We sat down with Professor Brian Field, Editor of Part 2 of the Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development, to better understand the journal. We wanted to get an idea of the kind of research the journal publishes, how the journal helps authors to make an impact with their research, and where Brian sees the journal going in the coming years.
Here is what he had to say:
First, can you give us a bit of background to the journal and its mission?
I was invited to join the team at the OMEGA Centre when I reached pensionable age at EIB (65). I had been at the Bank for more than 15 years, and didn’t particularly want to retire. I had planned to return to academia, having enjoyed professorial appointments both here in the UK and overseas before joining EIB, and the invitation to join the OMEGA Centre was therefore well timed. Unlike Nick and Harry, whose involvement with the infrastructure sector is/was primarily with theory and policy analysis, my involvement was in large measure with the implementation and financing of major projects. In short, my involvement was “hands-on” for projects that had already been approved rather than with policy formulation per se. But what had precipitated the invitation to join OMEGA?
I had commissioned the consultancy arm of the OMEGA Centre to do some work for us at EIB on the deployment of the policy-led multi criteria analysis methodology (PLMCA) that they had developed, to help inform our analysis and appraisal of complex multi-sector urban regeneration projects that didn’t lend themselves to more conventional CBA modalities. They did a good job and so the relationship developed, with Harry thereafter inviting me to give some lectures at UCL. When I eventually retired from EIB I was formally invited to join the OMEGA team. At that time, one of the projects/assignments in OMEGA’s portfolio was the journal. What I found attractive about the journal was its mission…here was a serious attempt to bring together academics and practitioners in an exchange of ideas and opinions that would hopefully challenge much of the conventional wisdom about the perceived benefits of infrastructure investment in a more considered scrutiny of infrastructure planning, appraisal, and delivery, against a backdrop of climate change and the importance of satisfying increasingly onerous sustainability imperatives.
So for me the attraction was the bringing together of theory and practice in a format where you could pair current thinking with what was actually going on and deliver something meaningful. To this end, and from Harry’s point of view, the focus on mega infrastructure was what was needed. The idea of bringing together mega infrastructure with commitment to the sustainability agenda was something that I found appealing.
When the proposal to join as one of three co-editors of the journal was first put to me I was naturally concerned about my role vis-à-vis those of my fellow editors, but what eventually transpired in the division of our respective responsibilities was logical and in many ways inevitable. Nick, whose research was increasingly theoretical and at the interface of economic efficiency and environmental sustainability, was made editor for part 1 (theory); because my career profile meant that I inevitably had the most extensive experience in professional practice, I was made editor for part 2 (case studies and professional practice); and Harry took responsibility for the slightly less onerous section 3 (opinions, book reviews, conferences and so on), which freed him to take on the most demanding and important role of managing editor. Each of us has an assistant editor, and the intention is/was that the three assistants would take over as editors once the journal became established, hopefully after three or four volumes. I think it fair to say that the structure is therefore well considered both from an academic and managerial perspective, but also recognises the need for a longer-term perspective by way of succession planning than simply worrying about the next issue.
There is however a dichotomy with the journal’s mission and therefore structure, and this relates to getting it ranked. To achieve an appropriate academic ranking it needs to draw academic submissions, but these are difficult to attract until it is actually ranked…a veritable Catch-22 situation. Whilst this is particularly problematic for part 1, it’s not so serious for part 2. When sourcing contributions and submissions, my editorial assistant Arend Janssen and I simply ask if it’s a good paper, is it well written, does it come from a reliable source, and does it have something useful to say? The types of paper we look for are those which the kind of people we have been working with in professional practice in the delivery projects, i.e. design engineers, project managers, senior financiers, politicians and so on, would want to read.
In summary, I agreed to join the editorial team because the journal makes such good sense as an initiative, merging the sustainability agenda with mega infrastructure projects that by their nature are significantly transformative. It’s not just a question of adding the word sustainability for effect or to curry favour, but it’s about making sure mega infrastructure projects are explicitly addressing the sustainability agenda.
What kind of articles does part 2 of the journal publish?
It publishes articles about professional practice, current projects etc.. But just because it is the link between theory and practice doesn’t mean that the articles shouldn’t be academic. They have to be properly researched and they have to be based on rigorous analysis. We welcome critical commentaries and viewpoints, but they can’t just be based on superficial descriptions of what is happening. Notwithstanding, we have encountered problems, in the main with academic peer reviewers failing to recognise the role of part 2 and asking for a more supposedly scientific approach from authors. Because it’s a blind peer review process, it’s interesting how on one occasion the reviewer completely misjudged the expertise and eminence (both academic and professional) of the writer with a critique that was quite frankly embarrassing. It made me realise how wide the gap had become between theory and practice, in large measure because of some of the more pretentious rhetoric that now permeates academic discourse in the humanities and social sciences. In any event, this is an issue that that we are trying to address and, indeed, is implicit in the journal’s mission.
It is against this backdrop that Nick and Harry are not simply useful sources of sage advice, but also great as devil’s advocates, so I am always asking for their help. For example, there are things that I don’t say and/or qualify because I think they are obvious, and then there are other things that I am picked-up on because I haven’t explained them properly, probably because of arrogance on my part in assuming that what has been said is either well-known or self-evident. Quite simply, I have been away from the academic game for so long, that it’s taking more time than I thought to re-embrace the culture. Fortunately, Nick and Harry are both quite good at picking up such foibles and saying ‘look you have got to explain why that is the case’, so that I can pass the message onto offending authors.
What kind of research does the journal publish?
Well first of all Harry is insistent that it is explicitly within the arena of mega infrastructure and sustainable development. This is a red line and cannot just be implicit. So far so good, but one concern that I have is a perceived reluctance to sometimes challenge the conventional wisdom. Mega infrastructure is such a prescribed area of academic endeavour, that there is an impression that much of the research and associated literature has been informed by a small cabal, which simply reinforces entrenched ideas and thinking at the expense of more critical scrutiny and appraisal. It is certainly my ambition that this journal will challenge such a notion, with substantive and informed papers that are unencumbered by unnecessary academic rhetoric.
Where do you see the journal going in the next five years?
In the first instance, I see the journal developing a unique identity which brings together theory and practice in a structured and inquisitive way that reflects its ambitions.
Secondly, that such identity allows it to gain the academic status that is necessary for it to flourish.
Thirdly, the lieutenants taking over as we elder statesmen move to the background as advisors. I think this is important, because Harry was very clever in the way he structured the editorial team, with everyone gaining currency and recognition globally (especially the assistant editors) as we work and learn together as a collective.
Finally, how can authors contribute their own research to Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development?
Manuscripts should be submitted directly on-line via our submission system. If you have any queries about how the journal might handle a proposed submission, please contact Dr. John Ward, Assistant Managing Editor.
For information on all types of contributions, and how to submit a manuscript, please see the Call for Papers.
Once accepted selected, articles may first be published on-line before appearing in print editions that will be published tri-annually. All papers undergo double blind peer-review.
I hope you enjoyed reading my Q&A
Professor Brian Field,
Visiting Professor and OMEGA Centre Senior Research Fellow,
Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, UK