:
The Role of Institutions and Organizational Culture

Most of the now-fashionable criticism of HOs requires little intellectual

dexterity; yet critics conveniently ignore the difficult context in which these

organizations operate. The more difficult task, and indeed the more noble one. is to

discover ways to improve the quality of HO operations to better care for those in need.

The first step toward improvement, however, is understanding Therefore, the research

question guiding this study is this: How do we explain the persistence of dysfunctional

policy and behavior in HOs in spite of their stated commitments to meaningful

participation of affected populations, open evaluation and learning, and effective

coordination with other actors"

Many of the more helpful explanations for these dysfunctions point to the

complex factors in the political and economic environments of HOs that negatively

affect the policy process Such factors include the donor obsessions with accountability

(Harrell-Bond et al 1992). the often confrontational negotiations with host governments

SBratton 1989: Adiin Yaansah 1995). the unpredictable tide of donor support and

fatigue (Keen 1992). the powerful influence of the media (Benthall 1993), the heated

competition for funds and access (Smillie 1995), and the international exercise of

political and ideological power between states (Nichols 1987: Loescher 1993) and

within international organizations (Kent 1987) Furthermore, in the 1990s, most

international assistance has been delivered in what many are now labelling "complex


emergencies," such as the former-Zaire, Somalia, Sudan, and the former-Yugoslavia,

where operational success is very difficult. The delivery of assistance in war zones, or

where conflicting ethnic groups are settled or assisted in the same area, requires a new

level of planning, negotiation, and security. Issues of fairness and distribution take on a

more complex and sensitive nature in such circumstances. Many HOs have not been

able (or willing) to effectively negotiate with opposing military groups simultaneously.

risk the safety of their personnel, and maintain composure amidst violence and threat

In fact, all emergencies are complex, as any experienced aid worker will

confirm: but relief operations have been increasingly complicated by military conflict

and the deployment of UN-approved military forces. Adapting a definition offered by a

conference of specialists. "complex emergencies" are characterized by combinations of

domestic or inter-state armed conflict, long-lasting duration, forced migration.

political/military constraints on logistics, security risks for relief workers, requirement

for high degrees of political will and negotiation, involvement of peace-making or

peace-keeping forces, and difficult ethical dilemmas (Mohonk Criteria 1994)

Indeed. one cannot understand the behavior of HOs without considering them in

relation to contextual factors in their external environment However, little research has

carefully examined the endogenous anrables that affect HO policy, decision making,

and behavior Those who have looked inside these organizations primarily focus on

such explanatory variables as authority structure, financial management, personnel

training, information processing. and evaluation mechanisms. Significantly. they have

tended to neglect the powerful descnptive and explanatory benefits of an organizational


culture approach now receiving more recognition.' As a preliminary introduction, the

concept of organizational culture includes the

basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an
organization, that operate unconsciously, and that define in a basic
'taken for granted' fashion an organization's view of itself and its
environment. These assumptions and beliefs are learned responses to a
group's problems of survival in its external environment and its problems
of internal integration (Schein 1985:6).

The "basic assumptions and beliefs" include the rules, values, codes of conduct, patterns

of interaction, symbols, rituals, and myths that shape the behavior of both an

organization and the individuals who comprise it. These components will be referred to

as "institutions" (see Powell and DiMaggio 1991 and Scott 1995) A more

comprehensive definitional probing of the concepts of organizational culture and

institutions is undertaken in Chapter 3. In short, institutions explain the persistence of

problems and the seemingly irrational behavior of HOs. Blending a cultural and an

institutional approach expands our conceptual toolkit. In addition, our efforts are

facilitated by using tools from behavioral psychology and rational choice theory. The

power of this unique combination is further explained in Chapter 3

In general, this stud- investigates the relationship in HOs between institutions.

on the one hand, and individual and organizational behavior on the other As such. it

treats institutions as both dependent variables (i.e.. What are the origms of institutions")

and independent variables (i.e.. What are the .,,,. of institutions") This argument

Examples of organizational culture advocacy include Schein 1985. Smircich 1983.
Frost et al 1985, 1991. Ouchi and Wilkins 1985. Allaire and Firsirotu 1984, Moran and
Volkwein 1992: Tnce and Bever 1993

that individual behavior forms institutions which then shape individual behavior might

appear to be tautological. In fact, this circularity is precisely the point, and its implicit

acceptance is central to any institutional analysis. This perpetual dynamic of both

formation and behavioral reinforcement is the subject of this investigation. But perhaps

the most important contribution of this study is that it traces the origins of institutions, a

task often neglected by institutional theorists who often prefer to assume institutions as

given and simply show how they affect behavior The combination of approaches

provides insight into two theoretically distinct origins of cultural institutions in HOs: 1)

individual-level aid worker coping mechanisms, and 2) organizational-level dynamics of

the dual tasks of market survival and internal coherence '

Beginning at the individual level, the analysis concentrates on perhaps the most

powerful, if hidden, source of institutions the individual psychological coping

mechanisms employed bv aid workers to mediate the psychological distress endured in

their jobs These personnel must encounter the troubling ethical dilemmas associated

with relief work, face the limits of their helping capacity, and realize their organization's

goals may conflict with those of the people they are supposedly assisting. As a result,

aid workers endure degrees of psychological distress (involving elements of cognitive

dissonance, angst, and guilt) Consistent with Hirschman's (1970) framework.

indi iduals dealing with this psychological disturbance can "exit" the organization,

I have replaced Schein's (1985) term internal "integration" with my term
"coherence" because it is more consistent with my metaphorical image of culture as
hang more adhesive properties than mechanical ones. I doubt Schein would quarrel
with this adaptation as he. too. recognizes that the components of culture are held
together more by collective "stickmess" than precise "fit."


"voice" their concerns, or remain "loyal" (to the organization, the cause, or the financial

security). Those who remain must cope with these negative emotions that threaten Self,

and most develop through at least four identifiable stages of conscious and subconscious

defense mechanisms--overwork, detachment, projection, and delusion. First, personnel

overwork. resulting in "burnout," a clinically-documented psycho-physiological

condition Second, personnel detach themselves from clients by avoiding direct

interaction with needy clients and retreating behind rules and procedures that effectively

limit client demands and reduce essential communication. Third, aid workers rationalize

policy failures by projecting the blame to other factors, often tending to blame the

clients for their predicament Last, when faced with criticism and obvious

shortcomings, personnel often create delusions of success, enabling them to sustain self-

esteem in the midst of their unexpected powerlessness to alleviate the miserable

conditions Ultimatel,. the aggregation of these individual coping mechanisms

contributes to the de\x lopment and perpetuation of collective institutions that shape

individual and organizational behai or

The second part ofthe anal sis. at the organizational level, concentrates on the

other powerful generator of cultural institutions in HOs. organizational strategies for

both survival in the humanitarian industry\ and internal coherence. First, like all

organizations, profit-making or not. HOs need financial resources to survive For HOs.

resource generation is dependent upon such factors as image enhancement, donor-

centric evaluation critena, distinct e visibility. and competitive independence These

survival requirements become institutionalized into organizational codes of behavior and

fundamental frameworks of policy. This study demonstrates how these and other

factors, the "necessary evils" of humanitarian work, detract from the ultimate objective--

the provision of appropriate aid to affected populations. The methods of fundraising,

image maintenance, and accountability frequently cause policy confusion within HOs

The paradox is that the strategies that enable HOs to survive in the humanitarian market

simultaneously limit the effectiveness of their assistance policies. Second. HO

personnel are acutely aware of these inconsistencies that result from economic survival-

based policy decisions. The result are varying degrees of dissonance, which threatens

internal coherence and produces social and cultural discord (e.g., resentment. cynicism,

dissention). HO personnel must deal with the resulting policy confusion caused by this

dissonance by attempting to re-visualize policy and organizational coherence both in

their own minds and as they represent it to others. This ceremonial process of social

and psychological re-visualization creates patterns of cultural institutions that perpetuate

an alternative reality Policies based on this skewed socially constructed reality ensure

organizational survival but further entrench policy dysfunction

The dynamics of these two sources combine to produce the institutions that

form the structure of organizational culture Now treating institutions as independent

variables, we find two predominant cultural characteristics at work in HOs

defensiveness and delusion These characteristics stifle essential learning and innovation

in the process of policy design. implementation, and evaluation. Perhaps the most

powerful institutions are the shared mediatory myths" which allow personnel to

continue working despite the dissonance between what should be done and what cun be


done (Abravanel 1983; Scheid-Cook 1988). While these myths enable individuals to

successfully "get on with their work," the resulting institutions diminish the capacity of

individuals and organizations to effectively process information, learn from experience,

and constructively modify behavior accordingly Therefore, these institutional dynamics

are prime reasons why HOs fail to adequately fulfill their singular mandate of assisting

affected populations. This failure, in turn, contributes to more dissonance and hence

more distress for HO personnel. So the vicious cycle continues.

Moreover, these cultural dynamics influence not only the internal workings of

HOs, but also behavior in terms of their external relations with 1) the affected

populations (e.g., how HOs interact with their clients and to what extent they

incorporate truly participatory methods in the policy process); 2) the donors (e.g., how

HOs represent themselves to raise funds, negotiate accountability, and demonstrate

effectiveness). 3) other HOs e g., how HOs engage the politics and logistics of

coordination), and 4) the state authorities (eg., how HOs perceive and respond to state

attempts to coordinate and regulate HO operations). This study articulates these

Institutions and shows how they form. replicate, and evolve in their impact on behavior.

Looking Ahead: An Overview of Chapters

Chapter 2 begins by defining many of the concepts used in the study. Then it

explains the methodology used in this studN and introduces the blend of social science

disciplinary approaches from which this research draws. It qualifies and defends the

project as theory-building not necessarily theory-testing, and admits social scientific


theory-building is essentially based upon the competition of various interpretations of

reality. Finally, the diverse components of fieldwork are reviewed.

Chapter 3 presents the theoretical framework for analyzing the data presented in

the subsequent chapters. The chapter first evaluates the contribution of new

institutionalism and rational choice theones to understanding HO personnel and

organization behavior After pursuing a parsimonious "theory of action" with the help

of Festinger's (1957) cognitive dissonance theory, the chapter then introduces the

organizational culture approach as a holistic model for integrating collective human

behavior in the context of norms, beliefs, and values that shape decision parameters and

processes Through this step, the chapter integrates theones of new institutionalism,

rational choice, and cognitive dissonance as tools for analyzing behavior both of

individuals and organizations

Many researchers have studied the psychological adaptive strategies of refugees,

but fe\w have turned the analytic lens toward the aid workers who struggle to provide

assistance in these contexts of extreme distress. Chapter 4 explores the realm of these

"field-level bureaucrats" who sacrifice much to help others. Through ethnographic

accounts, the chapter introduces the complex context of policy implementation and

decision making in the management of humanitarian assistance and describes common

tendencies and characteristics of personnel It juxtaposes the expectations, values.

motivations, and ideologies of aid workers with the reality of their task and reveals the

limits of benevolence and ever-present ethical dilemmas In sum, the chapter traces the


origins and manifestations of psychological distress: cognitive dissonance, angst, and


Chapter 5 follows by demonstrating the behavioral responses to psychological

distress described in the previous chapter. It applies Hirschman's framework to the

interaction of personnel and organization. Next it reviews and applies psychological

coping and defense mechanism literature to the aid worker milieu resulting in the

identification of four stages of coping behavior-overwork, detachment, projection, and

delusion--and describes various behavioral patterns associated with each stage.

Examples of these mechanisms and behavioral effects gathered from gray literature and

field work are presented throughout. Then, moving from the individual level to the

organizational level, it traces the patterns of institutionalization of attitudes and behavior

associated with coping mechanisms The analysis shows how these cultural components

evolve through repetition of patterned behavior, language, written and oral histories, and

methods of communication Further, it highlights the process of reinforcement of

cultural norms through variables of recruitment, training, staff rotation, personnel

vulnerability evaluation procedures, group solidarity, socialization, and ideological


Moving from the individual to the organizational level, Chapter 6 explains the

institutional dynamics arsing from the HO tasks of survival in the humanitarian industry

and internal coherence It challenges assumption that HOs are "naturally" benevolent,

morally superior, and more efficient and ethical than for-profit firms. After comparing

HOs with for-profit firms, it argues that similar strategies enable HOs to survive, but


that they result in behavior that threatens the myths that maintain internal coherence.

Next, the chapter synthesizes the predominant characteristics of HO culture--delusion

and defensiveness-and reviews the resulting operational principles that shape behavior.

It explains the creation and function of mediatoryy myths," and shows how the

ceremonial celebration of these myths affect organizational institutions with regard to

communication and evaluation In the process, we see how the apparently irrational

behavior of humanitarian organizations is actually very rational given the decision

associated with cultural institutions

After distinguishing the various actors and levels of coordination, Chapter 7

reviews the shallow nature of contemporary analyses of coordination in academic and

gray literature It argues that practical coordination initiatives fail largely because they

do not factor fundamental incentive structures and cultural institutions of HOs into

design schemes The chapter analyzes the problem of coordination as a "tragedy of the

commons" using theories of collective action and common property management to

explain the dynamics produced by HO dependence on the scarce common pool

resources of 1) access to affected populations. and 2) donor funding Using the

structure and logic of HO cultural institutions. we better understand the obstacles to

coordination of interest-maximizing, rational actors Finally, it suggests some

approaches to designmin incenti e-based institutions for the development of sustainable

coordination mechanisms

The final chapter rei ew\s the findings and evaluates the theoretical model and

method for its utility in understanding HO policy making and behavior It assesses the


capacity for organizational change and locates this change in the context of institutional

evolution. Finally, it points to the weaknesses of the analysis and gaps in our

understanding of HO culture and presents an agenda for future research.


