University of Tasmania

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Building organisational capacity to support operational agility in humanitarian logistics

posted on 2023-05-27, 20:41 authored by L'Hermitte, C
Humanitarian organisations operate in very complex and dynamic environments. In such environments, supply chain agility has been repeatedly recognised as an essential requirement. Agility enables humanitarians to swiftly respond to changes and disruptions encountered along the disaster relief supply chains. As humanitarian organisations are involved in multiple operations and, therefore, in multiple ad hoc supply chains, agility also enables them to move from one operational environment to another in an effective manner. The purpose of this research is to increase and deepen the understanding of the concept of agility in humanitarian logistics. In particular, this study aims to demonstrate (1) that agility is a built-in characteristic of humanitarian organisations that transcends the operational, technical and functional levels, and (2) that it is required in contexts other than emergency responses. In other words, this study not only investigates the strategic antecedents of agility in humanitarian logistics, but also considers the applicability of agility to humanitarian protracted operations (longer-term and regular operations). In doing so, this research addresses critical limitations of the current humanitarian logistics literature on agility which is firmly rooted in operational level considerations and primarily associates agility with emergency disaster relief. Systems theory and the dynamic capabilities model were used and, in parallel, the literature on agility in a business context was reviewed. Through this analysis, four strategic level agility capabilities were identified: (1) being purposeful, (2) being action-focused, (3) being collaborative, and (4) being learning-oriented. By undertaking a qualitative content analysis of 29 face-to-face interviews with key informants, the relevance of these capabilities to the humanitarian context was confirmed. An emergent relationship between the four capabilities and operational agility, i.e. the ability of humanitarian organisations to conduct responsive and flexible logistics operations, was also identified. Subsequently, the strength of this relationship was quantified by using structural equation modelling to conduct an analysis of survey data. This demonstrated that the above-mentioned capabilities form an integrated whole and that, collectively, they account for 52% of the variance in operational agility. Therefore, limiting supply chain agility to the operational level is suboptimal, i.e. agility requires high-level leadership inputs as well as a system-wide and aligned approach. In addition, the logistics and supply chain environment of humanitarian protracted operations was investigated by collecting and analysing qualitative and quantitative data on the characteristics of such operations, the risks and uncertainties most frequently encountered, their impact, and the ways that field logisticians managedisruptions. Through this analysis, it was demonstrated that unpredictability and disruptions exist in the logistics environment of protracted operations and, thus, that agile practices are also needed in such operations, i.e. beyond emergency responses. This study opens new avenues for research and highlights the need for academics involved in the humanitarian logistics discipline to expand the scope of their research on agility (1) from a narrow focus on immediate action to a broader one that considers the organisational mechanisms that support immediate action, and (2) from emergency responses to the recovery phase of a disaster. This study also provides new theoretical insights and, in particular, develops the foundations of the theory of organisational agility in humanitarian logistics. Going one step further, this research informs the decisions and actions of the leaders of humanitarian organisations by providing the basis for a practical approach to the development of agility through the achievement of deep-rooted capabilities. Thus, it emphasises the need for leaders to be agility facilitators, i.e. to create an enabling environment that supports field work. In the context of increasing humanitarian complexity, a growing number of long-term, recurrent and severe crises, rising demand for humanitarian assistance, and the limited funding available, it is more necessary than ever that humanitarian organisations reappraise the way they operate. Therefore, this research redefines the boundaries of the concept of agility in humanitarian logistics and opens up new perspectives on ways to increase the responsiveness and flexibility of field operations through an organisational approach.


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Copyright 2015 the Author Section 6.1 has been published as: L'Hermitte, C., Bowles, M. and Tatham, P.H. (2013), \A new classification model of disasters based on heir logistics implications\" in Lane R. and Kahn D. (Eds.) 11th ANZAM Operations Supply Chain and Services Management Symposium Brisbane Australia 20-21 June. It has been removed from the publicly available version of the thesis for copyright reasons. Section 6.2 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: L'Hermitte C. Tatham P.H. Bowles M. (2014) Classifying logistics-relevant disasters: conceptual model and empirical illustration Journal of humanitarian logistics and supply chain management 4(2) 155-78. Section 6.3 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: L'Hermitte C. Bowles M. Tatham P.H. Brooks B. (2015) An integrated approach to agility in humanitarian logistics Journal of humanitarian logistics and supply chain management 5(2) 209-33. Section 6.4 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: L'Hermitte C. Tatham P.H. Bowles M. Brooks B. (2016) Developing organisational capabilities to support agility in humanitarian logistics: an exploratory study Journal of humanitarian logistics and supply chain management 6(1) 72-99. Section 6.5 appears to be the equivalent of the peer reviewed version of the following article: L'Hermitte C. Brooks B. Bowles P.H. (2016) Investigating the strategic antecedents of agility in humanitarian logistics Disasters First published online: 16 December 2016 ] which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving. Section 6.6 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: L'Hermitte C. Tatham P.H. Brooks B. Bowles M. (2016) Supply chain agility in humanitarian protracted operations Journal of humanitarian logistics and supply chain management 6(2) 173-201"

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