Sustainable Change in Large Projects


Advances in Project Management

By Dr. Göran Brulin and Dr. Lennart Svensson


Our research deals with how sustainable impact can be achieved from large projects and programmes. Sustainability means outcomes in terms of long-term effects from a programme – that is a cluster of projects. Our review of earlier programme and project initiatives indicates that sustainability has often been poor. Uncertainty about what projects lead to in the long-term is great, since there is little research in the area, and few evaluations study long-term effects. Which are the mechanisms for successful sustainable development programmes and projects? What driving forces enable project results to continue, be integrated with regular operations, and disseminated to other areas and leading to strategic impact? There seem to be three mechanisms that are decisive:

  1. Active ownership within the framework of an efficient and transparent project organisation.
  2. Collaboration between important actors and organisations building on joint knowledge formation blended with action.
  3. Developmental learning that leads to multiplier effects.

Learning through on-going evaluation and interactive research in the Swedish EU Regional and Social Funds programmes show that these mechanisms are the starting point for sustainable long-term effects? Hitherto, it has been difficult to draw overall conclusions from the ambitious programmes carried out to support regional growth, innovation and job creation. However, now it can be shown that lack of active ownership is evident in many projects. This is a consequence of how projects are initiated, prioritised and steered. Project are often initiated externally, from an intermediate level in the organisation or from the staff, which means that top management and line managers are not involved in taking long-term responsibility for initiated projects. It has also proved to be difficult to bring about learning collaboration between important actors and organisations, especially in large and complex projects that have been dominant during the current programming period. Innovation systems and Triple Helix also cover different actors with different traditions and cultures. The possibility of creating developmental learning leading to multiplier effects is limited by rules, routines and obstacles between projects, programmes and the system level.


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About the Authors

Dr Göran Brulin

Swedish Agency for Economic

and Regional Growth

Dr. Göran Brulin is senior analyst at the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth ([email protected]). He is responsible for on-going evaluation of the European Regional Development Programmes. He is adjunct professor in local and regional innovations at Linköping University and associated with HELIX VINN, Centre of Excellence (see www.liu.se/helix). His research interests include interactive local and regional development, organization of work, business administration and management and economic sociology.

Dr Lennart Svensson

Linköping University

Dr. Lennart Svensson is professor in sociology at Linköping University ([email protected]) and a member of the research management team at HELIX VINN, Centre of Excellence (see www.liu.se/helix). He is also Research Manager at APeL, an R&D-centre for workplace learning and the framework for different development projects (see www.apel-fou.se). His research field has covered local and regional development, workplace learning, interactive research, networks, partnerships and project work. He is author or co-author of more than thirty books.

Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK.  The articles are coordinated by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher also provides an introduction to the current month’s article, which you can see elsewhere in this month’s edition.”  Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.