Since this study seeks to describe dynamics in the realm of humanitarian

operations, several key components and actors first must be defined more specifically:

disasters, nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and aid

workers. After more clearly defining who and what we are discussing, then this chapter

briefly comments on the unique nature of fieldwork in organizational analysis. The next

section reviews the qualitative methods used to gather the data in the many field sites,

and it explains the necessity of the interpretive approach used for their analysis. The

chapter concludes with a reflection on the methods and the presentation of the data

Defining the Terms


This study analyzes the people and organizations who respond to human crises

commonly referred to as "disasters." "humanitarian crises," and "complex emergencies

These terms are often used interchangeably and can include such crises as floods.

hurricanes, famines, military conflicts, and refugee flights Many crises result from an

unfortunate combination of these often inter-related factors A common denominator

of all the above is that they cause the forced migration of large numbers of people

There is no clear distinction between "man-made" or "natural" disasters. What

characterizes them all is the difficulty of most of the affected population to secure

immediate survival requirements without external assistance. For immediate survival,

people require access to food, potable water, shelter, fuel, health care, and a secure

environment in which to rebuild their lives.

Disasters are often considered to be unexpected events of sudden impact having

relatively short-term emergency relief requirements that can be phased out quickly. In

fact, most humanitarian emergency situations 1) are anticipated (e.g., informed political

observers provide ample warnings of social violence)', 2) have a slow onset (e.g..

famines are tracked seasonally with clear indicators and do notjust "happen"), and 3)

require prolonged assistance (e.g., many refugees are forced to live on "emergency

relief for more than a decade).

What distinguishes the seventy of disasters is not so much the intensity of the

event, but the differing coping capacities of the existing human resources and material

infrastructures. For example, a hurcane striking the east coast of the United States will

have different consequences in terms of peoples survival capacity than one of the same

SMany resources have been spent to develop computerized "early warning
systems" to predict and or detect crises In fact, the best methods appear to use simple
indicators and quality reports from HO field staff(see Rotberg 1996). The problem of
early warning is not insufficient information or analysis, but inefficient response due to
information screening, poor coordination, and conflicting political interests


intensity in Bangladesh. Thus, due to uneven development patterns in the world, crises

in the South2 usually require more external assistance.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are formally structured groups that

fund and/or implement many kinds of social service, emergency relief, development.

and advocacy programs Of many sizes, NGOs may affiliate themselves with religious

or political groups, specialize in a technical field or geographic region, or operate for

multiple purposes Relating in varying degrees of opposition and concordance with

governments as essential components of civil society, historically NGOs have been

formed for several reasons Thex mobilize or lobby on behalf of the interests of

particular (often disadvantaged) constituencies or causes in relation to the state or other

opposition groups The\ provide goods and services that the state either cannot or will

not provide In the North, where such an NGO tradition is well-established, an

increasing number have been organized around the needs of the disadvantaged in the

South And because of their diversity onl\ some NGOs can be called humanitarian

organizations. For example, this discussion does not include the Lawyers Committee

for Human Rights or Amnestr International as HOs Even though they engage in work

that certainly is humanitarian in nature, the- do not respond to crisis situations to

provide emergency aid

In this text. "North refers to the richer countries (mostly in the northern
hemisphere), and "South" refers to the poorer countries (usually in the southern


NGOs receive funding from diverse sources: members, the general public,

churches, foundations, IGOs, and governments. Some NGOs, to demonstrate their

independence, strictly limit the amount of funds they will accept from governmental

sources. Others simply have become executing agents for bilateral aid projects.

Northern NGOs may establish offices and implement their own programmes in the

South; others act as intermediary donors or "partners," supporting local NGOs (the

numbers of which are also growing).

Because of the diversity of NGO constituencies, sizes, strategies, structures,

ideologies, specializations, and power, it is difficult to describe an "average" NGO.

Further confusion arises because people use different labels to describe the same

entities For example, a single organization can be called by the American term private

voluntary organization (PVO). not-for-profit organization (NFP), community-based

organization (CBO). and voluntary agency (Volag). Although NGOs "defy attempts at

precise classification" (Korten 1987:147), many scholars have attempted this daunting

task (Fowler 1987, Korten 1987: Gorman 1984). A helpful distinction is made between

service organizations (those providing benefits to people outside the organization) and

membership organizations (those providing benefits almost exclusively to their

members) In a convincing argument, Fowler et al (1992) posits that what is important

For example. Oxfam UK restricts government donations to 20 percent of total
funding, and Oxfam America takes no government money at all. CARE USA receives
almost all of its funds from the US government In Canadian NGOs, the government
dependency ratio averages about 70 percent, while Scandinavian NGOs rely mainly on
government funding Most NGOs are experiencing "'creeping dependency ratios" due to
the increased amount of government funding available to NGOs and a generally declining
level of private donations (Smillie 1993 27)


in the classification is not structure, function, or target groups; instead, the distinguishing

characteristics are the "features of accountability" and the degree of financial resource


Recognizing the complexities of NGO taxonomy, I wish to avoid digressing into

this murky debate, and will simply distinguish two types. Local NGOs are membership

or service organizations with some permanent professional staff who coordinate and

support community associations below. They often have linkages with, and are

accountable to, foreign NGOs. The second type,foreign NGOs, are strictly service

organizations with international field offices and operations that are managed by a large

permanent, professional staff, and are accountable to multiple funding sources usually

external to the host country This distinction is necessary because of the differences in

tradition, structure, motivation, and onentation between them. Unless specified,

"NGO will refer to both types

Over the past two decades. NGOs that provide relief and development

assistance to poor countries have become the "darlings of the donors," as Kobia (1987)

calls them They have gained enormous credibility with donors as efficient, flexible

conduits for aid. Due to their perceived operational efficiency and flexibility (especially

in comparison to the official aid agencies of governments), NGOs have become major

I intentionally use the term "host" to refer to the states and communities that allow
foreign NGOs to intervene and operate Many use the term "recipient", however, this
word is laden with negative connotations of dependency and helplessness. By using
"host." I encourage humanitarians to recognize that foreign NGOs and donor organizations
are outsiders attempting to intervene in the lives of others

actors in implementing assistance programs, and their numbers and power have

increased dramatically (Allen 1990; Hellinger et al 1988; Bratton 1989).

Intergovernmental Organizations

Although NGOs, of sons, have exerted influence in civil society for centunes,

inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) are relative newcomers. When the

international community faced many mutual challenges and tasks in the post-World War

II period, groups of states formed many formal IGOs to facilitate and regulate their

relations and/or to cooperate in achieving common interests. Such initial tasks included

the post-war social and economic reconstruction, the development of newly-

independent colonies, and the stabilization and security of global order. The challenges

have increased, and so have the numbers of the diverse IGOs that specialize in concerns

from agriculture and food securnt to refugees and health

These international bureaucracies are staffed by civil servants who, in theory,

exercise their authority in neutral, apolitical manners and are selected on the basis of

meant, national quota representation, and political appointment systems. Significantly,

IGOs can only do what their member states empower them to do, and they are held

accountable to the competition of interests of the many states that fund their operations.

As a result, their internal policies ha\e become new battlegrounds for inter-state

political, economic, and ideological conflict Unfortunately, this politicization has

rendered many of them ineffectual in achieving their objectives according to the


mandates given to them by their creators. Additionally, their overlapping mandates with

regard to humanitarian aid have rendered them competitors for scarce resources.

The United Nations (UN) system, with its Specialized Agencies that focus on

promoting social welfare and humanitarian concerns, provides the major coordinating

structure for the global humanitarian regime. The humanitarian regime is described

using regime theory in more detail in Chapter 7. for now, consider it the institutionalized

pattern of power relations that governs the operation of HOs. The major UN bodies

that are mandated with roles in humanitarian assistance include the Office of the UN

High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Childrens Fund (Unicef), UN

Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UNDHA). UN Development Program (UNDP).

and the World Food Program (WFP) Other UN organizations contribute resources to

humanitarian programs. but the above bodies provide most of the assistance. Another

important IGO is the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the body

\within the European Union (EU) that collectively channels the emergency assistance of

the EU members

Aid Workers

This study concentrates on the Individuals working for humanitarian

organizations. They are nterchangeably referred to as HO "personnel." "staff." and

"aid workers Such labels refer to those working in various capacities and levels of

administration and policy. from field operations to headquarters Unless specified. I

treat these individuals from diverse positions as one analytical category because similar


institutional dynamics affect most personnel in the organization, regardless of level or

role. To be sure, the "institutional effects" discussed in this study vary in degrees, and

some positions and personality types are influenced more significantly. Such

distinctions are treated sufficiently in the discussion. Nonetheless, this analysis

demonstrates that all HO personnel must deal with similar dynamics from organizational

cultural institutions, and their common predicament makes them behave in analytically

similar ways.

A controversial yet necessary distinction is made in some parts of the analysis

between "local" personnel (those who are nationals of the crisis area and who generally

fill the majority of positions in field operations) and "foreign" or "expatriate" personnel

(individuals from donor countries who fill the fewer technical and managerial positions

in field operations) As the data demonstrate, this distinction must stand in this analysis

because of the trends observed in relation to differing cultural backgrounds, incentives

and motivations, power levels, and availability of employment opportunities These

variables affect behavior and psychology in complex ways, some of which will be

explored in later chapters Differences along the range of these variables is also evident

within each category of local and expatriate personnel

Despite the general differences between these two categories, this analysis

sufficiently describes most aid workers Obviously, not all aid workers in HOs are

"humanitarians" in the true sense of the word For many personnel, foreign and local

alike. their employment with HOs is not based on a conviction to humanitarian

principles or a desire to help. It is simply a job. Nojudgement is placed on people for

their motivations for employment. Nonetheless, people for whom HO work is "just a

job" still operate within a "humanitarian" organization, which is sustained by the

powerful myths and ideologies of humanitarianism. Regardless of the variety of their

self-interested motivations, HO staff work in an idealistic humanitarian environment,

and their actions, language, and "presentation of self' must at some basic level reflect

these ideals Therefore, the culture of humanitarianism affects to different degrees all

who work in HOs This claim is supported in later chapters.

Finding the Field

Social scientists doing participant-observation research affectionately speak of

the "field" to describe that mvstenous place where they journey to observe behavior

among their informants or communities The field often takes on a mystical, nostalgic

character as if life is fundamentally different there, having a distinct temporal and spatial

matrix Going to the field is also a rite of passage for many social scientists, who,

without sufficient "fieldwork," are often discredited because of the myth that most of

what is valuable can onl be learned in the field This often romanticized

characterization creates a somewhat misleading dichotomy between the field (where

research is conducted) and "home" I where collected data are brought to be analyzed).

This dichotomy makes more sense, for example, in the case of someone researching

marriage rituals of the Nuer, who inhabit a relatively circumscribed geographic area

where one can travel to find them For researchers studying formal organizations.

however, the field has a more amorphous location and context Their subjects--


organizations-may be located within a single building, may have personnel widely

scattered geographically, and may have boundaries that cannot be even remotely

estimated. To complicate matters further, those researching the behavior of

international humanitarian organizations must somehow integrate the range of activity

that might include fundraising among church congregations in rural Texas, lobbying

politicians in Brussels, managing personnel policies in Atlanta headquarters.

coordinating strategy with UN officials in Geneva, purchasing petroleum in Mombassa.

and distributing blankets to orphans in Phnom Penh. Daunting is the social scientist's

task of simply observing those activities in an organization, let alone accurately

representing and conceptualizing its entirety.

Having stated the difficulty of such analysis, however, let me make two claims.

First, the analysis focuses on not just one aspect of HO behavior (e.g., fundraising,

recruitment, training, or evaluation), but on the whole of its multifaceted internal

dynamic It proposes a comprehensive yet parsimonious descriptive and explanatory

theory of how the policy process is shaped throughout the vertical levels and lateral

departments of HOs Further. it demonstrates that the same cultural dynamics affect

behavior throughout the varous organizational divisions Second, the study presents a

model that conceptualizes not just one particular HO, but the broad range of NGOs and

IGOs that interact in the humanitarian regime Granted. there clearly is much evidence

of the vast differences in HO styles, ideologies, methods, and specializations, especially

between NGOs and UN agencies Nonetheless, this analysis demonstrates that all HOs

face similar, predictable obstacles to their successful operation, and these problems find

their origins (and solutions) in the institutional framework of their unique organizational

culture. The contribution of this analysis lies in its accumulated observation, synthesis,

and interpretation of the behavior of diverse organizations.

Defining the Methods

The ideas presented in this study are products of listening, observing, and

probing5 in many different realms of HO operations from 1991 through 1996 When

beginning my research. I did not have a set of formal hypotheses in mind. Instead, I

had intriguing questions that puzzled me. For example, why do HOs tend to make

repeatedly the same costly mistakes? Why do aid workers generally seem cynical about

their experience" And why do HOs characteristically state their openness and desire for

improvement. but defensively resist proposals for change" At first consideration, these

questions resemble the type that Weinberg (1972) calls "trans-scientific," or as Majone

puts t,. "questions of fact that can be stated in the language of science but are, in

principle or in practice, unanswerable by science" (1989:3).

The realm of organizational analysis and the kinds of questions to which this

stud\ seeks answers render deductive methodological approaches somewhat

unworkable This is not to say that the studs of policy process and organizational

beha\ or cannot be understood using positivist methodology To a newcomer, however.

the context does not lend itself to easy formulation of hypotheses that are falsifiable.

