Featured Publications

Selected Papers and Articles by NPLI Faculty


Large-scale decrease in the social salience of climate change during the COVID-19, pandemic

By @Dr. Brian Spisak, Associate Researcher with the NPLI program, Ingrid van de Leemput, Marten Scheffer, Yuwei Liu.

Prioritizing short-term cost/benefit over mid- and long-term preparedness leads to multiple, overlapping crises. This chaos is hard to keep track of and society tends to focus on one problem or the other. Instead, society needs to focus on “systemic sustainability” where a diverse group of people from climate activists to health care watchdogs collectively demand preparedness over short-term cost and benefit.

Just published on Plos One and picked up by the national press.


Leading through Covid-19: A Meta-leadership Analysis

By Eric J. McNulty, Brian R. Spisak, Jennifer O. Grimes with research support from Lyndon Byrd and Chloe Demrovsky

The criticality of rapid, deep learning. The need for empathic leadership. The benefits of treating preparedness as investment rather than a cost. These are three of the findings of research with nine global companies on cross-sector lessons learned through the Covid-19 response conducted by NPLI researchers along with partners from Disaster Recovery Institute International. Download your copy and use it to inform your planning for 2022 and beyond.

Download a copy: NPLI DRI Covid Lessons Report 12 14 2021

Concerns Regarding Covid-19 Vaccination Certificates

By Brian R. Spisak, Eric J. McNulty

There are increasing calls for issuing COVID-19 testing and vaccination status certificates as a way out of broad stay-at-home orders. Done well, such an approach could confer significant benefits, including a rapid transition to the “next normal,” with many more individuals able to socialize and work. However, this fair price can come with hidden costs. Done poorly, testing- and vaccination-based regimes could set a precedent for distinct classes of people based on their perceived health risk and access to vaccination. Biases and discrimination against racial minorities, who have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, could increase. Failure to get a certification could also become a badge of shame. The authors offer an alternative, prosocial approach.

For online access: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/politics-and-the-life-sciences/article/concerns-regarding-covid19-vaccine-certificates/1B17ED4C80E84C29363923EC3513888C

Four Steps to Preserving Privacy and Debiasing Data-Informed Policy

By Brian R.  Spisak, Joseph Spisak, Andrew Trask

Large-scale threats to society like the impact of climate change and COVID-19 will continue to disrupt society, and lead to, as the International Monetary Fund puts it, “wartime policy measures.” This will likely trigger extreme actions where government agencies use AI and access citizen data in ways that threaten privacy and other civil liberties. Combining “wartime” threats with data-informed capabilities can also lead to data sharing policies and practices biased in favor of quick fixes – for example, the Covid-19 tracking apps inadvertently providing identifying information of infected individuals. Recent AI and data-informed policy measures highlight the need for privacy preserving approaches to data-informed policy while also incorporating sufficient domain expertise to minimize biased and unfair interventions.

For online access: https://cmr.berkeley.edu/2021/01/four-steps-to-preserving-privacy-and-debiasing-data-informed-policy/

The POP-DOC Loop: A Continuous Process for Situational Awareness and Situational Action

By Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Lisa B. Flynn, Joseph M. Henderson, Peter V. Neffenger, Richard Serino, Jacob Trenholm

Among the most critical challenges crisis leaders face is evaluating “the situation”—what is happening and what to do about it. Extensive scholarship on Situational Awareness (SA) has identified a gap: a disciplined process for achieving accurate SA. Further, SA only addresses the first half of that situation equation; awareness is necessary, yet not sufficient, unless linked to and integrated with meaningful decisions and actions. The POP-DOC Loop is a six-step SA tool that combines analysis and action into a continuous process. The analytic side is Perceive, Orient, Predict. The Action side is Decide, Operationalize, Communicate. POP-DOC builds upon Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, or OODA Loop. OODA evolves from and focuses upon military command-and-control contexts, though it is applied in other settings as well. The advance design of POP-DOC incorporates a wider range of human factors, including neuro- and decision science research, in order to equip leaders to build SA in high-stress, high-stakes, evolving, and unpredictable situations.

