On Friday, September 26, 2014, Marco Dean, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London presented his research regarding decision making for mega projects to students, faculty, and practitioners at the University of Southern California as part of the METRANS Transportation Research Seminar Series and the Volvo Educational Research Foundations (VREF) Educational Exchange program.
Defined as extremely large-scale investment projects, typically costing more than $1 billion, mega infrastructure projects are complex, present long development cycles (in some cases even several decades), and generate substantial (direct and indirect) impacts on communities, environments, and budgets. USC Master of Planning student, Katherine Taveras, was particularly interested to hear Dean’s decision making methods. “This research, the idea that you can actually measure intangible aspects of major infrastructure, is fascinating.” she remarked.
Dean cited gateway port projects as particularly wicked problems, consisting of an intricate combination of port terminals, inland intermodal terminals and integrated logistics parks connected to each other by means of road and rail corridors. He noted that in many cases, traditional decision-making processes like Cost-Benefit (CBA) and Multi-Cost Analysis (MCA) that are used for these and other mega projects are inadequate. By channeling decisions into rigid schemes of thought, narrowing the scope of analysis, limiting the involvement of those whose interests are affected and relaying exclusively on simplistic evaluation techniques, conventional planning and appraisal methodologies are likely to prevent key decision makers from properly understanding the nature and balance of all the factors involved. “I found the comparison of MCA and CBA, linking the concept of complexity to mega transportation projects most interesting” said Michael Cheng-Yi Lin, Urban Economist and USC Price School of Public Policy Teaching Associate from Taiwan. “Dean proposes a different decision making model that takes a wide variety of factors into account.”
Dean cautioned that the new planning and appraisal methods proposed to improve decision-making procedures do not appear to be totally satisfactory, and suggests that the development of any new method should commence with a real appreciation of the meaning of complexity, a concept that is frequently misunderstood. As a possible solution, Dean presented his findings on the promising applicability of Policy-Led Multi-Criteria Analysis (PLMCA) to the Planning and major gateway appraisal of port projects. “To effectively deal with complexity, “ Dean recommends, “simplistic assumptions and reductionist approaches should be avoided.”
Marco Dean is a Ph.D. Student at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (UCL) as well as a Research Assistant of the OMEGA Centre at the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL. He holds a bachelor's and a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Udine, and a master’s degree in Infrastructure Planning from the University College London. Dean’s principal areas of research lie in the fields of transportation, logistics, complexity in strategic decision-making on major infrastructure projects, and planning and appraisal tools and techniques. He has published several articles on these topics.
Photo courtesy of "Harley"