Developing organisational capabilities to support agility in humanitarian logistics: an exploratory study

Cécile L'Hermitte*, Peter Tatham, Marcus Bowles, Ben Brooks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the underlying strategic mechanisms of agility in a humanitarian logistics context. Based on the research conducted in business disciplines, the paper empirically examines a set of four strategic dimensions (being purposeful, being action-focused, being collaborative, and being learning-oriented) and identifies an emergent relationship between these capabilities and agile humanitarian logistics operations. Design/methodology/approach – Leadership and management actions perceived to support the four capabilities were identified and used as a basis to complete the exploratory research. Specifically, a case study with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was undertaken and, in this context, a qualitative analysis of 29 face-to-face interviews with humanitarian logistics experts working for WFP was conducted. Findings – The research corroborates the relevance of the four strategic-level capabilities to the humanitarian logistics context and confirms that these capabilities play a role in the development of agility in humanitarian operations. The work also identifies a set of key strategic decision-making areas that relate to the building of agility. Research limitations/implications – Additional research is needed to further investigate and measure the strategic-level capabilities and to quantify their impact on operational agility. Further research should also be undertaken to extend this study to a wider range of humanitarian organisations. Originality/value – This paper is the first empirical research that takes a strategic approach to the concept of agility in humanitarian logistics. It highlights that the leaders and managers of humanitarian organisations have a significant role to play in the building of an agile system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-99
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • agile capabilities
  • agility
  • capacity building
  • humanitarian logistics
  • humanitarian supply chain
  • strategic capabilities


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