Common Operating Picture?

During the last few years, I have seen a significant interest from various actors in designing information systems for common operating pictures for crisis response. Often with some sort of rationale that a graphical representation over a geographical location would improve the understanding of what is going in order to make “hard decisions”. However, in my studies of small-scale and large-scale accidents there is very little that points to the often favoured solution of digital representations of maps, being the ultimate solution. The representations does not say much of what to do. They merely say, what objects and phenomena that some actors choose to see as relevant. But the meaning and significance of these objects and phenomena are in most cases very different among a group of actors, especially if the emergency response work involves actors from a range of organizations. My concern is that with a too focused attention on what to visualise on the maps, we tend to miss the interaction that takes place using the maps. The common operating picture is not in the map, but in the interactions where some form of common understanding is interpreted and negotiated. Also, a common operating picture is perhaps not the solution at all, perhaps is the “differing operating picture” much more powerful in understanding the interrelated issues and some time conflicting perspectives evident in all crisis response. The different views is not a problem but a resource in making sense of what is going on and a background in order to negotiate what to do. Modern Information Technology for Crisis Response should not centralize the decision-making power but instead allow for decision-making on various levels and parts of the crisis response network. The common operating picture should focus more on what the various actors do in order to provide mechanisms to coordinate the work, not to force one view to be accepted by all actors. There are many interesting questions that needs to be asked when Common Operating Picture is discussed. What does a common operating picture consist of? What actors are included to establish such picture, first responders, commanders in emergency management roles, infrastructure response personnel, and/or politicans?

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