Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition Paperback – 13 Feb 2003
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'Life is too short to read every tome penned by Scandinavian and German social scientists. But Megaprojects and Risk, written by Bent Flyvbjerg, Nils Bruzelius and Werner Rothengatter, is a cracker. In lurid and startling detail it examines dozens of vast construction schemes around the world.' The Times
'… impressive … Get the book and read the story. It's megamazing.' Law Society Journal
'I will use this book for many years to come in my urban planning classes … Anyone concerned with public works projects, planning, and ethics in public policy making should read this book. It provides a genuinely original perspective.' Martin Wachs, University of California, Berkeley
'This book is a warning against the betrayal of public trust when hubris and profit come together. It shows that some decisions are too important to be left only to the accredited experts; that there is no substitute for a post-normal science involving citizens' active participation … We should all learn the lesson brought home by this book, and never accept uncritically the experts' 'magic numbers' that are used to justify megaprojects.' Silvio Funtowicz and Jerry Ravetz, authors of Uncertainty and Quality of Science for Policy
'Reading this fascinating story … one is reminded of Enron and similar affairs … recommends itself.' Andreas Faludi, University of Nijmegen
'The book is provocative throughout, documenting the often dismal performance history of these huge projects and calling attention to the forces that make reform a formidable undertaking.' Civil Engineering
'Megaprojects and Risk is an important and innovative book. It should be required reading for any serious student of planning and project management, as well as for professionals concerned with the planning and financing of public projects.' Peter Hall, Institute of Community Studies, London
'… should be required reading for anybody in government with any role of budgetary oversight.' Moneyweb
'The book is of enormous practical relevance, written by a team whose empirical engagement with their material - and what important empirical and theoretical material it is - is exemplary … This is a social science that matters - because it makes a difference.' Stewart Clegg, University of Technology, Sydney
'… fascinating … Do read this book.' Financial Express
'… a thought-provoking book that presents a clear, concise, and readable argument to change the ways large infrastructure projects are managed around the world.' Environment & Planning
'For readers interested in project management, Megaprojects and Risk is a must.' Barbara Czarniawska, School of Economics and Commercial Law, Gothenburg University 'In particular, the aspect of unstoppable projects seems to be of pivotal interest and has been overlooked in literature on planning until recently. Flyvbjerg et al. fill this gap … a fascinating reading that convincingly illustrates shortcomings, pitfalls and strategies of megaproject developments … I can only recommend people to read this book even if planning, reform or risk analysis are currently only of remote interest to the reader - this book might change this.' British Journal of Sociology
'Many people talk about deliberative democracy, but few have actually done it. Megaprojects and Risk is an important contribution to the literature showing how it is possible for us to deliberate rationally and publicly about risk and those large scale decisions that are increasingly the concern of modern politics.' James Bohman, St Louis University
'Love them or loathe them, megaprojects capture the imagination … And Bent Flyvbjerg's damning analysis concentrates on a series of financial nightmares that should bring even the most casual reader out in a sweat.' New Scientist
'Megaprojects and Risk provides a fascinating look at the pervasiveness of misinformation in the planning of major construction projects and the systematic bias of such misinformation toward justifying project implementation. The power of its analysis is vastly reinforced by the range of cases examined, extending over seventy years and five continents. An extraordinary accomplishment, it will doubtless serve as the standard reference on this topic for many years to come.' Alan Altshuler, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
A fascinating account of how promoters of multi-billion dollar megaprojects systematically and self-servingly misinform parliaments, the public and the media in order to get projects approved and built. The authors not only explore problems but also suggest practical solutions drawing on theory and evidence from the hundreds of projects studied.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Though written with mega projects in mind, I’m sure that most of us working in projects can recognize the same problems occurring on minor projects.
This book should be mandatory reading for politicians, project managers and other stakeholders on any given project.
Mega-projects are here to stay. Deal with them!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This problem is inherent in the beast. Policy-makers would love for the private sector to shoulder the risk, but may not be willing to permit a commensurate return. Private players, just as understandably, are apt to seek insurance of one kind or another on the downside. The best medicine, and one that this book delivers admirably, is simply to raise our awareness of the track record from the start.
