Coping with complexity and uncertainty in mega projects: linking strategic choices and operational decision making

All authors:
Bertolini, L., Salet, W.
Host organisation: CoE London, UK
Publication year: 2007
Published in:
Working Paper 2.7 from Working Paper Series 2: Sustainable Development Challenges for Mega Urban Transport Projects.
Research theme: Policy and Planning
complexity, uncertainty, mega projects, decision-making
Conference proceedings
What does make mega projects so complex? And what do they require of planning and planners? In looking for answers, we first consider the substance matter of mega projects. In this respect, it is not their magnitude as such, but rather the multiplicity of objectives that generates complexity in mega projects. Second, there are legal and financial conditions. The legal structure of decision making, as it materializes in a multitude of unordered decision moments, is largely unknown. In financial respect, there is uncertainty on risks and accountabilities. Third, we consider political and social conditions. Change of these is usual in the course of the decision making process, so controversies on the basic features of a project may occur over and over again. Finally, there are uncertainties surrounding technical conditions, in particular in the case that unproven technologies have to be employed. In order to cope with these different, interacting sources of complexity, it is useful to distinguish strategic and operational spheres of decision making and to promote interaction and mutual adjustment between them. Both strategic and operational learning have to be arranged by framing interrelationships in a context of 'multi actor' and 'multi level' governance. This evolutionary process should be directed at the identification of robust choices in the face of uncertainty surrounding project goals and means, and allow for the adaptation of choices in response to emerging opportunities and threats in the context.
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