International Handbook on Mega-Projects
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International Handbook on Mega-Projects

Edited by Hugo Priemus and Bert van Wee

This comprehensive and accessible Handbook presents state-of-the-art research on the decision-making processes in the deliverance of mega-projects – large infrastructure projects for the transportation of people and/or goods.
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Chapter 4: Real-world decision-making on mega-projects: politics, bias and strategic behaviour

Martijn Leijten


Decisions in which the responsible parties (often politicians) decide whether to build a mega-project are extremely difficult. Decision-makers are caught between interests, and they assess the value of projects based on disputable objectives and information that contains a high level of uncertainty. As will be demonstrated in Section 4.2, decision-making processes on mega-projects are often erratic and non-linear. Decision-makers often doubt the utility and necessity of such projects, and they sometimes approve large projects, only to regret them later. Many initiatives have been proposed to improve these processes. Guidelines have been formulated, and techniques and instruments have been used to provide information that is intended to rationalize decisions. All of these measures are intended to make decisions on projects less complex and less controversial. Several characteristics of the decision-making process, however, can seriously hamper such attempts. The objective of this chapter is to identify persistent causes of the problems associated with decision-making with regard to mega-projects. There is a long history of attempts to improve the reliability of information on which decisions about mega-projects are made (e.g., cost–benefit analyses). As observed in studies by Wachs (1989)and by Flyvbjerg and colleagues (2003) however, decisions regarding mega-projects involve more than the proper calculations of costs and benefits.

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