Our first doctor of 2019 was Erik Ronnle, who defended his thesis “Justifying mega-projects – an analysis of the Swedish high-speed rail project” 18 January. Below you can find out more about Erik and his research, described in his own words.
Four years ago, before embarking on the PhD journey that ends with my dissertation defence, I worked in a large consultancy company. Trained as an environmental engineer, I was part of an environmental management team and was thrown into a wide set of projects concerning environmental economics, urban development, and renewable energy to name a few topics. In this occupation, I sensed that while we strived to be objective and took pride in following sound methodological principles, our customers often had a quite outspoken interest. To put it another way, the reason for hiring a consultant to make a report was not necessarily to guide a decision but to play into a complex decision-making process. Projects were almost always surrounded by political complexity. A wind power company needed to gather support for a project and wanted us to demonstrate the benefits. An environmental department in a municipality wanted to show the value of environmental protection in order to receive political support and funding. More often than not, it seemed that what we produced was well-founded arguments intended to justify projects, decisions, and actions. To a person with an engineering education, this was partly a frustrating experience but also intriguing. Like many fresh graduates arriving in work from university, I found that there was a lot more to real-life decision-making processes than merely solving analytical problems.
My dissertation analyses how mega-projects are justified through a case study of the Swedish high-speed rail project and the National Negotiation on Housing and Infrastructure (Sverigeförhandlingen). Mega-projects are a growing phenomenon worldwide. More and more projects are started and they grow ever bigger in size. At the same time, there is overwhelming evidence that mega-projects tend to run late, overrun in terms of costs and fail to deliver the expected benefits. Paradoxically, more and more money is invested in projects that fail to deliver on their promises. My dissertation finds that the Swedish high-speed rail project is being justified based on a combination of strategies: widening the scope, producing encouraging numbers, creating and mobilising stakeholders, and arguing using a policy narrative. It shows how the project leadership skilfully bypasses criticism from cost-benefit analysis and succeeds to gather support for the project despite the numbers.
Looking back, I am very grateful for the privilege of doing my PhD at the Department of Business Administration. These four years have allowed me to think and re-think, to sharpen my analytical skills as well as to broaden my intellectual horizons. Commuting from Stockholm by train, I have covered a great distance in the last four years and have experienced first-hand that journeys don’t always go as planned. The intellectual journey of the PhD programme also has its challenges. However, with the advice, inspiration and guidance from supervisors and colleagues at the department I have truly enjoyed the ride. For those considering to join, I warmly recommend the PhD programme at the Department of Business Administration as a great place to develop both as a researcher and as a person.