In a crisis, research has shown that stakeholders attribute blame based on the three factors of (a) locus of control; (b) predictability; and (c) controllability. Locus of control refers to the perception of whether the crisis was caused by the organization or the situation; stability whether the factors contributing to the crisis was predictable; and controllability whether the organization could have acted to prevent it. Thus, if the crisis was caused by the organization, was something which the organization could reasonably have predicted to occur, and was within the ability of the organization to prevent, then attribution of responsibility would be high.
In the case of the haze, while some believe that the locus of control is beyond that of the Singapore government (the burning is happening within the sovereignty of Indonesia), many do however feel that the crisis was predictable (after all it has been happening for more than a decade) and that the government could have done something to prevent it or at least have in place the necessary measures to tackle the haze should it occur. An analysis of the crisis communications efforts thus far, shows that the government (via Mr K Shunmugan Facebook posting) had tried to reduce stakeholder anger by emphasizing that the locus of control was external. This effort however failed as it did not address the other two factors of predictability and the government’s apparent unpreparedness to manage the crisis (controllability).
In our opinion, a more effective response would have been to holistically “manage” the attribution by (a) stating that the locus of control was external; (b) acknowledging that the severity of the haze was unpredictable by highlighting past data; and (c) detailing the numerous measures that the government has activated to manage the impact on Singaporeans (formation of inter-ministry committee, aid for affected Singaporeans, distribution of N95 masks, etc.)
While crisis communications is often more art than science, having a framework to understand how stakeholders attribute blame is extremely helpful in managing a crisis.
For more information on CW Fong & Associates visit our Facebook page www.fb.com/cwfongandassociates or for more information on the framework http://cwfong.blogspot.sg/2011/01/framework-for-crisis-management-part-2.html