For online access: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0019850120304417

Swarm Intelligence: Establishing Behavioral Norms for the Emergence of Collective Leadership

By: Eric J. McNulty, M.A.; Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.P.M.; Eric Goralnick, M.D., M.S.; Richard Serino; Jennifer O. Grimes, M.D. candidate; Lisa Flynn, J.D., M.P.H.; Melanie Cheers, M.D., and Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D.

To explicate the qualities of cooperation among leaders and their organizations during crisis, we studied the response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Through interviews and analysis, we discovered leaders successfully overcame obstacles that typically undermine collective crisis response. Qualitative analysis revealed five guiding behavioral principles that appeared to stimulate effective inter-agency leadership collaboration in high stakes. We draw upon concepts of collective leadership and swarm intelligence to interpret our observations and translate the findings into leader practices. We focus on replicable aspects of a meta-phenomenon, where collective action was greater than the sum of its parts; we do not evaluate individual leader behavior. Our findings provide a starting point for deeper exploration of how to bolster public safety by catalyzing enhanced inter-agency leadership behavior.

Download the PDF: Swarm-Intelligence-Establishing-Behavioral-Norms

The Cognitive Cost of Managing Emotions: A Systematic Review of the Impact of Emotional Requirements of Cognitive Performance

By Godelieve Hofstee, Paul G.W. Jansen, Annet H. De Lange, Brian Spisak, Maaike Swinkels

In our increasingly service-based world, employees are now, more than ever before, required to manage the emotional demands inherent to client interactions. These emotional demands can be fueled by emotional display rules that are part of an organizational policy. However, what differentiates client interactions from other circumstances is that not only emotional performance standards should be met but also concurrent cognitive performance standards. In some professions, lives may even depend on the interplay between both kinds of performance. This systematic review is the first to offer a systematic synthesis of the surprisingly limited number of studies on this emotion–cognition relationship.

For online access: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678373.2020.1832608

Integrating Brain Science into Crisis Leadership Development

By Eric J. McNulty, Barry C. Dorn, Richard Serino, Eric Goralnick, Jennifer O. Grimes, Lisa B. Flynn, Srinivasan S. Pillay, and Leonard J. Marcus

Recent advances in neuroscience and psychology research (“brain science”) provide a fruitful avenue for developing approaches to leadership development. Literature on the application of these advances to crisis leadership is sparse, despite significant neurological and psychological dimensions of crisis response scenarios. The current study analyzed the nature of perceived impact of leader behavior on outcomes in crisis management systems such as the Incident Command System (ICS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS), and explored the extent to which brain science principles are integrated into ICS/NIMS training. Analysis of survey data from a sample of 198 crisis leaders revealed that observed leader behaviors was related to ICS/NIMS performance and that typical ICS/NIMS training fails to address the behavioral aspects of crisis leadership. To address the identified deficiency, a training model incorporating brain science into crisis leadership training systems is suggested. Further research is recommended to better determine the impact of incorporating neuroscience and psychology research into formal crisis leadership training and to further evaluate effective measurement and teaching tools.

For online access: https://doi.org/10.1002/jls.21548

National Leadership Dialog on Cyber Security: Key Themes and Recommendations

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D; Col. (ret.) Ronald Banks.; Eric J. McNulty, M.A.; Richard Serino; and Lisa Flynn, J.D., M.P.H.

The report presents the results of a one-day symposium co-hosted by he United States Air Force Air University’s Cyber College collaborated with the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI), a joint program of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Convened at the Cambridge campus of Harvard University on August 2, 2016. The meeting built upon a two-year study into improving collaborative public-private cyber security strategy led by NPLI executive education participants, the dialogue was designed to forge new cross-sector connections and provoke fresh thinking regarding the defense of U.S. critical infrastructure from cyber-enabled malicious activity. The meeting included 47 participants: 22 from the private sector, including financial communications and technology companies; 17 from the federal government, including the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Treasury, Department of Justice and National Security Agency; 3 from the non-profit sector; and 5 academics.

