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 an idea of the kind of research and professional practice reviews it publishes, how the journal helps authors make an impact with their contributions, and where Harry sees the journal developing 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, environmental impacts, equity issues and now public health concerns regarding pandemics, over the last few decades especially, the role of mega infrastructure has increasingly been recognised as central to addressing such global concerns. In the belief that much can be learned from the past to help us prepare for the future, I and my colleagues on the Editorial Team felt it important that we produce a journal, which offers an international publication space that reflects critically on past mega infrastructure developments (good and bad) and scrutinises future proposals from both a theoretical and professional practice perspective. We see this as a potentially invaluable contribution to the continuing search for and development of more sustainable responses to global infrastructure needs and particularly the role of megaprojects.
Sustainability is a concept and vision which is evolving as we learn more about the science of our anthropological and ecological systems, and the consequences of ignoring both short-term and long-term implications of our infrastructure investment decisions that could otherwise save precious resources and also humanity. The observations and research findings of the OMEGA Centre in UCL (of which I am Director) revealed that sustainable development concerns of mega infrastructure projects, especially mega transport projects (MTPs), are all too often ignored by their promoters beyond the rhetoric. They instead focus on finishing projects on time, on budget and within specification, frequently ignoring wider and very often more important issues. The increasing trend of following the money in mega infrastructure development and the financialisation of such developments have very much overshadowed these broader concerns with potentially dire consequences.
I believe such developments have arisen because many investors, financial institutions and development banks alike feel they have adequately brought sustainability into the investment equation, or so the narrative goes, when in reality they have not. Where advances have been made, Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development can give oxygen to these achievements so that this success can be given greater exposure when warranted. I also see the journal providing an international platform to better understand sustainable development from different stakeholder and disciplinary perspectives as it relates to mega infrastructure investments. In so doing, hopefully, the journal will not only better communicate sustainability as a concept and vision, but also how it can be made more operational.
Why did you want to start this journal and what audience is it seeking to serve?
In some respects, for me, the initiative to launch this journal was a response to two long-standing concerns I have had as an academic and consultant involved in mega infrastructure development, particularly MTPs, over several decades. One of these concerns is the lack of adequate feedback of lessons from practice into academic and theoretical thinking. The other arises from findings of the OMEGA 2 Project conducted at UCL with nine other university teams internationally which, following a review of 30 MTP case studies and interviews with 300 stakeholders, highlighted the important need to bring issues relating to sustainable development and mega infrastructure to the forefront of thinking of investors and practitioners involved in infrastructure development.
What kind of research does the journal publish?
The journal is looking for contributions that are a mix of critical reviews of practice-based work, academic and theoretical thinking, visionary insights, and case-studies. If some practitioners believe, as many do, that the sustainable development metrics as promoted globally in support of mega infrastructure developments are too vague and thus too difficult to operationalise given data availability problems, for example, then this story needs to be told, as does its response to the challenges confronted. We are especially eager to provide a platform that reports an analysis of narratives of this kind and that does not simply recall business-as-usual (BaU) practices without scrutiny.
While we are obviously very keen to encourage academic contributions that help re-frame the analysis of, and responses to, mega infrastructure sustainable development challenges, we would be disappointed if the journal only attracted academic contributions and readers. In this spirit, we are keen to also encourage articles that offer critical commentaries that hold to account questionable aspects of professional practice. These are likely to be controversial pieces and may even make some peer reviewers uncomfortable. We are, however, in very uncertain and challenging times and contend that they very much warrant the incorporation of such contributions amongst more scientific papers, if only to shed a very different light on prevailing academic discourse.
Being concerned with a more holistic picture of mega infrastructure development, we especially welcome contributions that address geopolitical, environmental, governance and socio-economic aspects of sustainable development as they apply to mega infrastructure that goes beyond the engineering, project management, economic and investor foci that currently dominates much of the literature. In this respect, the journal would especially welcome contributions from political scientists, community leaders, think tank researchers and other NGOs representatives involved in and/or concerned with mega infrastructure at the interface with sustainable development. We see this as a form of sense-making and lesson-learning for those interested in the fast-changing decision-making environments of mega infrastructure development to better appreciate, among other things, who the ultimate ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of these investments are over time and space.
Where do you see the journal going in the next five years?
Among the main findings of the OMEGA 2 project was the importance of ‘the power of context’ on mega infrastructure decision-making and judgements about project success. I consider this aspect of the influence of context to be crucially important to our journal in terms of revealing how society’s value change (sometimes dramatically) and subsequently impact the way project success is judged. This is especially true in times of crisis, when totally new investment priorities can be introduced to address unexpected challenges, when in earlier circumstances these would have been dismissed out of hand.
As readers of our journal will no doubt fully appreciate, there has been a huge shift in the contexts of mega infrastructure development decision-making in recent years, particularly since: the global financial crisis of 2007/2008; the growing acceptance of the devastating impacts of unbridled climate change and the emission targets set by the Paris Climate Change Accord of 2015; and now the global public health concerns occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic. We see the journal, albeit in a modest way, informing governments, mega infrastructure development investors and promoters on what has been done well in the past, what has not, and how changing contexts urgently warrant new approaches to addressing prevailing challenges more in line with the goals of sustainable development.
I would expect that over the next five years the journal will see more robust discussion about the role of mega infrastructure in sustainable development as impacted by developments in information and communications technology (ICT), as well as by innovative applications of artificial intelligence (AI) as the Third Industrial Revolution gathers pace. I look forward to the journal accolading mega infrastructure developments and approaches that employ such innovations that are as a result more suited to their contexts, more sustainable, affordable and thus more resilient in face of the uncertain and challenging times ahead. I am hoping readers of the journal, both from academia and in practice, will better appreciate from the debates and scrutiny it offers lessons that can be usefully gleaned from past practice that can inform enhanced mega infrastructure developments for the future. In this respect, I predict the art and science of retrofitting existing mega infrastructure to meet challenges of sustainable development will become as important, perhaps more important in some cases, than building new megaprojects. This is yet another aspect the journal would welcome contributions on.
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 Harry T. Dimitriou,
Bartlett Professor of Planning Studies and Director of the OMEGA Centre,
Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, UK