SI use Lindblom s concept of"probing" here to include the "persistence and depth
of investigation. uncertainty of result, and possible surprise" (1990 7)


empirically-based, and testable through replication. If one were to employ those

methods prematurely, the results and responses would lead to skewed conclusions and

interpretations. In fact, my study was initially structured to test several variables across

many individuals and organizations to explain differences in organizational

performance. I began this way by using a standardized questionnaire and coding

responses. It did not work, and I abandoned that approach early in my research for

several reasons: ) once immersed in the context, I determined that the answers given to

my questions did not shed much light on the deeper, more significant dynamics I was

observing at work in these organizations, 2) respondents expressed discomfort with the

questionnaire format, particularly due to the sensitive nature of the questions, 3) when

avoiding the questionnaire, answers to my questions, even sensitive ones, seemed to

emerge more readily from unsolicited informants and from the increased time I was

afforded for observation

It soon became clear that an inductive. interpretive approach was most

appropriate for revealing the dynamics of the psychological and cultural contexts within

HOs Without significant observation, participation, and earning the rights to privileged

information and conversation \%ith initially skeptical informants, I would not have

recognized the forces influencing culture and behavior in these contexts Only after

understanding this context through participant-observation techniques can the

appropnate questions and hypotheses be formulated for more rigorous, discerning


Therefore, this should be considered an exploratory study. After initial

investigations, the objective shifted from a shallow investigation of a large n to a deep

investigation of a smaller n. It also moved away from the methodological testing of

theory following the traditional ritual of acceptance or rejection of formally stated

hypotheses. Instead, as the product of inductive logic based on interpretation of

collected data, the goal became the creative construction of theory using a range of

multi-disciplinary approaches and concepts.

Thus, the conclusions merely present an arguably coherent picture of my

representation of reality that has been shaped by both deliberative research and

informed intuition Indeed, "science" is always subjective and socially constructed (see

Berger and Luckman 1966, Kuhn 1962). Synthesizing what many philosophers of

science have asserted. Lindblom concludes.

There exists a realty--or so most methodologists seem to postulate--
grasped or understood only by concepts and cognitive structures created
in the human mind, and the truth value of a report or explanation
consequently turns on its fit into a complex coherent cognitive structure
The test of the structure itself lies in its capacity to survive professional
debate (1990 168)

My subjective realht is articulated through this dissertation resulting in a model

comprised of substantial evidence and inductively-generated propositions and

hypotheses offered for subsequent investigation and debate. If elements of the model

are refuted through testing, others can undoubtedly salvage useful material for future

theory construction If it withstands scrutiny, colleagues will find a structure on which

to build more exact and comprehensive theories. Fortunately, with either outcome, the

understanding of social scientists and policy practitioners will be enhanced.

The data were collected through five inter-related components of qualitative

methodology: 1) participant observation as teacher and colleague of HO personnel, 2)

interviews and interaction with HO personnel from headquarters and field posts, 3)

textual analysis of three years of personal correspondence and interaction with one aid

worker, 4) textual analysis of "gray literature" (agency documents, reports, and

evaluations), and 5) participant observation among HO staff in headquarters and in field

sites of assistance programs in Kenya and Uganda.

These diverse methods are complementary. However, as I conducted my

investigations, my "researcher" role was blurred by several factors. First, I was a

personal friend and colleague of many of my HO personnel informants while working

and or studying side-by-side with them Second, other simultaneous roles took

precedence during periods of data collection (e.g., I taught HO personnel at the same

time I consciously studied them) Some might claim that this blurriness has tainted my

observations and findings However. ethnographic methodology implicitly requires that

the researcher see and report as much as possible through the perspectives of the

informants so as to paint a more accurate account of their subjective reality.

Throughout my work, I placed myself among my subjects and made it clearly known

that I was doing a study of the life of aid workers in humanitaran organizations To

those individuals in the assistance programs in East Africa, I also informed them that I

was there to help UNHCR improve a training program for HO staff(explained below).


Participant Observation as Teacher and Colleague of HO Personnel

My insight into the dynamics of HOs and the lives of aid workers has been

influenced most through my relationship with the University of Oxford's Refugee

Studies Programme (RSP). To appreciate the importance of my data collection at RSP,

one must understand its context as a multi-disciplinary research and teaching center that

probes the causes of and responses to global forced migration Bringing together

academics and practitioners to engage intensive study and discourse, RSP annually

offers a range of courses, from an MA degree and an intensive summer program, to a

yearly lecture series and many short topical courses. It coordinates and conducts

research, disseminates findings, maintains the world's most extensive library on forced

migration, and advises policy makers in governments, HOs, and affected communities,

Since 1991. 1 have been affiliated with RSP in various capacities, including

intermittent periods of research, teaching, and curriculum design for students, most of

whom are working for HOs For example, through different periods from 1994-1996 1

was involved in the design and teaching of a multi-disciplinary MA degree in

"international humanitarian assistance organized through a network of five European

universities. Sponsored bh the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO),

the program was intended to increase the "professionalism" of European aid workers by

providing a specialized degree program created for the unique requirements of their

context Students included both seasoned aid workers hoping to improve through

academic tutelage and newcomers to the field seeking to prepare themselves for future

employment For them. I wrote a curriculum manual on policy issues in the

management of humanitarian assistance and lectured at several participating universities.

This experience revealed several things. It showed how the academic and professional

institutions were then defining the problems ofHOs by how they were shaping the

course's content. It indicated the gaps in veteran aid workers' conceptualization and

their desire for help in their work, but it also revealed their concurrent resistance to such

"help" from academic research and evaluation. It demonstrated the range of

motivations of new aid workers and the general naivete and ill-preparedness that

accompany the humanitarian desire to help.

In addition, I was a facilitator and taught in RSP's 1995 International Summer

School, which annually brings together about 50 NGO and United Nations field and

headquarters staff, government officials, and researchers. That year. the participants

represented 27 countries from six continents and all levels of policy making and

implementation Combining such diverse cultures, backgrounds, skills, and approaches

produces a dynamic environment in which participants engage discussion and

investigation into the causes and consequences of forced migration and the patterns of

international response Through lectures, discussion groups, and multi-media

presentations, each year RSP's course challenges the commonly-held assumptions and

perceptions of the participants, encourages the sharing of ideas and experiences with

others, and stimulates innovation and creativity in their organizations This is done

through guided self- and group reflection, intensive study, and exposure to research

findings and field experiences from other participants

My various roles in RSP's pedagogical program have provided me with a unique

opportunity for interaction and discourse with HO personnel, having conducted many

of my interviews through contacts made while at RSP. My role at RSP provided me

with a particularly well-placed position to research the attitudes and beliefs of HO

personnel. Specifically, these experiences allowed me to see how different individuals

respond to the introduction of new ideas and can incorporate knowledge into their

world view. The resistance patterns revealed fascinating commonalities.

Interviews with HO Personnel

In intermittent intervals between 1991 and 1996, I interviewed over 150 local

and expatriate personnel from all levels of operations and departments from a vast range

of NGOs and IGOs based primarily in Europe and North Amenca The interviews

incorporated informal, unstructured, and semi-structured formats depending upon

appropriateness and opportunity They were conducted either in the country where

their headquarters was located or in the countries where they were operating (some

informants were interviewed in both contexts) Most informants were currently working

for HOs and had employment histories with several different kinds of HOs Many were

on sabbatical or had recently returned from field posts and were seeking positions while

continuing their education Onlh in a le\ cases did I have (or need) formal permission

from the HO headquarters to interview their staff


Analysis of Personal Correspondence with Aid Worker

Among the interviews of HO personnel, I learned much through the interaction

with one aid worker in particular. In the initial attempts to investigate the research

questions, many clues were uncovered through a relationship with this personal friend

who worked for several HOs in Kenya and Sudan. In her mid-30s, she went to Africa

for the first time in 1994 as the director of a community health training program in a

refugee camp in Kenya, her first experience working for an international HO After

returning to her home country for a year, she left again for east Africa to work for a

small NGO providing assistance to southern Sudanese Over this three-year penod I

received about 40 letters from her (some wer written directly to me, and some were

form letters wntten to her "fnends and family") The textual analysis of these letters

revealed the currents of emotion and patterns of her representation of her experience,

attitudes. and behavior working in the field

I wanted to experience for myself the refugee camp where she spent her first

year, and in 1996 that site was one of three where I conducted extensive research.

While there, I listened to some of her former colleagues analyze her experience,

behavior, and roles that she played Visiting her \sork environment after her departure

allowed me to first experience her context through her mind's eve. then to experience it

personally, then to have her former colleagues reflect upon her experience and behavior

from their perspective A nch. personal case study of one aid worker's experience

emerged from this diachronic viev built from multiple perspectives. This invaluable

relationship provided much msieht into the motivations, fears, expectations, and


discoveries of HO staff. The relationship inspired the model of institutionalization of

coping mechanisms that directed my subsequent inquiries. This model was tested and

revised through later interviews and observations.

Review of Gray Literature

Essential to any study of organizational culture is an analysis of the written

representation provided by organizations regarding their operations, methods,

orientations, and experiences. Such documentation is commonly referred to as "gray

literature" and includes internal and external evaluations, reports, advertisements, and

memos These documents reveal the "policy trails" within organizations and the

lingenng traces of historical memory around which past, present, and future action is

framed. They support the appearance of organizational coherence not only to

employees, but to those viewing them from the outside

Most of this review was conducted at RSP's Documentation Centre. which

arguably maintains the largest collection of such gray literature. Much of their

expansive collection has been assembled from persistent requests to HOs for internal

reports that will help others leam from collective experience. But many of the more

interesting documents come from sources who leak sensitive information that HOs

intend to keep internal- but that sources believe needs public attention Over the course

of many years, I have reviewed hundreds of these documents, and this process has

revealed fascinating insights and information about HOs that could not be collected

through interviews and observation alone

Participant Observation in Field Offices and Refugee Camps

The most concentrated portion of my research was the period of interviews and

participant observation among HO "field operations" in Kenya and Uganda from March

through June 1996. To gain access and make my research findings more quickly

applicable, I submitted a proposal to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

(UNHCR) outlining a study of their concurrent training program in "People-Oriented

Planning" (POP) organized by its Kenya Branch Office. POP is a framework for

gender-sensitive and participatory policy design, which has been articulated in various

handbooks and training courses. However, UNHCR had noted the strong resistance to

the changes that the POP approach requires in policy and programming. The Senior

Coordinator for Refugee Women maintained that the culture of UNHCR was the

source of the obstacles to POP's successful implementation. Given the increased

emphasis and resources given to POP handbooks and training, 1 proposed to evaluate

their use and effects in the field and to identify these obstacles to innovation and

change POP training, involving UNHCR and NGO personnel, took place in May in

Kenya's two major sites of concentrated refugee assistance--Dadaab and Kakuma--two

vern different institutional contexts The senior Social Services Officer in Nairobi, who

also serves as the POP organizer trainer for most UNHCR programs throughout Africa,

provided me with valuable advice, insight, and guidance during my study.

This trade-offworked well For my general dissertation research purposes,

UNHCR gave me necessary access, transportation, and legitimacy; and in return I gave

UNHCR and their NGO "operational partners" an immediate evaluation of this

important training program used for enacting organizational change. I submitted a

written report and was debriefed on several occasions by UNHCR social services

officers in Nairobi.

Dadaab refugee camps

Dadaab is a tiny transit town 80 kilometers from the Kenya-Somalia border

where Kenyan police and Somali bandits constantly battle for supremacy. In this

region, described by one aid worker as "The Badlands," the border only exists on the

map and in the minds of Kenyan authorities: sovereignty and law in the vast and

tertory cannot be enforced. The HO field headquarters and residential compounds are

surrounded by three layers of razor wire and briars (what is called "live fencing") to

protect the staff and equipment from bandits HO staff must not venture out of the

compound in vehicles without a police vehicle escort with automatic weapons because

bandits may hijack the cars and hold staff hostage HO staff remain tense.

Three refugee camps are located outside Dadaab town Dagahaley, 13

kilometers north. Ifo. 5 kilometers north, and Hagadera, 10 kilometers southeast

Assistance operations began in Dadaab in 1991 with the amval of Somali refugees in

the wake of the political crisis there The peak influx of refugees occurred in June-July

1992. and by mid-1996 the three camps held approximately 110,000 registered refugees

(Ifo 33.600. Dagahaley 36.500. and Hagadera 39.600) The camps pnmarily host

Somalis, but have also become home to a few hundred refugees from Sudan and

Ethiopia, and included a handful of Ugandans, Zairians, and Rwandans.

There are many HOs operating in the camps at Dadaab under a coordination

agreement, with the lead agency, UNHCR, in charge of coordination, monitonng,

protection, repatriation, and security CARE-Canada, the major implementing partner.

controls food storage and distribution, water, education, sanitation, and community

services. Medecins Sans Frontieres-Belgium (MSF) provides health care at three

hospitals and ten health posts, runs a tuberculosis program, and monitors nutrition. The

World Food Program (WFP) secures food commodities and transportation. Unicef

initially established water supplies. The official German aid agency GTZ organizes tree

planting and environmental education programs. The Canadian Baptists of Kenya

(CBK) support income-generation projects of tailoring and tie-dying Action Nord-Sud

(ANS), headquartered in Lyon, France, provides medical evacuation and treatment of

referral cases to the hospital in the nearest major town of Ganssa The Kenyan Red

Cross Society (KRCS) regulates the message boards and family tracing programs. Al

Haramein organizes religious education and burial services The Kenvan government

provides secunty from one police station and three posts. The National Council of

Churches of Kenya (NCCK) encourages reproductive health. However, the major

actors--UNHCR. WFP. CARE. and MSF--organize and distribute the lion's share of

the resources.

