Helping agencies learn from experience



This study is investigating how organisations can improve their capacity to learn through experience. Photo: New Zealand Fire Service
This study is investigating how organisations can improve their capacity to learn through experience. Photo: New Zealand Fire Service

The ultimate aim of the research explained in Hazard Note 34 is to help emergency management staff and volunteers to function more effectively in increasingly complex environments. Its overall approach is to help agencies to ‘learn how to learn’, so they understand how to embed effective learning practices and systems into their organisation’s culture. The experiential learning model, which is grounded in real-world experiences rather than classroom training, is a key focus.

Broad challenges have been identified that agencies need to manage in order to enhance and sustain learning. These include shifting value from action post an event, to reflection, focusing on the bigger picture and allowing enough time to effectively embed the new practices after an emergency.

No organisation can forgo learning. All experiences provide opportunities for learning to occur. A key insight for agencies interested in facilitating improvements in learning is to locate potential weak links in the learning cycle and to develop a better understanding of how to learn.

Further reading

Birkland T (2009), ‘Disasters, lessons learned, and fantasy documents’, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management17(3), pp. 146-156.

Donahue A and Tuohy R (2006), Lessons we don't learn: A study of the lessons of disasters, why we repeat them, and how we can learn them, Homeland Security Affairs, 2(2).

Farazmand A (2007), Learning from the Katrina crisis: A global and international perspective with implications for future crisis management, Public Administration Review 67, pp. 149-159.

Kenney CM, Phibbs SR, Paton D, Reid J and Johnston DM (2015), Community-led disaster risk management: A māori response to ōtautahi (Christchurch) earthquakes, Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies 19(1), pp. 9-20.

Jackson LM (2016), The influence of organisational culture on learning lessons: Implementing a lessons management life cycle, The Australian Journal of Emergency Management31(1), pp. 18-23.

Kolb DA (2014), Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development, Indianapolis: Pearson FT press.

Owen C, Bearman C, Brooks B, Curnin S, Fitzgerald K, Grunwald J and Rainbird S (2015), Decision making, team monitoring and organisational performance in emergency management, Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

Owen C, Krusel N and Bethune L (2016), Report on Research Utilisation Review for AFAC and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, Melbourne.

Owen C (2017), Ghosts in the machine: Organisational culture and air traffic control, New York: Taylor and Francis.


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