Harvard to study government response to crises

Acting in Time

Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has launched a research initiative aimed at helping government leaders better respond to and manage crisis situations.

Harvard officials say the program, called Acting in Time, will generate research, discussion and ideas to overcome the incapacity of governments to react quickly to catastrophic events.

The program will not focus on specific solutions to disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina or terrorist acts, but rather will explore why governments are unable or unwilling to act when such events occur, officials said.

“It is important to look beyond the crisis of the moment to the fundamental ability of governments and leaders to take action when they need to do so,” said Christopher Stone, faculty chairman of Acting in Time and a professor of the practice of criminal justice at Harvard.

Solutions are rarely missing when governments face critical challenges, he said.

“What’s missing is the ability of governments to act on what we know and to act in time to make a difference,” he said. “That’s the leadership skill set we will be trying to define through this initiative.”

Acting in Time will support a series of research projects exploring reasons why governments fail to act and how they can surmount obstacles such as costs or political divisions in time to ensure a more positive outcome when disaster strikes. Kennedy School faculty will lead the projects in collaboration with experts at the school and in other departments at Harvard.

The initiative will provide a framework for discussion during a conference May 4 and 5 in Cambridge, Mass., with the theme “The Looming Crisis: Can We Act in Time?”

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