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Edinburgh University & Costain sponsors 4 year PhD scholarship -data visualizations in the governance of megaprojects

Data Visualisation Design, Ambiguity & Decision Making in Megaprojects: EPSRC Studentship

Project Details

Megaprojects are socially and economically relevant modes of organising, used as preferred vehicles to deliver infrastructure and policy programmes worldwide. They are notoriously over-budget and beyond schedule, and have calamitous track records of benefit realisation. Notwithstanding their diversity in terms of characteristics and contexts, they share systematic failure of project managers’ decisions due to poor communication, data quality, and governance. Given the radical uncertainties underpinning such decisions, data visualisations (e.g. dashboards) are unable to produce accurate representations of projects’ states.

This project will therefore study such visualisations for their ability to generate actions and interactions in decision-making rather than as representational devices. It will explore a very neglected area of research: how material and social visual cultures inform the design, features, and uses of data visualisations, and how such cultures differ across different kinds of megaprojects, firms, and industries. It will assess whether visualisations act as effective governance and communication mechanisms and hinder or favour judgement in megaprojects, thus tackling one of the key causes of megaprojects’ failure.

The research will combine management and accounting with science and technology studies (STS) and visual rhetoric to deploy a qualitative study that will draw upon semi-structured interviews and participatory observation in different project settings. The study will first explore the field to establish broad-ranging patterns of visual cultures in megaprojects across a series of industry contexts (e.g. infrastructure, large restructuring processes, large science projects). It will then identify six to ten empirical sites to provide structured comparisons and detailed theorisations of how visual cultures govern decision-making.

By achieving its objectives, the project will contribute to push the ‘visual and performative turn’ in management and STS towards new forms of visualisations’ design that embrace ambiguity and change through processes of exploration of megaprojects states, objectives, and stakeholders. In terms of impact, it will generate a practical understanding of design principles useful in designing data visualisations such as dashboards and various other metrics.

The project benefits from a collaboration with Costain, a major construction firm in the UK.

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