Quotation Meyer, Michael, Simsa, Ruth. 2018. Organizing the Unexpected: How Civil Society Organizations Dealt with the Refugee Crisis. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. 29 (6), 1159-1175.




The capability of organizations to respond to unexpected events has been investigated from different theoretical angles: organizational learning, improvisation, ambidexterity, resilience, to name but a few. These concepts, however, hardly ever refer to structural characteristics. Against this backdrop, the aim of this paper is twofold. First, based on systems and organizational learning theory, it will theoretically link the characteristics of organizational structure with organizational responses to unexpected external jolts, thus contributing to better understand the reactions of organizations to the unexpected. Second, it will empirically illustrate the relation of organizational structure with organizational responses by investigating how Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Austria reacted to the unexpected inflow of refugees from Central Europe. In 2015, CSOs accepted a wide range of responsibilities and worked together with government entities to provide shelter, catering, and transport for almost one million refugees. Based on participant observations during operation, in-depth interviews (2015 and 2016) and focus groups with decision-makers (2017), we will sketch three longitudinal case studies of organizations with very different structures, concentrating on the processes and operations they developed during the crisis. Our findings show that their responses are closely related to their structure, specifically to the flexibility and the stability of structural elements. Remarkable changes took place in all organizations investigated. Initial responses and first structural changes occurred mainly where the structure already allowed for flexibility. Yet in the long run, the adaptations also impacted the stable structural elements


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Publication's profile

Status of publication Published
Affiliation WU
Type of publication Journal article
Journal Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Citation Index SSCI
WU Journalrating 2009 A
WU-Journal-Rating new INF-A, MAN-A, STRAT-B, WH-B
Language English
Title Organizing the Unexpected: How Civil Society Organizations Dealt with the Refugee Crisis
Volume 29
Number 6
Year 2018
Page from 1159
Page to 1175
URL https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11266-018-00050-y?wt_mc=Internal.Event.1.SEM.ArticleAuthorAssignedToIssue&utm_source=ArticleAuthorAssignedToIssue&utm_medium=email&utm_content=AA_en_06082018&ArticleAuthorAssignedToIssue_20181130
DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-018-00050-y
Open Access Y


Meyer, Michael (Details)
Simsa, Ruth (Details)
Institute for Nonprofit Management IN (Details)
Research areas (Ă–STAT Classification 'Statistik Austria')
1142 Systems theory (Details)
1145 Time series analysis (Details)
5324 Organizational research (Details)
5363 Non-profit-sector research (NPO, NPI) (Details)
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