Kakuma refugee camp

Located 90 kilometers from the Kenya-Sudan border in Turkana District,

Kakuma camp holds approximately 50,000 refugees. Divided into five zones along the

Tarach river, Kakuma holds mostly Sudanese refugees, but also has Somalis,

Ethiopians, and a handful of Zairians and Rwandans. One significant component of the

population is the group of about 8000 Sudanese unaccompanied minor boys (called "the

minors"), who ended up in Kakuma after years of migration from camp to camp in

Sudan and Ethiopia.

Under UNHCR coordination and monitoring, several HOs operate in Kakuma.

The largest of the NGOs. Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is in charge

of general management of the collective compound, food distribution, transport of new

arrivals. shelter, sanitation, water, curative health, general construction, workshop

facilities, and social services The next largest NGO, the New York-based International

Rescue Committee (IRC) manages primary health care, self-reliance projects, adult

literacy, programs for the disabled, forestry, and agriculture Radda Barnen (Save the

Children-Sweden) organizes ps chosocial programs, programs for the minors, and

education (21 primary. one vocational, and one secondary school). WFP secures and

stores food commodities

Several factors make Kakuma a \er\ different environment from Dadaab. First.

security of both the refugees and aid workers is better in Kakuma Vehicles travel

without escorts and HO staff function without much overt fear of their environment.

Second. in Kakuma the staff from different HOs share a common compound for


dining, recreation, and lodging. In Dadaab, each HO maintains separate walled

compounds for offices, meals, and lodging; therefore, staff find it more difficult to

interact to persons outside their organization. These environmental factors significantly

affect the behavior of aid workers in the respective camps, as is discussed in subsequent


Ikafe refugee settlement

From October 1994, Oxfam (United Kingdom and Ireland) managed the

resettlement of more than 70,000 Sudanese refugees from reception centers on the

border to an area in northern Uganda called Ikafe. The largely infertile land was given

by the Ugandan government for semi-permanent settlement and integration. Oxfam's

acceptance from UNHCR of the lead agent role in Ikafe marked a "'big shift in policy"

for Oxfam, according to the head of Oxfam s Afrca department, from one of general

development orientation to one that accepted, and in fact sought, a lead role in an

emergency relief operation Oxfam s 1996 budget for Ikafe comprised US$6.7 million

of commodities. sen ices. and operational costs

Through prior relationships ilth Oxfam while working in Oxford, I participated

in ongoing discussions % ith Oxtam about the Ikafe program Oxfam had contracted my

supervisor at RSP. Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond. to conduct an initial evaluation of the

Ikafe scheme in December 1994 Among other recommendations, she encouraged

them to hire a permanent independent researcher to document the development of this

new program to assist them in facilitating informational exchange among the

participating actors to promote organizational learning. I was initially courted for this

position, but someone else was hired. However, aware of my research interests and

background knowledge of Ikafe and their policies, Oxfam invited me to observe and

report on a comprehensive participatory evaluation process to be conducted in Ikafe in

April 1996.

Upon reaching Ikafe, several unfortunate events changed the nature of my

expected opportunity to observe the process of participatory policy evaluation.

Consequently, I had to change my research agenda and strategy. First, concerning my

participation (even arrival), the Oxfam headquarters officials failed to properly inform

both the field offices (Kampala and Ikafe) and their own evaluation "facilitators"

dispatched from the same Oxford headquarters where I was asked to observe and report

on the evaluation. As a result of the poor communication, these facilitators denied me

access to public meetings of Oxfam staff, refugees, local hosts, and government officials

because "it would disrupt the process." Second, the day I arrived, rebel troops from the

West Nile Bank Front invaded the area, seizing Oxfam vehicles and staff, and mining

the roads This movement and the accompany ing violence forced Oxfam and other

HOs to cease operations and keep staff confined to the compounds. Every day we

awaited the rebels' arrival to seize supplies, but fortunately theV never entered the


These factors rendered my initial research focus impossible. However, while

waiting for safe passage out of the area and back to my primary research sites, I made

the most of the opportunity to observe the behavior of Oxfam staff presented with I)

the threat of the rebels; 2) the disappointment with their evaluation process; and 3) the

uncomfortable presence of an excluded researcher who could not leave. These data

proved to be worth the time thought initially wasted.'

Nairobi and Lokichokio

While spending brief periods in Nairobi en route between camps, I interviewed

HO personnel in their headquarters offices, both those HOs operating in the camps at

Dadaab and Kakuma and those working in other areas of Kenya. In addition, the

guesthouse where I stayed in Nairobi provided temporary housing for aid workers and

missionaries as they either enjoyed break periods or traveled to and from field postings

in humanitarian operations throughout east Africa. These transition periods provided

fruitful opportunities for informal interviews with individuals from diverse backgrounds

and organizations

Following the persistent advice of many HO staff I also spent several days at the

Operation Lifeline Sudan base coordinated by Unicefin Lokichokio, Kenya. Located

on the Sudanese border. Lokichokio is where the approximately 40 HOs operating in

southern Sudan maintain field headquarters, mostly housed in brightly-painted shipping

In April 1997. Ikafe settlement essentially emptied as most of the 70.000 refugees
suddenly returned to Sudan following major victories and recapturing of territory by the
Sudan People s Liberation Army Foreseeing the consequences of such an event, RSP's
Harrell-Bond criticized Oxfam s plans to build much infrastructure in these desolate areas,
and recommended they instead fortilf and expand existing local facilities so that Ugandans
could effectively utilize them after the refugees had gone. Sadly, like in many refugee-
affected areas. much of this construction reportedly is now unused and stands as a white
elephant from which others can hopefully learn

containers modified to accommodate short-wave radios, file cabinets, and desks. Most

HO staff use the Lokichokio compound as a transit point for travel to field sites in

Sudan, and many fly daily to their sites and back, sleeping every night in Lokichokio's

guesthouses and modernized tukul huts. As the IRC team leader in Kakuma described

it, Lokichokio is the "wild, wild West" of humanitarian operations where rugged aid

workers ride Land Cruisers instead of horses and fly on Twin Otter airplanes in lieu of

stagecoaches The interviews and observations gathered from my time there were


Discussion of Methods

It is wise to be skeptical about the validity of research involving respondents who

are questioned about sensitive issues that could reflect negatively upon them. Indeed.

this research is extremely sensitive in that 1 asked individuals in characteristically\

defensive organizations to reveal their shortcomings and frustrations While I generally

was received less warmly by higher-level managers and policy makers, I was pleasantly

surprised to discover the welcome from most field staff(except in Ikafe) who were even

excited about my research The\ expressed a need for the outside world to know of

their discouragement and the dysfunctional \a\ in which policies are made Many aid

workers shared a resentment for external researchers who come only to study refugees.

while ignorng the aid workers in the process In these cases, HO staff often must waste

time assisting these researchers with their work. and few send back any of their results

This desire to "tell their side of the story" made me an invited guest and privileged me to

information that would not have been relinquished to other researchers.

Some critics have suggested that most respondents did not tell me the truth, even

though I promised to keep all respondents and organizations anonymous. To limit this,

where possible, I looked for inconsistencies and patterns of misleading information bx

cross-checking interview data, observations, statements from other colleagues, and

information collected in policy statements and funding reports. Undoubtedly, some

people did try to mislead me. But this also was revealing, as Czarnawska-Joerges

(1992) confirms:

The ways in which people lie are as informative as the researcher's
observations from the outside, perhaps even more informative
Furthermore, if there is a unitary lie behind all organizational action, it
tells us more about this action than some deeply hidden individual truths
that are never revealed (1992:94)

I became ver\ conscious of these "unitary lies'" maintained in HOs Chapter 6 explores

some of these unitary lies and their structural manifestations.

To reduce their incentive to mislead me, I attempted to convince my informants

that their perceptions and information could help all HOs improve their performance

and would not be used to harm the reputation of specific persons or organizations

Man\ aid workers recognized this need to openly reveal their experiences and feelings

Further, many informants expressed to me that they found the process of my

investigation and the interview techniques therapeutic, both individually and in group

settings In fact. Schen (1991) advocates that organizational culture researchers use

what he calls the cynicall approach" more often because


[sJometimes one learns most about what culture is, how it operates, and
what its implications are when one is helping an organization to solve
real problems. At such times the insiders are more open, more willing to
reveal what they really think and feel, and, thereby, make it more
obvious what things are shared and how things are patterned (Schein

Unfortunately, I was not present in one organization for a sufficient length of time to

engage this clinical project in depth. However, many informants confirmed the

beneficial effects gained by simply talking to me about their experiences and emotions

while under stress. Indeed, the practitioner-friendly nature of my research not only

facilitated the uncovering and interpretation of organizational culture, but also assisted

some individuals and HOs in their efforts to affect organizational change

This text incorporates many quotes gathered from interviews over several years.

Protecting the confidentiality of sources is of prime importance, especially in such cases

where information or opinions shared with me could jeopardize peoples jobs and

future careers Therefore. I have attempted to include as much contextual information

about people's positions and character without using their names or revealing enough

information to allow identification The interviews are documented in journals and field

notes listing the inter ilew date. location, and persons present However, for the sake of

textual readability. I do not include such detailed documentation after each quote


Between Beliefs and Behavior

We return now to the basic research question: Given HOs' commitment to

research-based evaluation and client satisfaction, how do we explain the slow pace of

learning, innovation, and improvement in their policies and personnel? This chapter

argues that this question requires an investigation of the interaction between individual

and organizational helih. and behavior, particularly to evaluate the consistency between

the two Translating this into the language of policy, belief include values.

assumptions, and knowledge involved in policy design Behavior includes methods.

procedures, and actions involved in policy implementation and evaluation If it seems

logical to assume that beliefs influence behavior, then one could establish several

propositions as to the cause of HO policV dysfunctions.

First, problems could result from improper beliefs, which therefore lead to

improper behavior For example. if the assumptions guiding the design of policy are ill-

conceived, then the proper implementation of the policy following standard operating

procedures will likel lead to poor outcomes Taking this approach, a generation of

research-based criticism of the flawed beliefs and assumptions guiding much HO police

has in fact resulted in improvements in HO operations Second, the HO beliefs could


be sound, but problems result from faulty behavior. That is, the organization has the

right ideas and orientation, but fails to translate them into good operational practice.

Like all organizations, HOs face difficulties in policy implementation. Fortunately, the

application of standard management research has contributed to many improvements,

for example, in communication, personnel management, and authority structures, etc

The validity of these two propositions about the cause of policy dysfunction has

been verified time and again. Indeed, they are quite obvious to managers and analysts

alike. Since they easily lend themselves to solutions--either change the beliefs or change

the behavior-they have guided most of the inquiry and change in HO trouble-shooting


Figure 3.1

Proper Behavior

Improper Behavior

Proper Beliefs

Improper Beliefs

1. 2
The ideal HO that HOs that know the
effectively translates best practice, but fail
proper beliefs into to implement good
proper behaviors policy Most HOs fit
Vers rare into this category

3 4.
HOs with good New, inexperienced
performance due to HOs, or HOs of
I) unintentional, previous generations
luck\ results, or 2) that did not have
very rigid institutions today's improved
that demand proper knowledge of social
behavior dynamics.
Increasingly rare


However, a third proposition is less obvious, but most intriguing. It, too,

focuses on the interaction between belief and behavior, and it accepts the above

propositions. However, it considers many of the inconsistencies between beliefs and

behavior as inherent and irresolvable, and it more deeply probes the dynamics produced

by such conditions. In short, it suggests that HO problems result from processes of

organizational and individual coping with inconsistencies in beliefs and behavior. The

ways in which actors cope with inconsistencies generate an additional set of beliefs and

behaviors that, once institutionalized, significantly affect the organizational ability to

rectify the initial belief/behavior-induced dysfunctions. The articulation of this

proposition is the challenge of this dissertation.

To construct a framework to help investigate this proposition, this chapter takes

a series of steps to coordinate several theoretical approaches, some of which initially

seem at odds with one another. For example, Chapter One has already revealed that my

analysis centers around institutions Thus, one might assume that I would use

institutional theory as my foundation Any social scientist would also assume that I

would somehow juxtapose m\ institutional approach from its longtime rival--rational

choice theory--knowing the disciplinary centrality of the debate. This distinction would

be consistent with the expectation that one should "plant one's flag" on one side or the

other Yet. at the nsk of being a theoretical double-agent, I build my institutional

argument using some of the powerful tools of rational choice theory. A disciplinary

Cold War has prevented intellectual progress I hope to contribute to the detente


between the theoretical hardliners which will encourage cooperation in the search for


First, I review the major components of both institutional theory and rational

choice theory and show their contributions to our understanding of organizational

behavior and social interaction Next, I reveal their inadequacies: neither provides a

necessary "theory of action" nor an accounting of the reality of conflicting beliefs and

behaviors that are institutionalized in the environment. I compensate for these

deficiencies by reviving Festmger's (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance to infuse an

action dynamic into the model. Finally, synthesizing the best elements of the various

theories, I show that an organizational culture approach to the study of individual and

organizational behavior produces a holistic analytical framework with which to study


The Allure of Rational Choice Theory

To understand HO behavior, we gain much insight by beginning with rational

choice theory (RCT) RCT has increasingly intrigued social scientists from many

disciplines because of the powerful simplicity with which it predicts human behavior.