This short book has the look and feel of an academic work. It would, however, be unfortunate if it languished at the university bookstore. Global demographics dictate that larger-scale infrastructure investments are in our future. No one should pay for, promote or plan for such projects before they have digested the lessons in Megaprojects and Risk.
Now I have, and I think that many of you will want to read it as well.
The book, authored by Flyvbjerg, Bruzelius and Rothengatter (FBR), is subtitled "an anatomy of ambition" but its subtitle should be "an examination of why big transportation projects go wrong, how to make them right, and why these ideas apply to all large infrastructure projects," but the marketing department probably favored snappy over accurate.
The main point that FBR make, in clear and painful detail, is that megaprojects (projects that have big financial, economic, social and/or environmental impacts) usually fail because their proponents and constructors do not bear the risk of failure when estimating the cost of constructing the project or demand for its services once completed. The risk is instead carried by taxpayers who end up paying more than expected to fund a project that's less useful than promised.
If that sounds familiar (it reminds me of Cadillac Desert, desalination in San Diego, the Colorado Aqueduct, Aridzona's CAP, the Delta "Conveyance", Coyote's critiques of light rail, and chapter 8 of my book), then you will STILL gain something by reading this book due to its clear analysis, useful case studies and forthright declaration of how to prevent failures in the future.
Here are the notes I made while reading:
FBR make the important point that "dialogue" cannot overcome power. It's therefore necessary to change rules to improve accountability (they recommend that private money fund at least one-third of a project's cost, with no government guarantee of repayment in the event of poor performance).
Many projects are "born in sin" - with unrealistic forecasts of costs and revenues. They should not be built, but developers often get paid their full fee when they are. That's no way to bring discipline to this arena.
A huge share of environmental impact reports are carried out when the project is already going forward, do not contain adequate baseline data (to make it possible to understand actual impacts) and are very rarely updated after project completion (this is a common problem; development aid projects are not often subject to performance reviews).
It's not unusual to ignore new costs that will result from reducing environmental impacts -- costs that may push the benefit:cost ratio below 1.0!
Many simulations of futures follow a EGAP protocol (Everything Goes According to Plan) when it would be much more useful and enlightening to consider Worst Case or MLD (Most Likely Development) scenarios.
Such myopia is expected when the developer does the simulation for a government that is the proponent of a project that it's ALSO supposed to regulate and oversee.
To improve accountability, FBR propose accountability,* performance (not technology) specifications, clearly defined regulations and risk-bearing, and involving (private) risk capital.
If private capital is not willing to invest without guarantees,THEN MAYBE THE PROJECT SUCKS.
The book's full of checklists and flowcharts. It could be used as a cookbook for analyzing megaprojects. I wonder if anyone at the Bureau of Reclamation has a copy?
FBR think that private or state companies can build megaprojects, but they need to do so as risk-carrying, stand-alone companies that are supervised by the government.
Never underestimate the potential manipulation of rent-seeking politicians and/or special interests (developers, construction companies, transport companies, et al.)
Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS. It should be used to vet, design and audit every project using public money or affecting public resources. We'd have far fewer white elephants if it was!
* Dan Ariely (review coming!) has found that transparency can result in MORE inaccuracy, as when the scrutinized estimator increases the fudge factor (e.g., +20 percent to cost) in the knowledge that it will be bargained down, but then makes more when it's not bargained down enough (e.g., -10 percent to cost). FBR's transparency is less vulnerable to this problem as they propose posting all documents in public AND allowing peer review, but this transparency will only really work if there's some SERIOUS exploration of numbers and estimates.
It is not an accident that your local megaproject is running at least 50% over budget or, more likely, 100% (plus) over budget. It is so much of a problem in megaprojects that the only reasonable conclusion is to assume all announced megaproject budgets are low by multiple factors. The numbers are produced by experienced consulting professionals under the direction of government planning agencies. Both groups should know better. We are therefore forced to conclude that the numbers are not off by accident.
This book is an easy read with a recurring theme. By the time the book is finished the point is pounded home. Until the trend is corrected, which is until people and organizations are rewarded or penalized based on the accuracy of their numbers, all megaprojects everywhere are highly suspect - if not already convicted of deliberate deceit of the public.
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