Recognizing and Managing Novelty: A Key to Effective Emergency Response

Jan 13, 2010, 16:12 ET from Harvard Graduate School of Education

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A leadership development program  presented by Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education (HIHE) will better prepare college and university leaders to recognize, respond to, manage and recover from campus emergencies and other crisis events. Crisis Leadership in Higher Education (CLHE) will be held at Harvard University from March 1 to March 4, 2010.

All emergency situations involve some degree of danger, uncertainty and stress since the decisions of those acting in the "heat of the moment" are a critical factor in the quality of an institution's overall response. Knowing how to operate effectively within this high-stakes context is critical for emergency responders at any college or university, who must be prepared for a wide range of urgent circumstances. In light of these needs, Crisis Leadership in Higher Education draws on the complementary knowledge and experience of HKS on crisis management and HGSE on higher education, creating an opportunity for in-depth learning in a way that no other institution can.

About Novelty

One key element that distinguishes different types of emergency events is the degree of "novelty" present within the situation. Although all emergency situations are demanding and difficult many of them are "routine" in that they have been encountered before or can be prepared for in advance. Not all emergencies, however, fit this profile. A second type of emergency -- one that CLHE faculty members Arnold M. Howitt and Herman B. Leonard call a "crisis" emergency -- is distinguished from its more common counterpart by the presence of significant elements of novelty.

"It is this concept of novelty that makes CLHE so unique and important," said Joe Zolner, Senior Director of the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education during a recent interview, "Effective emergency response isn't just about developing contingency plans for predictable challenges. A key concept is that the range of possible crisis events requires a broader set of leadership skills. The Crisis Leadership program prepares higher education leaders to properly diagnose a situation and be creative, adaptable and able to execute improvised tactics -- attributes that are particularly challenging to implement in the pressure-oriented, time-constrained circumstances often found in genuine crisis emergencies."

Novel features of a situation add layers of complexity and uncertainty. Novelty can result from threats or problems not encountered before, from a familiar event that occurs at an unprecedented scale or at an unanticipated rate, or from a combination of forces that, although not unfamiliar in isolation, present unique challenges when operating together. Another important aspect of novelty is its subjective nature, something new to one person, agency or jurisdiction may be more familiar to people or organizations operating in another location. The relative and context-specific nature of novelty adds yet another layer of challenge to the emergency responder seeking to assess and manage a situation in a comprehensive and effective manner.

CLHE prepares organizations and individuals to search for and recognize novelty in an emergency situation and, if circumstances so require, to improvise skillfully. This is a fundamentally different leadership mindset than enacting well-honed, preset emergency plans as efficiently and effectively as possible. Recognizing these important distinctions and the differing leadership approaches required, have important ramifications for the health, safety and long-term reputation of an institution and its' students, faculty and staff.

Crisis Leadership in Higher Education Details

Applications are being processed on a "rolling" basis. Additional program information is available at, by calling 800-545-1849, or by emailing The program will be held on the Harvard University campus.

For more than 40 years, the Harvard Graduate School of Education has offered professional education programs for educational leaders. We are committed to offering programs that make a difference -- in the lives of students, in the work of institutions, and in the practice of educators. The Harvard Graduate School of Education's Programs in Professional Education achieves its mission via three principal formats: professional education programs, capacity-building projects and services, and research-based initiatives.

Harvard Kennedy School has set the standard for executive education in public sector management and civic leadership for executives from around the world.  Executive Education offers more than 40 courses a year in six portfolio areas. The programs bring together experienced professionals, a world-class faculty, and a dynamic curriculum in a setting where the common denominator is a shared commitment to public value. The result is a lasting transformational leadership experience.

SOURCE Harvard Graduate School of Education