Emerging in the 1950s out of dissatisfaction with the predominantly structuralist

approaches to organizational analysis. RCT has steadily gained popularity While

Green and Shapiro ( 1995 3' tracked the increase of rational choice-based articles
published in the American journall /of P',oicLul Science at five year intervals from 1952-
1992 From no articles in 1952. the number steadily increased to 15 of 41 articles (37
percent) in the 1992 volume

critics (and even advocates) claim its assumptions are unrealistic, many simply rely on

the theory's sufficiently accurate predictions.

In brief, the variants of RCT rest on a set of common assumptions, namely that

"rational" actors will choose those actions that will maximize their interests or

preferences. It follows, then, that we can predict that action if we know several

variables: 1) the actor's preferences and/or objectives: 2) the actor's ranking of expected

values of alternative actions; and 3) the actor's estimated probability of an action

producing a favorable outcome.

Essentially, RCT requires a methodological individualism, that is. a commitment

to viewing social action as a product of individual actions. In other words, the level of

analysis must begin with the individual, even when constructing theories of social.

institutional, or organizational behavior. This does not mean, however, that RCT

cannot be applied to other levels of analysis On the contrary, despite its focus on the

individual, RCT's predictive power ironically is more evident in its application to

organizational- and systems-level dynamics than when applied to individual cases

Nonetheless, such macro-level analysis must be built, according to the dogmatic RC

theorists, on a theoretical centralit- of the individual. This fundamental requirement

links RCT to the realm of psychology perhaps more than any other methodological

construction In fact, Homans (1990) claims outright that RCT is a "stripped-down

version" of behavioral psvchologs

It is at the individual-level that the criticisms of RCT begin. In reviewing the

predominant criticisms (see Green and Shapiro (1995) for a comprehensive critique),


we find that most revolve around disputes over the indeterminacy of human preferences

and goals and the unrealistic information processing capacity ascribed to individuals

First, to make the theory work, the RC theorist must objectively identify the actor's

highly subjective preferences and goals (despite the fact that the actor may not even be

aware of such preferences or be able to articulate them). If the actor can articulate

preferences or the observer identify them, they both may discover that the goals are

numerous and sometimes conflicting. Next, the informational conditions required for

"rational" decision making are, in practice, very scarce. We find that decisions, in fact,

are made with only crude calculations of probabilities and ranking, which themselves are

based on insufficient information about limited alternatives. The human brain has

limits, yet the RC dogmatists assume away these limitations. Perhaps the most sustained

criticism of RCT deals with what Elster (1986) calls its "poverty of content." While

RCT has demonstrated proficiency at predicting action, its predictive parsimony has left

much to be desired in explaining action

Some RCT assumptions can be relaxed while still sustaining the spirit of the

theory For example. Simon s (1955) notion of "bounded rationality" points out that

cognitive limitations to information-processing leads people to rely on heuristic devices

that reduce the complexity\ of problem solving By "satisficing," an individual is not

seen to maximize his interests, but rather chooses the first option that is satisfactory Yet

RC theorists maintain that such behavior remains "intentionally" rational despite these


While RCT is far from paradigmatic, it provides a strong foundation. But

Almond warns that RCT "may lead to empirical and normative distortions unless it is

used in combination with the historical, sociological, anthropological, and psychological

sciences" (1990:121) It is to these approaches that we now turn.

The Renaissance of Institutional Theory

The shortcomings of rational choice theory have often led skeptics to its prime

rival: institutional theory Purveyors of institutional theory aim to fill in the rather rough

predictive sketch of human choice with the color and dimensionality of explanation

They argue that human and organizational behavior is best understood by focusing

pnmarily on the external influences on decision making Decisions and actions, they

demonstrate, are not made in a vacuum devoid of histoncal memory and social

consequences. In fact. for them. the context of behavior is of prime importance. The

institutionalist perspective shovs that decisions and actions are influenced by man.

forces, which Scott and Christensen (1995) have distinguished as nonlocal (extra-

organizational. ens ronmental I. /i,\,rli/ lt imprinting of history), relational

(configuration and arrangements of social structure), and cultural (values, beliefs, and


Institutions are the structural products of social interaction which serve to define

the parameters of indil dual choice and group behavior. Institutions, what Giddens

(1984) calls "residues of acti cities. often originate through a process of patterned

repetition of social activity\ However, institutions are not just collectively habitualized


actions. These actions, notes Czariawska, must be "strengthened by a corresponding

social norm" (1997:43). In addition, institutions have attained a reproductive quality

which owes their survival to "self-activating social processes" (Jepperson 1991:145). In

other words, once created, they reinforce themselves as social rules. Berger and

Luckman's main contribution is to point out the role of social construction of

perceptions by defining institutions as "reciprocated interpretations of reality"

(1966:54). In their view, institutions are much more than rules--they possess a powerful

capacity for defining what is "real" in a metaphysical sense. Another variation focuses

on roles occupied by social actors in social situations. In this perspective, Young defines

institutions as "recognized practices consisting of easily identifiable roles, coupled with

collections of rules or conventions governing relations among the occupants of those

roles" (1986:107)

Most early institutionalists. particularly political scientists, emphasized the formal

structures of agreements, laws, rights, and rules RC theorists initially had no quarrel

with the rule-based approach of treating institutions as "prescriptions about which

actions are required, prohibited, or permitted" (Ostrom 1986). Indeed, RC theorists do

not deny the influence of institutions, but theN treat them as background settings to

choice behavior. Keeping this perspective. North typifies the economist's perspective

by viewing institutions as "customs and rules that provide a set of incentives and

disincentives for individuals" (1986.231 ) Many theorists hold that institutions are

products of collectively established rationality, constructed and maintained as long as

they function for the maximization of public interest In this view, once collective


values, preferences, or cost-benefit analyses change, then the institutions are likely to


Beginning in the mid-1980s, a movement to invigorate the study of institutions

gathered support across many disciplines (see Powell and DiMaggio 1991). These

"new institutionalists" show that institutions are not passive structures preserved only by

functional utility Rather. they are powerful, autonomous dynamics that take on a life of

their own and influence decision making processes in subtle, informal, (and sometimes

irrational) ways. Within the discipline of political science, the work of March and Olsen

(1984. 1989) has been instrumental in this endeavor. Building on the work of many

cultural theorists, they argue that institutions are political forces in their own right,

capable of not only reflecting aggregations of social preferences and identities, but

actively forming them as well These institutions actually create the perceptions, values.

and volitions--a process that was once thought to operate in the opposite direction.

Wildavsk\ (1987) argues that institutions are a better determinant of preference

formation than models that previous theorists have offered. He writes, "people can

know what they believe or whom they trust without knowing how the belief is derived"

(Wildavsky 1987 9) This counters RCT which holds that people select preferences

according to their assessed utility value of the choices Using a restaurant metaphor,

Wildavsky claims that "individuals do not choose what they want, like ordering a lu

curie", instead they choose from what is socially viable, "like ordering prix fixe from a

number of set dinners" ibidd 4) The institutions set the menu.


As Scott and Christensen conclude, "Institutional theory is more appropriately

regarded as a theoretical orientation-as a family of concepts and arguments--than as a

tightly integrated, parsimonious theory. In this respect, institutional theory resembles

most other theories in the social sciences" (1995:302). Noting the diversity of the above

definitions, we can see the value of Scott's (1995) taxonomy of institutional approaches

He suggests that institutions can be analyzed as cognitive Asstems (of belief and

symbols), normative systems (as rule and governance systems), or regulative .stems.

Elinor Ostrom, a leading applied scholar and policy practitioner of RCT,

applauds this new institutionalism, but also outlines some important critiques. She

suggests that new institutionalists have gone too far and that institutions are given too

much explanatory power "Organizational life." she writes, "is equated in this view to

life in a straitjacket of required action rather than life in a game that is rule-governed

while allowing for choice as among permitted alternatives" (1990.96). Nonetheless, she

encourages attempts to build a much-needed bridge between the slippery concepts of

institutionalism and the more empirically-ngorous RCT Ostrom predicts this

convergence will characterize much political science in the 21st century, as "more

political scientists presume that indix duals are rational and search for institutional

structures to help explain beha\ ior that appears to be irrational upon first inspection"

(1991 242)

In part, this dissertation contributes to Ostrom's bridge. In addressing the

apparent conflict between indicidualistic rationality and cultural institutions, this study

explores how many "irrational" behaviors of HOs (wasting of funds, lack of

cooperation, institutionalized ignorance, myth construction and maintenance) are

perfectly reasonable because of their adherence to socially defined standards and

expectations prescribed by cultural institutions. These institutions are related to the task

of organizational survival and individual coping within a threatening environment.

Indeed, the logic of coping and survival is different than the logic of policy

effectiveness. Therefore, we need to understand these institutions in order to understand


Filling in the Gaps: Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory

We now have two competing, but not inconsistent, theoretical approaches-

rational choice and institutionalism--that simplify the analysis of decision making and

behavior of social actors Both approaches equip social scientists with explanatory and

predictive tools for understanding how behavior is shaped. RCT provides more

predictive power, and institutionalism provides more explanatory power. Nonetheless.

we are faced with two problems with the approaches. First, neither RCT nor

institutionalism provides a general theory of action or basic human motivation Social

scientists tend to avoid this task because they assume it requires a reduction of a

necessarily wide range of explanations and would oversimplify an incomprehensibly

complex phenomenon Indeed. all the great philosophers have struggled with this

question. Still, any theory of human or social behavior is incomplete without

establishing some son of theory of action RCT falls short because it does not explain

why people seek to maximize: it assumes people do so "naturally." Likewise,


institutionalism does not provide an explanation for the genesis and persistence of

institutions; it usually assumes them as given.

Second, neither RCT nor institutionalism adequately accounts for the pervading

contradictions produced by conflicting institutions and/or objectives found in everyday

situations Several examples illustrate these contradictions: 1) the decision criteria

among alternative choice options frequently conflict with each other: 2) many choice

alternatives are selected even though they directly conflict with a prevailing institutional

framework: and 3) many simultaneously functioning institutions contradict each other.

In sum, the process of choice behavior within a framework of conflicting institutions-

life in general--takes place amidst an environment of contradictions. Most importantly,

this conflict is not limited to the external environment; it occurs deep within the psyche

of individuals and subsequently produces confusion and psychological discomfort

Neither theor_ sufficiently represents this psychological element of internal conflict


To fill some of the gaps left by institutionalism and RCT, we turn to the

discipline of psychologL to the underutilized cognitive dissonance theory."

Recognizing the reality of chronic internal strife caused by conflicting beliefs,

objectives. and institutions. Festinger (1957) formalizes a relatively simple theory of

human behavior that individuals strie toward internal consistency in their conditions

He defines a cognition as "any knowledge, opinion, or belief about the environment,

about oneself. or about ones beha vor" (1957 3) As a fact of life, however,

individuals are inevitably confronted with everyday inconsistencies in their conditions


Consider some examples. People know that smoking cigarettes is harmful to health, but

many continue to enjoy smoking. Closer to our discussion, an aid worker knows of a

family in extraordinary need, but she does not provide her organization's resources to

them. These inconsistences produce variable degrees of psychological distress that

Festinger calls "cognitive dissonance." Individuals feel a psychological drive to reduce

the dissonance This drive is a prime motivator for action,just as hunger is a drive for

hunger-reducing activity. The magnitude of the dissonance-reducing drive depends

upon the magnitude of the dissonance. In other words, the more hungry a person feels,

the more fervently he or she will seek food. Also, just as there are degrees of

dissonance, there are also variable degrees of "tolerance" for dissonance. Seeing action

in this perspective, we can argue that humans are perhaps less driven to maximize

benefit than they are driven to minimize the distress that loss, failure, and uncertainty


To satisfy, the drive to reduce cognitive dissonance, according to Festinger,

individuals take one of three general strategies First, they can change their behavior

(the smoker quits the habit. or the aid worker g2ies resources to the needy family)

Second. they can change their helife (the smoker "learns" that the process of quitting

will cause more physical stress than continuing to smoke, the aid worker seeks evidence

to discredit the family\ s wornhiness Third. they can change their environment (the

smoker associates more with other smokers for support: the aid worker avoids coming

into contact with information about the family s condition). They also can combine


elements of strategies, for example, the aid worker many give only token resources to

the needy family while reducing their assessment of the family's need.

In adding cognitive dissonance theory to the toolkit used here, we gain a greater

depth in analyzing human and social behavior. This is especially true for the study of

HOs and their personnel because of the high degree of dissonance inherent in their

operational environments. By applying Festinger's theory, this study not only reveals

the fascinating patterns and mechanisms for dissonance reduction, but also provides the

essential motivational component to the explanation of behavior--the theory of action.

Thus, cognitive dissonance theory fills some of the gaps in RCT and institutionalism.

Applied in combination, the three perspectives provide a more complete picture of

social behavior At the risk of oversimplification, we arrive at a simple relational model

individuals' drive to reduce cognitive dissonance influences their behavior, and these

actions produce institutions, which affect both the degree of future cognitive dissonance

and their subsequent behavior

Organizational Culture: A Theoretical Synthesis?