Download the PDF: National-Leadership-Dialogue-on-Cyber-Security

Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D; Eric M. McNulty, M.A.; Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M.; Eric Goralnick, M.D.

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions, and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained, and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately.

Download the PDF: April 2014 Prelim Report – Dist

Meta-Leadership and National Emergency Preparedness, A Model to Build Government Connectivity

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D; Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M.; Joseph M. Henderson, M.P.A.

Abstract: Effective emergency preparedness and response requires leadership that can accomplish perceptive coordination and communication amongst diverse agencies and sectors. Nevertheless, operating within their specified scope of authority, preparedness leaders in characteristic bureaucratic fashion often serve to bolster the profile and import of their own organization, thereby creating a silo effect that interferes with effective systemwide planning and response. This article describes a strategy to overcome traditional silo thinking: “meta-leadership,” overarching leadership that intentionally connects the purposes and work of different organizations or organizational units. Thinking and operating beyond their immediate scope of authority, meta-leaders provide guidance, direction, and momentum across organizational lines that develop into a shared course of action and a commonality of purpose among people and agencies that are doing what may appear to be very different work. Meta-leaders are able to imaginatively and effectively leverage system assets, information, and capacities, a particularly critical function for organizations with emergency preparedness responsibilities that are constrained by ingrained bureaucratic patterns of behavior.

Download the PDF: metaleadership.biosecurity.july06

Leading in a Crisis: Six Mistakes You’re Bound to Make (Unless You Read This)

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D; Isaac Ashkenazi, M.D., M.P.A.; Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M.; Eric J. McNulty

Abstract: Executives increasingly find themselves caught in the role of crisis leader and manager. A simple scan of the headlines reveals many common examples: a product recall, scandal, unexpected death of an executive, sudden loss of liquidity, weather-related destruction, or a hostile takeover bid, to name but a few. Having observed hundreds of leaders in high-pressure, high-stakes situations—from earthquakes to terrorist bombings and beyond—we have identified the six most common mistakes leaders commit when confronted with a crisis and the steps to avoid them.

Download the PDF: Leading in a Crisis Six Mistakes


The CEO Can’t Afford to Panic (HBR Case Study)

By: Eric J. McNulty

Abstract: When a bomb explodes in a train station in Boston, the executive team of a financial services firm across the street is plunged into crisis mode. No one is prepared for the city’s request to use the firm’s lobby as a triage center and temporary morgue. The CEO’s instinct is to say yes, but as his team debates the consequences—liability issues, the effect on traumatized employees—he realizes just how complicated a decision it is.

Purchase the HBR case study and commentary.


You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, and Barry C. Dorn

Order this book: Today, in an instant, leaders can find themselves face-to-face with crisis. An active shooter. A media controversy. A data breach. In You’re It, faculty of the NPLI take you to the front lines of some of the toughest decisions facing our nation’s leaders-from how to mobilize during a hurricane or in the aftermath of a bombing to halting a raging pandemic. The authors introduce readers to the pragmatic model and methods of Meta-Leadership. They show you how to understand what is happening during a moment of crisis and change, what to do about it, and how to hone these skills to lead high-performing teams. Then, when crisis hits, you can pivot to be the leader people follow when it matters most. A book for turbulent times, You’re It is essential reading for anyone preparing to lead an adaptive team through crisis and change.

Renegotiating Health Care: Resolving Conflict to Build Collaboration

By: Leonard J. Marcus, Barry C. Dorn, and Eric J. McNulty

Order this book. Renegotiating Health Care presents pragmatic and effective tools for understanding conflict, negotiating differences, and creating a workable balance among those who deliver, receive, administer, and oversee health care. The authors present practical methods and techniques giving all the players the knowledge and skills they need to put their work in perspective and create workable solutions