An application of the concept of messy problems to supply chain management : an investigation of non-standard supply chains in humanitarian logistics
Schiffling, Sarah Aline
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Purpose: This thesis aims to develop a conceptual framework for the management of non-standard supply chains, based upon the concepts of wicked and messy problems and complex adaptive systems, and to validate it in a humanitarian logistics context. Whilst a general theory of wicked and messy problems is in existence, this has not been applied in a supply chain context. Humanitarian logistics presents a complex managerial challenge, in which standard logistics approaches and techniques have been applied with variable success. Here, the underlying generative mechanisms are explored. Design/ Methodology / Approach: This thesis adopts a critical realist approach. A conceptual framework for messy supply chains is developed based on a review of literature on logistics and supply chain management, as well as complex adaptive systems, and wicked and messy problems. This framework is explored in the context of humanitarian logistics. After an initial round of interviews, three case studies were conducted, focusing on humanitarian responses as the unit of analysis. In total, 44 semistructured interviews were conducted. An analysis of findings in each case is followed by the cross-case analysis of key themes, ultimately resulting in a revised framework. Findings: All of the proposed generative mechanisms underlying the messiness in humanitarian logistics are found to be relevant. The challenges for the management of such messy supply chains lie in the behavioural complexity they represent through the mechanisms of sociopolitical impact and the multitude of diverse stakeholder views they encapsulate. Logistics and supply chain management struggles to find holistic management approaches to address such behavioural complexity appropriately. Implications: This research has highlighted the strong element of behavioural complexity that underlies humanitarian logistics and other messy supply chains and is often inadequately addressed by managers and literature alike. The acknowledgement of all the different elements of messiness in humanitarian logistics and other scenarios, as well as the need for holistic management approaches, changes the way in which messy supply chains are seen. The revised conceptual framework presented in this thesis provides a foundation for further study of various messy supply chain contexts. Originality/Value: This thesis provides a novel view of supply chains that are inadequately captured by current frameworks and typologies. As the complexity of supply chain contexts intensifies, behavioural aspects become increasingly important. The framework provided represents a first application of the rich body of literature on wicked and messy problems, as well as complex adaptive systems in supply chain management.