Up to now, the chapter has focused on theories which help us understand the

nature ofmanN basic influences on human behavior Our next step is to confine our

investigations to the set of drives. institutions, and behaviors that occur when individuals

come together within a particular organization, specifically an HO. To accomplish this,

we need an appropriate theoretical approach with which to analyze organizations

Among the many approaches to the study of organizations, the organizational culture


approach has re-emerged with increasing popularity. Schein (1985) explains some of

this popularity:

What makes [organizational] culture an exciting concept is that its
analysis forces one to take an integrative perspective toward
organizational phenomena, a perspective that brings together key ideas
from psychology, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, systems
theory, and psychotherapy (1985:313-314)

Adopting such an approach for this analysis is consistent with its aims toward

multidisciplinarity, theoretical synthesis, and ethnographic research methodology. In

addition, the organizational culture approach provides a holistic model for sythesizmg

theories for interpreting collective human behavior, while it still maintains the

distinctiveness and integrty of the individual theories: rational choice, institutionalism,

and cognitive dissonance theory Treating organizations as cultures is consistent with

the view that actors should be viewed as intentionally rational, but that they also

structure their individual beliefs and behaviors in ways that are somewhat compatible

with the institutional structures of their group. The willingness to restrict their actions

and thoughts to these institutions (a measure of cultural strength) varies among

mndi duals and over time But on the whole, culture has an enduring quality. Not only

does the organizational culture approach accept the assumptions of our three theories, it

further adds a depth and wholeness to this interpretive project.

Although culture is now a popular way to conceptualize the more abstract

functioning of organizations. culture is not just a metaphor (Trce and Beyer 1993)

Although treated as such by man\ pop-science writers for business schools and

management seminars, organizational cultures do, in fact, exist Organizations are not


like cultures, and they do not have cultures-they are cultures (Smircich 1983; Trice

and Beyer 1993:21). Of the many definitions of organizational culture, one that

perhaps best represents its many dimensions is offered by Schein (1991), who has

worked consistently to refine the thinking on the approach. In a disaggregated form

highlighting the components, he defines culture as:

1 A pattern of shared basic assumptions,
2. invented, discovered, or developed by a given group,
3 as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal
integration [note what I call coherence],
4 that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore.
5 is to be taught to new members of the group as the
6 correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems
(Schein 1991:247).

An organizational culture approach incorporates the many dimensions of the

organization's two primary tasks external adaptation and internal coherence.

Organizational culture provides meaning for individuals about the nature of several

elements, according to Schein 1985) human activity. reality and truth, time, human

nature, human relationships, and homogeneity vs diversity. Drawing heavily from

Schein (1991:252) and Moran and Volkwein (1992:32). we can conceptualize a

dynamic relationship among three levels of cultural institutions, artifacts, values, and

underlying assumptions In the outer level are uritlact.%: the organizational structures.

processes, and behavior patterns. which are visible to members but hard to decipher

Examples include rituals, symbols. rites, standard operating procedures, gestures.

folklore, and language In the middle level are values: the goals, philosophies, myths,

and ideologies, which are infrequently! modified only by social consensus through

discourse. In the core level are underlying assumptions: the invisible, "preconscious,"

taken-for-granted beliefs, habits of perception and emotion, which are the "ultimate

source of values and action" (Schein 1991:252). The visibility, accessibility, and

malleability of the institutional elements of these levels grows as one moves from the

core outward. Of importance in this study is the opposite process, what Schein calls

"cognitive transformation," through which artifacts, such as behavior patterns become

more institutionalized (i.e., less visible, accessible, and malleable) over time. In this

process, for example, behavior patterns become institutionalized as values which then

transform into beliefs and ultimately take the status of underlying assumptions.

Czamiawska-Joerges (1992) notes that organizational culture has become an

"umbrella concept," that subsumes a vast diversity of analytical traditions, approaches,

and concepts. Many of the understandings of organizational culture are somewhat at

odds with one another Further complicating the diversity, some cultural analysts

construct definitions and descriptions of culture borrowing concepts and jargon from

anthropology, itself a diverse discipline with incessant internal debates over the

definition of culture among its man\ traditions and approaches. Certainly,

anthropologists have no exclusive "rights" to the discourse of culture. However. the

more analysts there are adapting concepts of culture from different anthropological

traditions (some more helpful than others). the more confusion there is likely to be The

confusion grows even more when pop-management winters fail to base their concepts

on any foundation of anthropological understanding


To temper some of this confusion, many cultural analysts rely on Smircich's

(1983) distinction among five traditions or approaches to organizational culture: cross-

cultural management, corporate culture, organizational cognition, organizational

symbolism, and psychodynamics. This study is influenced primarily by the

organizational cognition and psychodynamic approaches.

Culture Types and "Motivating Fantasies"

There are many typologies of organizational cultures (see Trice and Beyer

1993) From the psychodynamic approach, Kets de Vries and Miller (1991) developed

a typology that is most useful for our purposes because it focuses on organizations that

demonstrate pervasivel. dysfunctional behavior, which is caused by common

neuroses." not the severely incapacitating "psychoses." The psychodynamic analysts

report that everyone has neuroses, but only when individuals become fixated on these

neurotic patterns do serious problems related to psychoses occur. Kets de Vries and

Miller (1991) classic_ "neurotic" organizational culture types and resulting policy

structures by linking them to an organization's predominant "motivating fantasy," that

is. the underlying perceptions shared bh individual personnel about their relationship

with their environment

Of Kets de Vries and Miller s five categories, the only one resembling HOs is

the first category paranoid cultures. based on the fantasy of persecution, which exhibit

paranoid policy structures see table below) 'Paranoid" organizations, according to

their typology, exhibit a constant fear of attack and expend much energy on finding their

enemies (or scapegoats). They are secretive, conservatively nsk-averse in policy

making, and hypersensitive to external environmental factors. Tending to react rather

than anticipate, they display an aggressive competitiveness, but with a rigidity in decision

making due to the tendency to prematurely distinguish friends from enemies and right

from wrong.

However, though similar in many respects to paranoid organizations, HOs

encounter a significantly different milieu of institutional dynamics and related behavior

patterns. Thus, to more accurately analyze this increasingly important group of unique

organizations, this analysis argues for the addition of a sixth culture type: the delusional.

Motivating Fantasy Culture Type Policy Structure

Persecution Paranoid Paranoid
Helplessness A\oidant Depressive
Grandiosits Charismatic Dramatic
Control Bureaucratic Compulsive
Detachment Politicized Schizoid
(;uili /)clu. mual l)efensve

The chapters to follow describe hoxw the conditions of and responses to the HO

environment produce a collective fantasy of uilt shared by HO personnel The

organizational efforts to respond to the fantas% of guilt require a policy structure based

on defensiveness This is different from paranoia in that HOs cannot survive in a

paranoid mode unless the\ actnTel\ construct a defensive posture through their policies

However, for the image-conscious 10s to maintain these defensive policies in the

climate of public scrutiny and personal introspection, HOs must shroud them in

carefully fabricated facades For the HO personnel to save face and sustain their


morale, they, too, must begin to believe their own misrepresentations. Hence, the

culture that upholds these facades to assuage the fantasy of guilt becomes delusional.

Very important is the fact that Kets de Vries and Miller's classification is

derived primarily from analysis of the predominant top-down influence of personality

styles of executive leadership on the whole organization. This approach is consistent

with much organizational culture analysis, especially from the "corporate culture"

tradition Indeed, the effect of HO leadership on shaping culture is strong and varies

widely among HOs, creating diverse cultural variants. My analysis, however, rests on

the observation that the motivating fantasy of guilt that tends to influence HOs emerges

from all levels of organizational operations (both formal and informal), and perhaps

most significantly from the field level where the distress is acute. I hypothesize that

behavior and coping mechanisms of field personnel "trickle up" to influence

organizational culture at mid- and upper-levels. This happens through many processes.

including staff member promotion into higher levels of administration, through

communication channels, and by multi-level staff interaction (further discussed in

Chapter Six) In sum. the same dynamics which powerfully affect field personnel also

affect mid-level mangers and executive policymakers. The next step in this analysis is to

use this model of organizational culture to describe in more detail these dynamics in the

realm of HO policymakinm and show ho" they result in institutions that shape

organizational behavior To this task, we now turn

This chapter has taken a hasty journey through a vast field of theory spanning

several disciplines and approaches without stopping long enough for detailed


consideration. At the risk of injustice to these complex, sometimes elegant theores, this

cursory review provided for the reader a set of lenses with which to clarify the images

emerging in the subsequent chapters. As these images come into focus, the value and

power of these theoretical optics will be recognized. For those seeking a stronger initial

dose of theory, I beg patience as the theory develops through its application. Some

skeptics of multidisciplinary approaches may view this theoretical toolkit as cluttered.

On the contrary, the chapters to follow show that amidst the apparent "clutter" lie a

diversity of specialized tools with which an organizational analyst can solve perplexing



HO Field-Level Bureaucrats: The Humanitarian "Superhumans"

The extensive scope of today's complex emergencies, according to Slim (1995).

requires aid workers to possess nothing less than "superhuman" characteristics. He

suggests that George s (1990) description of ideal aid workers is a good beginning.

First, they must take graduate degrees in social anthropology, geography.
economics, a dozen or so difficult and unrelated languages, medicine
and business administration Second. at a slightly more practical level
they must demonstrate competence in agronomy, hydrology, practical
nursing, accounting, psychology. automotive mechanics and civil
engineering In addition, they must lear to give a credible imitation of
saintliness. and it would be well if thev could learn sleight-of-hand as
well. since thex will often he called upon to perform feats of magic
(George 1990 50)

However. Slim notes that Geore s design is based on the context of famines and

natural disasters of the 1980s He convincingly argues that today's aid workers face

radically different en ironments and that the\ must command even more "superhuman"

skills than George's ideal But Slim stresses that successful adaptation to this ne\w

en\ ironment includes not onlI "rce-skillng." but more importantly "a fundamental

reappraisal of the relef workers essential identilt" (Slim 1995 111) fie savs an aid

worker must be nothing short of a 'moral philosopher" in order to engage the necessary

crafts of political analysis and conflict management, while still being able to negotiate


the dilemmas involved with the conflicting ideals of neutrality, justice, equity, and


Unfortunately, aid workers are not humanitarian superhumans. They are real

people. They have limits. Yet the bottom-line performance of the humanitarian regime

rests on their shoulders. The individual aid workers at the field level are the direct

implementors of organizational policy

In a cunously underutilized analysis, Lipsky (1976; 1980) offers the concept of

"street-level bureaucrats" to distinguish a particular type of civil servants who are the

most direct translators and implementors of organizational policy. Operating on the

front lines where policy meets the public, the subjects of Lipsky s research include

police officers, social workers, and lower-court judges primarily in urban environments

To briefly summarize his conceptual category the work of such street-level bureaucrats

is characterized by 1) constant interaction with nonvoluntary citizens or cents, 2)

considerable independence and wide discretionary power in decision making and policN

application; and 3) extensive potential impact on the livelihood of clients Their work

environment includes I inadequate resources for the assigned tasks: 2) a context of

physical and or psychological threat in which the bureaucrat's authority is regularly

challenged, and 3) ambiguous and or contradictory expectations about job performance.

despite the considerable difficult in measunng such performance These public

workers "have limited control--although extensive influence--over clientele

performance, accompanied in part by high expectations and demands concerning that

performance" (Lipsks 1976 197)


Even more visibly than other contexts, the above conditions are acutely

prevalent in the realm of personnel working for humanitarian organizations. Thus

Lipsky's model is extremely useful for analyzing the behavior and environment of aid

workers, or what may be more appropriately called "field-level bureaucrats," whose

work context is in the "field" usually quite distant from HO headquarters and oversight.

Field-level bureaucrats in HOS not only influence organizational performance. more

importantly they have considerable impact on people's lives. They socialize clients to

the expectations and rules of the HO services. They determine and control client

eligibility and access to the benefits of the humanitarian regime. They oversee the

treatment and process of organizational service of the clients In short, their capacities

and actions determine the relationship between the organization and the clients, and

between policy objectives and actual impact Understanding the realm of the aid worker

and the dynamics of their behavior is essential to understanding collective behavior and

functioning of the organization

Engaging this task, this chapter explores the field workers and their realm. It

takes particular interest in identifying some of the elements that cause what is later

defined as psychological distress among aid \workers Beginning with aid workers'

unfulfilled expectations and their recognition of the limits of their helping capacity the

chapter descnbes man\ of the dynamics that make individuals bum out The realm of

humanitarianism is notorious for the ethical dilemmas and value conflicts it presents for

HO personnel This chapter describes briefly some of these conflicts Then it draws

attention to the distress faced when aid workers come to fear not just their external


environment, but those they are assisting. Next, the internal environment of HOS,

particularly personnel relations within the walls of their compounds, is analyzed as a

"total institution." The combination of these factors is shown to cause psychological

distress among aid workers, especially threatening for individuals with personality types

commonly found in the helping professions. The response to this psychological distress

is the focus of the next chapter

Unfulfilled Expectations

Ironically, many aid workers know little of their own realm before they enter it.

