Communication and Sensemaking in the Dutch Railway System: Explaining coordination failure between teams using a mixed methods approach

Danny Schipper, Lasse Gerrits


Early in 2014, the Dutch railway system spiralled out of control after traffic management was confronted with the decision to take four double switches and two rail tracks out of service. A lack of coordination between the responsible teams resulted in the decision to stop all traffic in one of the busiest parts of the network during the rush hour.  In this study we aim to understand why the teams in the Dutch railway system were not able to adopt a coordinated approach to reschedule rail services. To answer this question, we used a mixed-method approach by combining dynamic network analysis (DNA) with sensemaking. Our analyses show that a diverging framing of the situation accumulated over time, leading to inconsistent actions, incorrect assumptions and a lack of effective communication. Informal and indirect communication spurred uncertainty and promoted negative emotions, which eventually resulted in a conflict between the actors. We discuss the difficulties of managing ambiguous events in multi-team systems.


Coordination; sensemaking; communication; railway; Dynamic Network Analysis; complex system disruptions

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Copyright (c) 2017 Danny Schipper, Lasse Gerrits

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