The implications of complexity for humanitarian logistics: a complex adaptive systems perspective.

Sarah Schiffling*, Claire Hannibal, Matthew Tickle, Yiyi Fan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


In this study we argue that recognising humanitarian logistics (HL) as a complex system is a key step in developing supply chain design and management strategies that meet the needs of stakeholders. This study draws on complex adaptive systems theory to examine the characteristics and implications of complexity for HL. Through case-study research of humanitarian responses in Haiti and Pakistan, characteristics of complexity across organisational boundaries are identified. We find that the complexity of the context impacts the outcome of the humanitarian response and conclude that HL must not only react to its environment, it must also create its environment. As HL must work within significantly differing environments to create solutions, the standardised approaches used to manage supply chains are less desirable. While this paper focuses on HL, wider applicability to other complex logistics operations is also discussed, informing the design and management of contextually specific supply chains.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalAnnals of Operations Research
Pages (from-to)1379–1410
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 29.05.2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • Case study
  • Complex adaptive system (CAS)
  • Humanitarian logistics
  • Supply chain management
  • 512 Business and Management

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoHP: Humanitarian and societal logistics


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