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A Short Q&A with our Editor Professor Harry Dimitriou

Interested in contributing an article?

We sat down with Professor Harry Dimitriou, Managing Editor and Part 3 Editor of the Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development, to better understand the journal. We wanted to get a better idea of the kind of research the journal publishes, how the journal helps authors to make an impact with their research, and where Harry sees the journal 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?

Whether you talk about climate change, equity issues, environmental impact and now more with the pandemic, over the last two years the role of infrastructure is central to all these global themes and the experiences need to be both reported and reflected on.

Sustainability is a concept which is evolving as we learn more about the concept, the science and the consequences of ignoring both short term and long term implications that could otherwise save precious resources and also humanity.  Our observations at the OMEGA Centre in UCL is that in dealing with mega projects (MTPs especially) sustainable development concerns  are all too often ignored beyond the rhetoric, focussing very much on finishing projects on time, on budget and within specifications, ignoring wider and often more important issues. The increasing trend of following the money in mega infrastructure development and the financialization of such development have very much overshadowed these broader concerns we believe, because many investors, financial institutions and development banks feel that they have adequately brought sustainability into the investment equation when in reality they have not – at least not adequately.  Where success on this front has been achieved then it would be good to see how this is done so we can share this approach both globally and locally. I also see the journal providing an international platform to better understand sustainability from different perspectives as it relates to mega infrastructure investment and hopefully not only better communicate sustainability as a concept but how it can be made more operational. 

Why did you want to start this journal and what audience is it seeking to serve?

The journal is a response to two areas of concern arising from research and practice that I have undertaken in the past.  One is a lack of feedback from practice into academic and theoretical thinking about mega infrastructure development and investment.  The other follows the findings of the OMEGA 2 Project conducted at UCL  with nine other university teams internationally which among other things highlighted a significant need to bring themes and topics of concern relating to sustainable development and mega infrastructure (mega transport projects [MTPs] in particukar) to the attention of practitioners involved in planning, appraising and delivering  mega infrastructure projects

Whether you talk about climate change, equity issues, environmental impact and now more with the pandemic, over the last two years the role of infrastructure is central to all these global themes and the experiences need to be both reported and reflected on.

Sustainability is a concept which is evolving as we learn more about the concept, the science and the consequences of ignoring both short term and long term implications that could otherwise save precious resources and also humanity.  Our observations at the OMEGA Centre in UCL is that in dealing with mega projects (MTPs especially] sustainable development concerns  are all too often ignored beyond the rhetoric, focussing very much on finishing projects on time, on budget and within specifications, ignoring wider and often more important issues. The increasing trend of following the money in mega infrastructure development and the financialization of such development have very much overshadowed these broader concerns we believe, because many investors, financial institutions and development banks feel that they have adequately brought sustainability into the investment equation when in reality they have not – at least not adequately.  Where success on this front has been achieved then it would be good to see how this is done so we can share this approach both globally and locally. I also see the journal providing an international platform to better understand sustainability from different perspectives as it relates to mega infrastructure investment and hopefully not only better communicate sustainability as a concept but how it can be made more operational. 

What kind of research does the journal publish?

As already implied, the Editorial Team is looking to receiving contributions that is a mix of practice-based work, , academic and theoretical thinking, visionary insights, and case-study based work.  If, for example, some practitioners think that the sustainable development metrics as promoted globally are not ‘fit for purpose’ on the grounds that in practice they found them to be too vague/inoperational given the data availability on the ground that don’t fit into the appraisal criteria introduced from high then this story needs to be told. We are wanting especially to provide a platform that does not fall into the trap of simply repeating/reiterating accepted wisdom and business-as-usual (BaU) practices without scrutiny. We also wish to avoid the journal mainly becoming yet another vehicle for enhancing promotional opportunities in academia but in creating a journal that also accepts articles that are more critical commentaries, that hold to account many questionable aspects of professional practice and even academic research.  These are likely to be controversial and may even make some peer reviewers who follow more traditional practices of academic publication uncomfortable. We are, however, in uncomfortable and very challenging times that needs us to revisit the BaU practices of peer reviewing.   We want then to get well beyond the BaU , technical engineering focus and also look at the more macro picture including geopolitical, environmental, and social aspects of sustainable development as they apply to mega infrastructure projects.  If you like, we want to hear from (and try and make sense of) the cacophony of what infrastructure investors, political scientists and community groups have to say about mega infrastructure developments as a form of sense-making and lesson-learning.

Where do you see the journal going in the next five years?

Among the main findings of the OMEGA 2 project undertaken at UCL  concerned the impact of ‘the power of context’ on mega infrastructure decision-making and judgements about project ‘success’ together with the importance of employing ‘open-systems thinking’ to judge project outcomes as compared to the more traditional ‘closed systems thinking’ of project management and engineering that  currently typically prevails. The ‘power of context’ in terms of how society’s values change and subsequently impact on the way we judge project success and the way we ‘carve out’ a future vision is hugely important, especially in times of crisis and dramatic unexpected change(s). There has been in this regard a huge shift in the contexts of infrastructure development in recent years, be they related to economic developments, environmental circumstances, geopolitical circumstances and more recently public health contexts . 

Even when we launched this journal a year and a half ago, there is no way I would have foreseen the serious implications of climate change being what they are today what with changes to artic temperatures,  floods, huge detrimental impacts on the poor and the economies of the world. There is a hugely important role for infrastructure both locally and globally how we mitigate against these developments, not to mention the most recent global challenge of Covid-19 and how infrastructure management, use and operations need to change. All these issues need discussion, scrutiny and responses and hopefully the journal can offer one such avenue.

Depending on developments of course, I would expect that over the next five years the journal will see much more robust discussion about the role of infrastructure in sustainable development, particularly as impacted CIT and AI innovations and as the Third Industrial Revolution takes root.  I look forward to the journal accolading good infrastructure developments that have taken place/are in the pipeline, and helping learning from the past (both in academia and in practice) lessons that can inform enhanced infrastructure developments for the future.  The art and science of retrofitting existing infrastructure to meet current/new challenges of sustainable development, I predict, will be just as important, perhaps more important in some cases,  than building new megaprojects.    Work is already being done on costs, and engineering, to make sure the projects that go forward really are sustainable, and are contributing to a sustainable future.

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.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my Q&A

Professor Harry T. Dimitriou, 

Bartlett Professor of Planning Studies and Director of the OMEGA Centre,

Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, UK