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The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

How research can help decision-makers

How can research equip decision-makers in charge of major infrastructure projects? What are the current trends in this sector? Answers from an expert on the topic: Nathalie Drouin, Executive Director at KHEOPS, the International Research Consortium on Governance of Large Infrastructure Projects, whose mission is to develop an expert knowledge on the governance of major infrastructure projects in Quebec and Canada.

Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – What are the features of major infrastructure projects and megaprojects?

Nathalie Drouin (N.D.) – They are characterized by their size, the amount of funding required, and the number of stakeholders involved. These are incredibly complex projects that require a significant investment and mobilize numerous actors including governmental organizations and institutional investors such as the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, as well as a multitude of suppliers.

CCMM – As a specialized researcher in infrastructure project management, what trends are you noticing in this sector?

N.D. – We are in a context of change that is leading us to reassess our way of doing things. Climate change, for instance, has resulted in episodes of extreme weather. We are also noticing a trend towards urbanization and the development of smart cities. New durable technologies are flourishing while the concept of green infrastructure is gaining in popularity… These changes have a significant impact on the way we govern and build infrastructures. Additionally, 90% of megaprojects go over budget, which pushes us to rethink our practices.

CCMM – What do you mean by that?

N.D. – Projects are usually managed using a “classic” approach, which rests on a triangle of cost, time, and quality, that is to say the feasibility of the project, production delays, and ways to make the best use of new technologies.

KHEOPS has developed a new approach that is complementary to the “classic” one. Let’s start by the governance structure. We propose a multilevel approach:

1. An organizational governance characterized by a system of regulations and processes that governs the company. This level highlights the importance of managing the interface between organizations’ board of directors and the activities related to projects.

2. Institutional governance: the way the country manages its economic and social resources in order to grow. This is the relationship between governments and project leaders as well as the manner in which the project meets the economic and social goals of our governments.

3. Territorial governance: the development of a strong relationship between local communities, authorities, and the government. It’s important to integrate these various players in the project to make it more accepted by the community.

4. World governance, which significantly impacts the economic climate and political stability.

This model highlights the importance of including a more social dimension. A major infrastructure project transforms the environment and has an impact on our communities. We need to think of the way we involve various key players and we must enable citizen engagement from the outset to guarantee the project’s success.

Regarding the dynamic aspect of this approach, I will summarize this point by talking about the experience of numerous managers. When a project is launched, it is understood in real-time and supported by feasibility studies. But the work does not start immediately. In fact, construction generally only begins several years after the design phase. During this gap, it is possible that the resistance of materials has evolved, that new technologies have emerged, or that new environmental data impacts the project. The manager must find ways to integrate this flexibility into their management of the project. In risk management for instance, or by making the infrastructure design flexible. This also highlights the need for good communication between various stakeholders and the importance of gaining the support of the decision-makers involved in the process.

CCMM –What about the period after the project is constructed?

N.D. – We cannot neglect the importance of an efficient transition between the end of the project and the start of the infrastructure’s operation. This transition phase must be carefully designed early on in the project management process. This is not only to facilitate the transfer of knowledge between the project teams and the ones responsible for operating the infrastructure, but also to ensure everyone understands the decisions made during the execution phase of the project.

Currently, there is a lack of research on this topic. A team of researchers from KHEOPS has begun studying this issue.

CCMM – It seems you have a very pragmatic approach. Is this to provide decision-makers involved in this sector with the right tools?

N.D. – Absolutely. KHEOPS’s mission is to develop an expert knowledge on governance and management of major infrastructure projects. This knowledge is developed in close collaboration with universities here in Quebec and abroad. But we also work with companies and partners such as the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the Port of Montreal, and the City of Montreal, to provide them with the knowledge gained to help them in their decision-making process. Our goal, which was devised in collaboration with Chief Scientist Rémi Quirion, is for a consortium like ours to become a unique window that provides leaders with a network of local and international universities to help them  make sound decisions.

CCMM –What are you currently working on?

N.D. – There are many projects, so I’ll only mention two (laughs). The first has to do with the development of a model integrating the non-financial benefits of major infrastructure projects. The second is a roundtable on the social issues related to the implementation of a network of self-driving electric vehicles in Montreal and in Quebec.

Recently published works:

Sankaran, Shankar, Ralf Müller and Nathalie Drouin. Cambridge Handbook of Organizational Project Management, Cambridge University Press,juin 2017.

Drouin, Nathalie. “A New Approach: New Perspectives for quantifying the benefits of infrastructure“, ReNew Canada, September/October 2017, p. 32-33.

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