The Centre is an elite crisis response group, located within the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). It was created as part of the global effort to reduce the risk from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI or ‘bird flu’). Since its creation the CMC-AH has deployed teams of animal health scientists in close to 40 different crises around the world in response to about one dozen major diseases. The Centre was called upon to assist the Government of Mexico in April 2009 to what is now known as pandemic (H1N1) 2009.
This was the Centre’s first response to an actual pandemic situation, and it highlighted a number of recurrent structural problems within FAO, as well as new challenges. I was hired to conduct an After Action Review to help the Centre learn and improve.
I facilitated four workshops, using dialogue-based methods to help the team make sense of what happened. The workshops were iterative, building upon the conclusions of the previous. I also conducted a series of confidential interviews with the team. Based on this information, I wrote a report for a general audience that provided a mapping of the events and issues, an analysis of why things happened the way they did, and a series of recommendations.
The workshops and interviews resulted in changed perceptions that will influence how the team prepares for the next crisis. The report was written in an accessible style for a general audience, to provoke a greater awareness within FAO of the Centre and its requirements. The report was well received and provoked a number of useful conversations and specific changes.
The context for this response consisted of four hitherto novel characteristics … politically sensitive … high media profile … dynamic … uncertainty and unpredictability … a pandemic situation is a crisis of considerably greater turbulence than FAO is accustomed. This type of crisis involves greater political sensitivities, places tremendous productivity demands on the core team and forces them to be more flexible and adaptive … the importance of relationships and collaboration is highlighted across a number of levels … and it is apparent that effective use of networks and sophisticated relationship skills are essential to the CMC-AH success in such crises ….Ultimately this review highlights a series of tensions that FAO must navigate when it conducts this type of work.