Abstract: In crisis management operations, strategic errors can cost lives. Some international organizations (IOs) learn from these failures whereas others tend to repeat them. Given that they have high rates of turnover, how is it possible that any IO retains knowledge about the past? The book NATO's Lessons in Crisis introduces an argument for how and why IOs develop institutional memory from their efforts to manage crises. Findings indicate that the design of an IO’s learning infrastructure (e.g. lessons learned offices and databases) can inadvertently disincentivize IO elites from using it to share knowledge about strategic errors. Elites – high-level officials in IOs - perceive reporting to be a risky endeavour. In response, they develop institutional memory by creating and using informal processes, including transnational interpersonal networks, private documentation and conversations during crisis management exercises. The result is an institutional memory that is highly dependent on only a handful of individuals. The book draws on the author’s interviews and a survey experiment with 120 NATO elites across four countries. Cases of NATO crisis management in Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine further illustrate the development of institutional memory. Findings challenge existing research on organizational learning by suggesting that formal learning processes alone are insufficient for ensuring that learning happens. The book also offers recommendations to policymakers for strengthening the learning capacity of IOs.
Speaker bio: Heidi Hardt is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. Her research examines effectiveness, knowledge and change in international organizations, particularly in the area of international conflict management. She has expertise in NATO, the EU, UN, international cooperation, crisis management, military operations, organizational learning, organizational culture and gender mainstreaming. Hardt has published the book Time to React: The Efficiency of International Organizations in Crisis Response (Oxford University Press, 2014) and has a second book NATO’s Lessons in Crisis: Institutional Memory in International Organization under contract with Oxford University Press (Forthcoming 2018). Hardt’s research has also been published in journals such as Global Governance, Review of International Organizations, European Security and African Security. She has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, the American Political Science Association and NATO Science for Peace and Security. She has also interviewed more than 250 political and military elites. Hardt received her Ph.D. from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva and her MSc in European Studies from the London School of Economics.