Knowledge needs to be shared and communicated but sometimes academic researchers make it very difficult to do so. Below is the abstract from a recent research paper called “Risk, uncertainty and governance in megaprojects: A critical discussion of alternative explanations” (not readily available on-line):
“This article critically discusses different explanations for the performance problems exhibited by many megaprojects, and examines the proposed governance solutions. It proposes a three-fold typology of explanations and solutions by examining authors’ epistemological assumptions about decision-maker cognition and about decision-maker views on the nature of the future. It argues that despite important differences in their epistemological orientation, these explanations share an acceptance of the notion of actor farsightedness. It concludes that this encourages them to focus on governance in megaprojects, made forms of organization designed ex ante, and to ignore governing in megaprojects, spontaneous micro-processes of organizing emerging ex post. Identification of this gap adds support to calls by projects-as-practice researchers for a broadening of research to encompass the actuality of projects. A new line of enquiry within this broad projects-as-practice agenda is suggested.”
Such an abstract actively discourages the reading of such reports. It could be said that a safety professional and blogger in Australia is not the audience for such a paper and if that is the case it is extremely shortsighted. Many academics need to publish in order to achieve job security but if the publication is not readily understood by people who are in a position to act on the research, why write the research up in the first place?
The potential of the research topic could be seen by this one example of a possible solution to megaproject management problems:
“One such solution is identified in a series of articles reporting research on a project to build a 20 kilometre long tunnel under the north of Sydney Harbour in the run up to the Olympic Games in 2000… These authors link the broadly successful delivery of this project – on time and only slightly over budget – to the decision at the beginning of the process to create ‘a project culture that was explicitly designed and crafted to encourage shared behaviours, decision-making, and values…”
The research’s conclusion lists three distinct explanations:
“…pre-planned opportunistic behaviours be key vested interests leading to the regular approval of non-viable projects”.
“…misaligned or underdeveloped governance mechanisms…”
“…performance problems are an almost inevitable result of the organisational complexity, ambiguity and conflict facing project actors on a day-to-day basis.”
There is clearly information of potential importance to project managers and those of us advocating for safety planning in the earliest stages of a project, but it is buried in un-Plain English.
The paper advocates a “projects-as-practice approach…. focused upon ‘organizing rather than organization, on becoming rather than being'”. It seems that the researcher, Joe Sanderson, is talking about having research grounded in the practical application of the knowledge, a perspective that would be widely supported in the OHS sector but he makes it so hard to understand his point.
This is a problem in academia that is recognized by progressive academics who understand that new knowledge must be communicated effectively. This stance is partly behind the very important article in The Economist earlier this year. In that article, “The Price of Information“, it was reported that academics are boycotting some academic journals because the journals charge too much and that the distribution is too narrow.
A terrific initiative in Australia is the website The Conversation. It’s charter establishes it as an important source of evidence-based opinion (unless that is a tautology). It has articles on workplace safety and wellness issues.
Sadly not all safety or information organisations are that visionary, or perhaps not visionary, but simply aware of the information needs of their readers and members.
Joe Sanderson is a researcher who has produced a lot of important research, some that is directly relevant to safety management but if all his writings are like the example above, he needs a translator, someone who can interpret the research and bring its significance to the wider community; because his research is significant, at least I think it is, from what I can translate. I think Joe is in good academic company.