In fact, actual job responsibilities and contexts often do not match the expectations and

aspirations of most aid workers, especially newcomers to the industry. An American

nurse working in southern Sudan for MSF-Holland summed it up well when exclaiming

about her frustrating experiences 'This is not what I signed up for!" Some of the

blame for this discrepancy\ between expectations and reality lies with HO recruitment

practices In a survey of 215 returning British aid workers, one of the largest surveys of

its kind. Macnair ( 1995 disco ered that more than one third of the respondents were

not given ajob description or details of the program prior to filling their last post

Although one respondent reported that "'.er\ little information is part of the joy of the

job. most respondents (85 percent "f'elt that it was at least fairly important to have a

good picture of the job the\ were going to do" (Macnair 1995 4 3). Another

explanation for the unfulfilled expectations is that the specific work requirements in

humanitarian operations change so rapidly and constantly that aid workers must be


willing to shift their responsibilities to compensate for the changing needs of their

organizations and clients. Workers who are unable to accommodate such changes are

not well-suited for the job, yet Macnair reports that personnel screening is frequently


Much of the blame also lies in the aid workers themselves because of their front-

loading of aspirations and distorted images about their future as humanitarians

Although aid workers' illusory hopes of "saving the world" are cliche, there is some

truth in their representation. In my interactions with European students seeking to

become aid workers, noticeably present in many attitudes was a romanticized naivete

about "the global community." the unquestioned goodness of indigenous peoples, and

the desire to experience an alternative to the "material world." Of course, few aid

workers expect to "save the world Indeed, many reported they entered the

humanitarian industry out of a desire for more adventure and power in theirjobs

However, many seasoned aid workers expressed their regrets in hindsight at their

naivete, lack of preparation, and unreasonable expectations regarding the contexts in

which they would be serving Seeking uplifting experiences "helping people help

themselves" and "building community many people bitterly report that what they

found were greedy, conniving ungrateful people who will lie. cheat, and steal in order

to survive The discrepancy between expectation and reality, therefore, is a

predominant element in the field, which leads to cognitive dissonance.

The cynicism that develops as a result of these unfulfilled expectations is

difficult to overcome Fortunately, workers do overcome it A volunteer with Save the


Children Fund (UK) working in southern Sudan spoke at length about being unprepared

for the frustrations of facing criticism from those he tries to help and of never being

thanked for the work he does. Echoing a common sentiment among aid workers, he

said, "At the end of the day, even though people criticize you and say you're not doing

enough, you know that in God's eyes you did what was good. That is what must

sustain you." Such self-assurance, however, creates its own set of problems. which will

be discussed in the next chapter.

The Limits of Benevolence

In humanitarian emergencies, field-level bureaucrats in HOs are responsible for

many immediate, complicated tasks: counting populations and accurately estimating

potential increases, establishing registration systems, disposing of bodies, selecting sites

and layout for settlement, negotiating with local leaders, finding and rescuing missing

persons. answering questions from distraught victims: communicating with

headquarters; gathering intelligence on military activity; acquinng licenses and

permission from local government. designing and administering social surveys: hiring

and scheduling transport equipment, securing proper fuel and maintenance of vehicles,

setting up medical clinics and food distribution centers: gathenng cultural information,

finding and tapping water sources, digging latrines, recruiting, training, and paying local

staff disseminating information through journalists: mapping networks of political

power. coordinating with other HOs. rapidly developing budgets and accounting

systems, and protecting populations and aid workers from further violence. The


daunting list could continue indefinitely. Keep in mind, these are only some of the tasks

required in the first few days of an emergency response and do not include the extensive

list of long-term responsibilities. Amidst an intimidating environment of demands and

challenges, these tasks must be done very quickly and very well in order to save lives.

However, HO field-level bureaucrats are often incapable of significantly

improving the condition of those placed in their charge because of the scope of visible

human suffering in humanitarian emergencies. Despite their humanitarian mandate and

will to help, their effectiveness is limited by many factors. As a general rule, budgets

and supplies are vastly insufficient for the needs. When resources are available, the

logistical complications for their delivery and distribution are aggravating and time

consuming Essential commodities must be channelled through unreliable transportation

and distribution networks Communication is complicated by unfamiliar cultural codes

and languages in the areas of operations, the vast geographical distances among

operational sectors, and limitations of technological equipment in poor countries.

Compounding the communication problems, the information that is transferred is often

incorrect or insufficient for proper decision making Most major humanitanan

operations today are conducted amidst militarnl hostile environments, putting aid

workers at great personal risk and sloing delters of resources Even when aid

workers are fortunately \working in the absence of war, thev must endure tedious

negotiations with local and state leaders just to be allowed to provide aid They must

tolerate interaction with other personnel with incongruous motivations and behaviors

And the situations require expertise in tasks for which they have no training, knowledge.


or experience. As one novice British aid worker coming from her first break away from

the Rwandan refugee camps in Ngara, Tanzania said,

The problems they expected us to solve were overwhelming, bigger than
life-problems ofjustice, national reconciliation, human rights. I'm just
a community development worker. We were not trained in those things
We are just new to all this, but we had to make decisions about these
issues almost every day

Recognizing that refugee assistance is fundamentally about managing power relations

and community leadership, a UNHCR Field Officer in Dadaab concluded.

Aid workers, especially UNHCR people, come in with no experience in
managing and leading a community, yet that is what their job is. They
must immediately become a community leader and most are not
prepared to do that They don't have the experience, skills, or
knowledge to do what the job requires

Aid workers echoed this sentiment throughout the programs and organizations I studied

After telling me the "horror stones" of hiring practices and "Peters Principle" promotion

trends, the International Rescue Committee team leader in Kakuma criticised the

practice of using northern nurses with no experience in rural or community health to run

primary health care programs in relief and development programs. The Kakuma

hospital in 1993-94 was run bh a 24-year-old MSF-Holland doctor whojust graduated

from medical school She was a \er\ capable doctor, according to those who worked

with her. but she had no experience managing a extensive community health program.

let alone one in a refugee camp The team leader said, "There are thousands of good

Kenyan health care staff who today are traumatised by insensitive expat nurses who

come in thinking they know it all and that the locals are incompetent and don't want to

work hard Reflecting from his veteran s perspective, he sadly concluded, "For an


NGO to put that kind of inexperienced people in charge is absolutely mad, but it

happens all the time." My investigations concluded that skilled people are around, but

are often placed in the wrong positions for their skills.

Despite the efforts of aid workers, experienced or not, their labor and resources

are not enough to fill the need The aid recipients persistently make this inadequacy

known. One of four WFP officers in Kakuma camp reported that a refugee recently

said to him, "This vehicle you drive is mine. Your food is mine. If I was not here. you

would not have a job You work for me." The officer said he feels a lot of stress

because of this understanding, but he cannot do anything about it. He continued,

"Refugees come up to me holding their daily rations in a small cup and ask me, "Could

you live on this' I don't know what to say, but my bosses say this is all they need and I

cannot object to that "

While field-level bureaucrats have great impact on clients" lives, clients do not

have a reciprocal influence Clients are not party to HO mandates, budgets, or

operational guidelines. They have little knowledge of the organizations that provide

them with goods and sen ices and control their actions Thev see only the

representatives of the organizations--the staff, people wearing MSF tee-shirts and

driving Land Cruisers. and the faces of the social workers who determine the validity of

their needs and requests When clients have grievances about the quality of service or

their treatment, they cannot appeal to anyone other than these field-level bureaucrats,

\who themselves are limited in their capacity to make significant changes in policy

Therefore, the ensuing conflict over the power/knowledge imbalance is not played out


between the clients and the organization; it is manifested between the clients and the

field-level bureaucrats. At the field level, conflicts become personal.

One example of this conflict is noteworthy. I accompanied an Oxfam driver

taking a truck loaded with maize and beans for a delivery to a remote section in the

Ikafe settlement Upon entenng the make-shift village, the driver was faced with a

barrage of complaints since he was the first representative from the aid establishment

the refugees had seen since the last distribution Although scheduled by Oxfam for

every 15 days, this was the first food distribution the refugees had seen in 45 days. One

of the refugees explained to me that to survive, his group had been forced to eat the

seeds they were given for planting Despite the warning label on the bags that read "Not

for consumption--seeds treated with poisonous chemicals," the refugees' hunger forced

them to eat the contents They washed the seeds before cooking and eating them, but

the\ vomited and became ill afterward Faced with criticism, the driver argued with the

refugees, trying to explain the inconsistent deliveries by using logistical excuses (e.g..

long journey, fuel acquisition problems. rebel activity). He was under tremendous

pressure. even threats. but he explained the best he could to people who were in ver\

bad shape As a driver, perhaps more than anyone in the HO, he becomes the most

important client relations representative because he is the last person in the distribution

chain More significantly. he becomes the contact point for conflict But of all the

field-level bureaucrats, the driver has the least amount of training on community

relations and counseling techniques for calming and comforting distressed clients This

example highlights an important problem, that among the field-level bureaucrats, the


low-level HO staff are often the ones who deal most directly with the clients, yet they

are the ones who perhaps are least able to represent the organization in ways that are

helpful for the relationship. At every level, HO staff must explain, sometimes in heated

arguments, the reasons for their inactions, lack of resources, and failures of the system

The human tendencies that arise in such conflict situations are understandable, but can

be very dysfunctional for necessary dialogue, problem solving, and conflict resolution

Value Conflict

All relief operations involve the interaction of cultures and groups who are

supposedly focused on the same objective: helping to provide assistance to suffenng

people Among the field staff within even one HO, a visitor can often find a dozen

nationalities represented While colorful and exciting, the dynamics of this international

interaction contribute to man% obstacles to effective communication and cohesive

personnel relations.

For example, most people would accept that there are differences in the attitudes

and values between Europeans and Africans One cliche quickly cited by new

expatriate aid workers is that the pace of life is much slower in the South than the\ are

accustomed to In emergency situations, expatriates are geared for speed, quick

decisions, and rapid response "because lives are on the line However, according to

them. they encounter the "African pace." which is still slower than their own even in an

emergency. Africans know that the job will get done. but it will take time and there is

no reason to rush things or to get uptight about the task. Some expatriates view this


sense of non-urgency as irresponsible behavior. The perception seems to be that

accommodating the local pace can be endured in long-term development programs, but

when "lives hang in the balance," as is the impression in relief work, the pace must be

quickened. As a result, frustration and animosity often develop, which can seep into all

areas of organizational life. Development workers, with a more future-oriented vision

and extended project schedule. have become used to a slower pace and are better

trained to expect and accept it Relief workers, on the other hand, especially new ones.

operate with different rules and expectations and often find this pace intolerable.

Expatriates often suggest, somewhat ashamedly, that there is a marked

difference in motivation between themselves and many of the local staff who work in

humanitarian organizations. Yet for those expatriates who work in HOs, this motivation

difference is a valid assertion that deserves some investigation. People in donor

countries do not generally seek HO employment. HO field work, especially, includes

long periods away from "home,. relatively meager pay and benefits, little job security,

and few promotion opportunities Those people who do engage in HO work tend to be

motivated more for non-material reasons, and this functions as a self-selection

mechanism that screens prospective employees Among people in poor countries, on

the other hand, a position with an HO is among the most sought-after jobs For them,

O10 employment includes exceptionally high pay relative to local standards (and in many

cases pay at all is exceptional), high status within the community, and access to perks

such as free transportation, food. and housing However, the suggestion that expatriate

staff are more motivated by humanitarian goals than local staff is certain to evoke cries


of racism. In fact, many foreign aid workers that I interviewed quietly told me they

suffered from their own introspective fears that they were becoming racists. This

cognitive dissonance produced when they believe one way and act another is a troubling

realization for many socially progressive, idealist aid workers.

The conflict between organizational objectives and personal motivations for HO

employment is a key variable that affects HO functioning. Of course. an HO has many

objectives, and the individuals who work for the HO have a variety of motivations.

Sometimes these converge and are compatible. Many times, however, HO objectives

and personal work motivations are very different, even conflicting. The publicly

presented motivation for work in HOS generally is the desire to help, but it takes all

kinds of individuals and skills to make the organization viable Regardless of whether

aid workers are motivated by a religious "calling," a desire for adventure, or simply by

monetary rewards. all eventually moditf their behavior to reflect the ethos of the

organization because it is part of their ob requirement. They may not share the

humanitarian ethic, but they must act as if they do in order to keep theirjobs. The

internal negotiation of the discrepancy\ between fulfilment of internal desires and

ceremonial display\ of appropriate image leads to cognitive dissonance within HO


Also. the ideoloeg that shrouds the notion of "humanitarianism" seems to

prevent many people from accepting motivations and values that stray from the ideal

On one hand. aid workers frequently report that they find great frustration in working

with people who are "just in it for the money\ On the other hand, many professionals


espouse their disdain for the "do-gooders" who assume a moral superiority over others.

This conflict emerges in several cases. First, it influences interactions between contract

workers and volunteers. Second, it interferes between expatriate staff from the North

and local staff Third, it taints the relationship between NGO workers and the much

higher-paid UN personnel who are often criticized by NGO workers for "selling out"

and "only caring about the size of theirper diems."

The values and ideologies of personnel may also conflict with their

organizational roles and tasks. Perhaps most troubling are occasions when aid workers

find themselves in situations where the HO's goals conflict with the needs of those it is

supposedly assisting From his extensive experience in Africa, de Waal (1988) bluntly

describes the disturbing realization with which aid workers are faced:

Most of the people who start to work for relief agencies in Africa have
not had previous experience of knowingly contributing to the suffering
and death of a large number of people Relief agencies do not tend to
attract people who have this sort of experience and they do not include it
in theirjob descriptions when recruiting Yet the disturbing activity of
voluntarily being unpleasant to strangers is one of the most frequent
activities that working in a relief programme involves (de Waal 1988:1)

Sometimes being "unpleasant to strangers" is an understatement I once

observed a UNHCR Field Officer in Dadaab trying to get a large group of Somali

refugee women to sit down while the\ waited in line for distribution of plastic sheeting

used for shelter construction When they did not comply with directives to sit. he seized

a small tree branch and began beating the women His beating continued throughout his

time there, which he told me was for "monitoring purposes Also during this time, he

approached a small group of refugees gathered between the refugee women and the


distribution center and grabbed a teenage boy by the neck and roughly slung him to the

ground with an audible thud. His threats with the stick persuaded them to disperse.

