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Testing a methodology to improve organizational learning about crisis communication by public organizations

Paulina Palttala (University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)
Marita Vos (University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 15 November 2011




The purpose of this paper is to test a measurement system with performance indicators to improve organizational learning about crisis communication by public organizations enhancing public safety in large scale emergencies. The tool can be used to conduct a preparedness audit or to evaluate communication performance in a real situation or in an emergency exercise. Evaluation is part of the strategic planning and development of crisis communication.


The construction of the instrument and its theoretical underpinnings are first explained, after which the series of empirical tests that were implemented to scrutinize the clarity and appropriateness of the indicators as well as the usability of the instrument are presented. The process approach to crisis management, in which the various phases of a crisis are seen as a continuum, and the stakeholder perspective, in which both the diversity of public groups and the network of response organizations are taken into account, are applied in the paper.


The tests of the instrument revealed much interest in its use, and it was seen as a potential tool for the improvement by public organizations of their crisis communication. The tests led to improvements in the structure as well as in the phrasing of the individual performance indicators and their explanation. The indicators were considered relevant and important but too many in number. Therefore, a possibility to use the instrument in three separate parts, relating respectively to the period before, during and after a crisis, should be offered.

Research limitations/implications

This study addresses the main factors relevant for crisis communication with respect to the approach chosen, but does not report all the literature and empirical findings that validate the individual indicators as this has been done in other publications. It also presents a series of first test findings but not as yet the results of improvements initiated by using the instrument.

Practical implications

The instrument developed shows weak and strong points in crisis communication on the level of single indicators, but also allows comparison of performance in different phases and for the various stakeholder groups, showing where more attention is needed. The instrument developed will be available on an open web site and users will be asked to make the measurement results, rendered anonymous, available for its further improvement.

Social implications

The paper contributes to effectiveness of emergency management by testing an instrument to facilitate learning about crisis communication.


Much of the crisis communication literature focuses on reputation crises. This paper discusses crisis communication supporting crisis management in the case of disasters and other emergencies that are handled by a response network instead a single organization. It provides a clear framework for analysing and assessing the quality of crisis communication and stimulates and thus enables learning and further improvement.



Palttala, P. and Vos, M. (2011), "Testing a methodology to improve organizational learning about crisis communication by public organizations", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 314-331.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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