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Public Organization Adaptation to Extreme Events Evidence from the Public Transportation Sector

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This dissertation consists of three essays, each examining distinct aspects about public organization adaptation to extreme events using evidence from public transit agencies under the influence of extreme weather in

This dissertation consists of three essays, each examining distinct aspects about public organization adaptation to extreme events using evidence from public transit agencies under the influence of extreme weather in the United States (U.S.). The first essay focuses on predicting organizational adaptive behavior. Building on extant theories on adaptation and organizational learning, it develops a theoretical framework to uncover the pathways through which extreme events impact public organizations and identify the key learning mechanisms involved in adaptation. Using a structural equation model on data from a 2016 national survey, the study highlights the critical role of risk perception to translate signals from the external environment to organizational adaptive behavior.

The second essay expands on the first one to incorporate the organizational environment and model the adaptive system. Combining an agent-based model and qualitative interviews with key decision makers, the study investigates how adaptation occurs over time in multiplex contexts consisting of the natural hazards, organizations, institutions and social networks. The study ends with a series of refined propositions about the mechanisms involved in public organization adaptation. Specifically, the analysis suggests that risk perception needs to be examined relative to risk tolerance to determine organizational motivation to adapt, and underscore the criticality of coupling between the motivation and opportunities to enable adaptation. The results further show that the coupling can be enhanced through lowering organizational risk perception decay or synchronizing opportunities with extreme event occurrences to promote adaptation.

The third essay shifts the gaze from adaptation mechanisms to organizational outcomes. It uses a stochastic frontier analysis to quantify the impacts of extreme events on public organization performance and, importantly, the role of organizational adaptive capacity in moderating the impacts. The findings confirm that extreme events negatively affect organizational performance and that organizations with higher adaptive capacity are more able to mitigate those effects, thereby lending support to research efforts in the first two essays dedicated to identifying preconditions and mechanisms involved in the adaptation process. Taken together, this dissertation comprehensively advances understanding about public organization adaptation to extreme events.

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  • 2020