When he approached me later with stick in hand, he said matter-of-factly, "Beating

refugees with sticks is not in UNHCR policy, but sometimes we have to do it." On the

beating, his colleague attested, "Somali women need this because they don't understand

like the men." The Field Officer later commented that he hoped this would not go in

my report. It seems that there is a fine line between unpleasant negotiations with

strangers and petty violence against them.

Aid workers also encounter conflict when they discover that in order to sustain

the image of operational success and humanitarianism, they must engage in tasks that

are inconsistent with their moral code of behavior. For example, in order to prompt an

action deemed necessary for program success, they must misrepresent reality or lie to

superiors or outsiders through documents and reports. This practice of deliberate

misrepresentation is ever present within humanitarian operations, mainly because of the

understanding that a desired action will not happen without sensationalizing the situation

and making the needs seem greater than the\ are Discussed in later chapters, this

practice produces a widespread distortion of reality and a subsequent skepticism

throughout the humanitarian regime of the validity of information

There are often value conflicts within the organizational structure of HOs

because of diffenng operational rules and pnonties Conflicts occur between verticallv-

linked structures (e.g.. headquarters, country bureaus, and field operations) who have

divergent views of the situation Conflicts also occur between honzontally-linked


structures with different responsibilities and methods (e.g., between fundraising and

operations, or "development" and "emergency" units).

Wasserman (1980) describes the basic dilemma of social workers in large public

welfare agencies, not unlike many HOs:

The social worker in such a bureaucracy is caught up in this brutal
intersection of contradictory values. If he actually tries to help his clients
and 'buck' the organization, he often suffers from emotional and
physical fatigue and becomes cynical and defeatist about the nature of
social work. If he adapts to the bureaucracy, he at best experiences
massive frustration, at worst he becomes a "mindless functionary"
(Wasserman 1980:94).

While using a latrine in the busy UN and NGO outpost in Lokichokio, 1 came across a

striking symbol of aid workers depressing realization that their ideals of

humanitarianism are being corrupted by the system in which they work. Along with

other words of wisdom scratched into the wooden latnne door, someone had scrawled a

reference to Hancock's (1986) scathing cntique of the aid industry: "K'e arc the Lords

of Povert,." it read

Ethical Dilemmas

Facing these value conflicts in their everyday jobs, aid workers encounter

powerful ethical dilemmas when the\ must make decisions despite the contradictions

and dissonance involved in their actions (Weiss and Collins 1996) For example.

decision requirements about distnbution of inadequate resources force relief workers to

decide who eats and who does not. and in many cases who lives and who dies


HO staff must decide whether to cut programs that they believe support

aggressors in armed conflicts, knowing that doing so will place thousands of innocent

people at risk. For example, faced with the questionable morality of assisting those

involved in the Rwanda genocide and ultimately funding military training in camps,

many HOs withdrew their staff from crucial relief operations in Goma. Bukavu. and

NgaralKaragwe. As the head of Oxfam's emergency department warned. "Doing

community participation programs in Rwanda could become community participation in

genocide." One Bntish nurse working with Chnstian Outreach in Ngara explained to

me that her local head supervisor, who was also a personal frend, was accused of war

crimes in Rwanda. She did not know whether to believe this information or what to do

about it "The man had worked very well for us," she reported, "and I didn't think he

could be a killer."

Relief workers often believe that even if they are unable in their conscience to

remain neutral to the conflicts requiring external assistance, they can still provide aid in

a fair, non-partisan manner indeed, the International Committee of the Red Cross

(ICRC) is founded on such assumptions Held together by fragile institutions and

carefully brokered agreements. ICRC operations have been able to successfully

intervene in extremely sensitive situations for humanitarian purposes. As a result of its

successful history. this unique organization has enjoyed a reputation that extends

worldwide However. ICRC delegates have increasingly come under violent physical

attack from combatants (discussed in a section below). Consequently, there are

proposals that delegates increase their personal secunty, for example, by accompanying


armed UN convoys, wearing Kevlar armor, and bulletproofing their vehicles. But

lgnatieff(1997:62) notes the counter-argument: "If you harden the target...you only

increase the likelihood of its becoming a target. If you trust the militias, they will trust

you." He also adds, however, that "delegates have paid for this trust with their lives"

ICRC personnel are faced with difficult and complex decisions.

The attacks on ICRC also come from observers who believe their strict

adherence to the principle of neutrality is outdated. Critics claim that ICRC's doctnnes

of neutrality and independence get aid workers killed and prolong conflicts. They also

point to ICRC's diplomatic equivalent of the attorney-client privilege, which prevents

ICRC staff from providing pnvileged information gathered behind the scenes. Critics

argue that such silence treats villains and victims as equals and inhibits investigations

into war crimes, as in the former Yugoslavia. Maintaining their principles, ICRC

workers continue amidst these criticisms and dilemmas and undoubtedly face severe

levels of cognitive dissonance

UnfortunatelI, some HOs attempt to assume ICRC's neutrality and make

reckless and dangerous moves Unequipped with ICRC's skills of delicate negotiation

and unprotected by its armor of painstakingly-forged reputation, some HOs unwisely

risk resources and lives by blindly giving aid to all who ask Not only are these attempts

impossible, they are unethical and dangerous Providing aid without carefully

considering its impact and potential use may be simply stoking a fire

HO leaders wrestle with decisions on whether to assume a position of protest.

neutrality, or agreement when NGOs, IGOs, and state governments often negotiate the


fates of vulnerable populations. For example, in this UNHCR-declared "decade of

repatriation," HO staff must decide whether to accept needed funding and high-profile

visibility by participating in repatriation programs described for the international

community as "voluntary," knowing that neither adequate protection nor resources

necessary for successful return are available. HOs have participated in such notorious

involuntary repatriations as the Ethiopians from Djibouti in 1983 and the Rwandans

from Tanzania in 1996 When a cholera outbreak in the camps in Dadaab was detected

in April 1996, Medecms Sans Frontieres (Belgium) recommended a delay in a

scheduled, high-profile repatriation of Somalis, citing UNHCR's own policy to prevent

the spread of the deadly disease UNHCR, however, continued with the six-day

repatriation, knowing the nsks involved with dispersing infected persons but also seeking

positive publicity from a successful, if small. repatriation (650 out of 110,000 refugees)

MSF protested the move through official channels. The MSF field director also lobbied

her counterpart and friend at CARE, which coordinated HO logistics, that CARE refuse

to send trucks to transport the refugees to the airstrip. Even after a debate, the trucks

were sent and the repatriation continued as planned

Another example illustrates the ever-present dilemmas HO staff face in deciding

when it is nght to break inter-orgamzational rules Because of the senous threats from

Somali bandits operating around the camps in Dadaab. UNHCR prohibited any NGO

vehicles from driving among the camps without a police vehicle escort, scheduled only a

fews times per day The head of MSF noted that their staff frequently must respond to

medical emergencies for which an immediate escort is almost impossible to arrange


She reported that in such situations staff face the decision to obey the rules and not go

or to break the rules by hiring private vehicles to move doctors or patients in

emergencies. This action may save lives at the time, but she acknowledged that it

certainly jeopardizes the security of other NGO workers in the future (as well as

angenng many of their colleagues, namely lead-agent UNHCR).

A German ICRC officer in Lokichokio lamented about a situation he recently

faced when he flew on a reconnaissance mission into a war-ravaged area in southern

Sudan. Upon landing on a remote airstrip, he discovered two people requiring medical

evacuation. One was, in his words, "a sloppy-drunk, arrogant, wounded SPLA soldier

who had probably killed at least five men, and who was smoking cigarettes and bragging

to his friends about going on vacation to the hospital." The other was a young girl who

would soon die without treatment of a parasitic infection of one side of her face.

Although the plane had sufficient space, the ICRC officer was forced to deny

evacuation to the girl because her condition was not war-inflicted. With anger in his

voice, the officer said, "Surely the little girl deserved and needed the flight more than

that bastard, but ICRC police% restricts transport and medical care only to those who are

war-wounded He revealed that he almost broke fundamental ICRC rules and carried

her on board Instead he faced the task of asking forgiveness of the girl's pleading

family, knowing that she would surely die because of his decision

Even the simple function of planning a celebration can become a troubling

dilemma When the HO community in Dadaab organized a celebration of the UN-

declared Africa Refugee Day in 1995, groups of fundamentalist Islamic Somali men


with sticks attacked Somali women who were participating in volleyball matches and

public singing groups as part of the celebration. Two people died and many were

injured in the ensuing violence. The Saudi-funded NGO, Al Haramein, which controls

much of the formal education in the camps, in part provoked the orchestrated violence.

later explaining that they had not been part of the planning (In fact. Al Haramein

representatives were individually invited to every meeting, but failed to attend. and

opted to incite riots instead of expressing their discontent to the organizers prior to the

celebration). Consequently, the planning meetings for the following year s celebration

activities were extremely tedious because all the HOs were overly sensitive in relating to

Al Haramein, lest the fundamentalist NGO incite further havoc. Nonetheless,

strengthening the gnp of minority tyranny, the Al Haramein head remained silent through

most of the meetings, further dampening the spint of the other NGOs about a

celebration designed to build community morale

Management Orientation

Another set of conflicts arises in general management policy orientation When

reflecting on overall HO polhc. it appears that the two primary policy realms-- the

eternal management of the client population and the internal management of

personnel--are both predicated on conflicting views of human nature, which are roughly

similar to McGregor's ( 1960) two classic models of organizations, Theory X and

Theory Y On one hand, the internal management of HOs tends to follow Theory Y.

which assumes that individuals (especially "humanitarians") generally enjoy work and


are committed to organizational goals; that they can exercise self-control and would

prefer discretion over supervision in their jobs; that they can use creativity in solving

problems; and that they are self-motivated by social and ego rewards more than by

economic benefit. On the other hand, the management orientation toward HO clients

resembles Theory X, which assumes that people generally do not like work and have

limited creative capacity to contribute to problem solving: that they will generally shirk

responsibility and/or cheat when given the opportunity; that they need strict monitoring

and supervision; and that people are motivated more by personal profit and threats of

punishment than by the search for self-actualization.

Using these models reveals an interesting paradox: humanitarians assume others

(particularly their clients) will shirk responsibility to maximize personal gain, yet they

themselves supposedly operate with benevolent motivations, which is different from

their perception of human nature In other words, humanitarians do good things for

altruistic reasons, yet assume that others will tend to do bad things for self-interested

reasons This differentiation may be explained by analyzing their perception of what

HO workers see as the source of their work-related humanitarian problems war, greed,

violence, etc. They work with people who suffer from the effects of evil behavior and

motivations Perhaps more than man%. the come face to face with the evil and

corruption of the world and tend to see this as --the way things are Their increasingly

cynical perception of human nature influences HO policy as they try to shape behavior

in designing policies and structures for both organizational management and social

development Policies. therefore, reflect almost a double standard as to compensate for


self-interested behavior and protect aid workers from clients taking advantage of them.

On the whole, it is a rational strategy However, the policies tend to produce

dysfunctional results.

The Fear Factor

Like other types of field-level bureaucrats, aid workers live and work under a

fairly constant threat from elements in their environment. First, the sites of operations

are frequently in or very near military conflict zones. Aid workers presence and

resources are increasingly used as strategic weapons by the combatants Refugee

camps, for example, often harbor rebel groups that control the camps and attract cross-

border violence from state militanes from their country of origin Second, relief

operations often take place within countries where the state has collapsed and the rule of

law is rendered useless through the violence of rival factions Third, relief operations

often involve negotiating access to enclaves of displaced persons in the middle of wars

Finally, aid workers themselves are increasingly the direct targets of violence, as attacks

on them and the resources they manage are both strategic and symbolic victories for

combatants For example, trying to maintain its balancing act of neutrality, the ICRC

has suffered escalating numbers of staff murders In 1994 in Rwanda alone, 36 ICRC

workers were killed in acts of war In 1996. three delegates were killed in Burundi

when their Land Cruiser crashed after being shot in an ambush That same year.

gunmen with silencers assassinated six delegates while they slept in a hospital in


Chechnya. ICRC's partner organization, UNHCR, lost twelve international staffing

Bosnia in 1996 and dozens more were wounded there.

Aid workers must deal with the dissonance produced when they come to fear

the very people they are assisting. In Dadaab, for example, Somali clan-based "bandits"

operating among the refugee population were the main threat to the HO personnel as

they frequently hijacked vehicles, battled with Kenyan police, and gang-raped women

of rival clans. In 1996 an MSF nurse was raped by Somali bandits. For these reasons.

the HO compounds were surrounded by three layers of razor-wire and briar fencing.

and vehicles could only travel outside those defended compounds in a convoy of

vehicles protected by Kenyan police officers with assault rifles. In Kakuma, the day

before my arrival, HO personnel faced the second violent rebellion in a year by

disgruntled Sudanese refugees who objected to changes in food distribution procedures

Refugees held four HO workers hostage and destroyed health clinics, distribution

centers, and schools The head of LWF in Kakuma does not even go into the camps

because he was warned that the refugees would stone him because he is so disliked.

Minding their safety every local relief regime has in place an evacuation plan

for HO personnel On an outside wall of the CARE compound in Dagahaley, one of

three camps in Dadaab. hangs a large sign that reads. "Dagahaley Evacuation Plan,"

complete with instructions on how to flee and seek safety from attack by refugees This

prominent sign constantly reminds the CARE staff that they are under threat. After the

1996 riots in Kakuma. HO meeting agendas included detailed instructions on "where to

run to find the emergency exits hidden in the back of the compounds. Staff were

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