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Symposium 2018

September 6-7, Sola Strand Hotel, Stavanger, Norway

Aim and target audience

The Concept Symposium is a forum for decision-makers, researchers and professionals in government, academia, international organizations, and industry.

It is devoted to project governance and the development and diffusion of knowledge and expertise on front-end management of large projects. The aim that the best conceptual solution is chosen, resources are used efficiently, and the anticipated effects are realized.


The symposium is hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance and organized by the Concept Research Program, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.


Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg pointed out what he considers a mega paradox, i.e. that an increasing share of global GDP is delivered as megaprojects regardless of what he calls the “Iron Law of Megaprojects”: that they are delivered “over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again”.

Such problems have received much attention from the international research community in recent years. The last fifteen years have seen a massive change, and our understanding of the phenomenon is beginning to mature. The Project Management Institute (US) commissioned an analytic literature review of the “front-end” of projects 2017. The results will be available in time for the 2018 symposium where three governance issues will be in focus: (1) WHY, which is the question of policy, priorities and justification. (2) WHAT (and what not), which deals with the selection of conceptual solutions, and (3) HOW, which raises the issues on how to proceed with the project once the final decision to go ahead has been made.

Researches have provided us with new terminology to deal with these issues. In the outset, it is the “optimism bias” of stakeholders, and resulting in “strategic underestimation”. Then the problem of “perverse incentives” in regards to projects where there is no liability or financial commitment at the recipients’ end. And “myopic decisions” disregarding requirements in an emerging “circular economy” where “green governance” is a must.

The size of the “opportunity space” is an issue, and early “lock-in”, which can restrict choice. The same with “uniqueness bias”, “path dependency” and “strategic alignment”. And finally, when plans are turned into action, the issues of “design to cost”, “flexibility” and “scope creep”, “stakeholder management”, “collective action”, “quality assurance”, and “dispute resolution”. The list goes on.

At the symposium, researchers, decision makers, project managers, economists, engineers, and other professionals will be exposed to new insight and ideas, share their experiences and learn from others.

During two days we will have presentations and discussions in three parallel sessions. An informal get-together dinner is arranged on the evening September 5, hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance. Please visit Program to read more

The sessions at the symposium were as follows:

Session 1: Trends, Visions and Emerging Paradigm Shifts

Ours is a time of emerging megatrends that affect societies and the means at hand to achieve our aims. Developments in technology are at the forefront. Terms such as digitalization, circular economy, autonomous vehicles and production units may affect transport, construction, energy and defence sectors, hopefully to the better. Future success depends on our ability to adapt to these trends and exploit new opportunities. In cases where fundamental changes occur that might have major consequences, the term paradigm shift may be warranted.

Session 2: Strategic Project Success

Success from a strategic perspective, as opposed to successful implementation, raises fundamental questions: How do projects create value for users and society? How can we ensure that viable and relevant projects are selected and that their positive effects are sustained over time? The front-end phase and the choice of the conceptual solution are obviously crucial, as well as mechanisms to ensure that benefits are realized ex-post. Relevant case projects will be presented and discussed in the session. Some issues: Cost-benefit analysis, its strength and weaknesses, national versus local priorities and benefits, stakeholder involvement, benefits realization, and the difficult but important role of the project owner.

Session 3: Early Estimation and Cost Management

Cost escalation is common in the early phase, especially in public projects. Studies have shown that the project idea is often immature and therefore unrealistically low priced, but also that project promoters deliberately give a low estimate at an early stage to ensure that the idea is accepted. In the worst case, it leads to the acceptance of the wrong project. This session will ask why cost escalation in a project’s early phase keep happening. What are the mechanisms behind the cost escalation? How to prevent early cost escalation? Two types of prevention mechanisms will be discussed, i.e. improved cost estimation methods, and improved cost management, including techniques such as Design-to-cost.

Session 4: Project Evaluation Ex-ante and Ex-post

Today, most evaluation activities occur in the implementation phase or just after its conclusion. Systematic ex-ante and ex post evaluations are rarely used. This is a paradox since Ex ante evaluation provides strategic information about the main choices at an early stage when the possibility to influence the course of an undertaking is greatest. Ex post evaluation undertaken well into the operational phase will provide learning information to improve design and decisions for similar projects in the future. This session will present and discuss current evaluation design and practices, and their significance in relation to the project’s performance and outcome.

Session 5: Project Implementation Strategies

When the answer to Why and What has been reached, and the final decision to go ahead has been made, the next question is How to proceed with the project. Plans need to be turned into action, available resources ought to be sufficient and used efficiently, and anticipated outcome realized. This session focuses on implementation strategies, including the choice of contractual strategy. A particular focus will be on efficiency considerations, but there is also room to discuss social responsibility considerations, for example, what a public commissioner can do to prevent work-related or environmental crime.

Session 6: Priorities, Preferences and Decision-making

Whether under strongly path dependent conditions or in states of transition towards new paradigms, preferences and priorities for public investment projects are hardly ever only a question of simple optimization. The tension between economic rationality and the political choice is well known, as are also, and increasingly so, tensions both between and within scientific communities, governing bodies, citizen groups, and others in the face of new and competing trends, visions, and paradigms. The session will focus on how new priorities and preferences are brought to bear on the choice of conceptual solutions, and whether new forms of balancing interests are brought to bear on decisions.

Program Committee 2018

Geraldine Barker
Director Project Delivery
National Audit Office
United Kingdom


Ralf Müller
BI Norwegian Business School


Debora Hein
Deputy CEO


Yvonne Schoper
HTW University of Applied Sciences, Berlin


Jakko Kujala
University of Oulu


Steve Wake
Association for Project Management
United Kingdom


Peter Morris
Professor Emeritus
Bartlett, London University College
United Kingdom


Carl Christian Røstad
Symposium Director
Concept Research Program


Knut Samset
Program Director
Concept Research Program


Gro Holst Volden
Research Director
Concept Research Program