SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Better Government Projects (Project X)

The UK Government’s Major Project Portfolio (GMPP) of Transformation, IT, Infrastructure and Defence projects is worth over £423 billion. This includes well known major infrastructure programmes such as Crossrail and HS2 but also transformational projects that seek to implement change in the way that the Government delivers services and interacts with citizens. Projects are the temporary organisational form used to deliver government policy. However, the size and complexity of many of these projects means that delivery timescales and costs often overrun beyond planned expectations.  Yet, recent success stories at Heathrow, the London 2012 Olympics and Thames Tideway suggest that poor performance is far from inevitable.

Project X aims to enrich academic and policymaker understanding of how policy objectives are translated into performance outcomes and why some projects perform better than others. It was established in 2016 as a unique collaboration between a consortium of universities, industry and the project delivery professions and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). The IPA is the non-ministerial department within the Cabinet Office, responsible for the oversight of major government projects and programmes. Project X is organised into a thematic structure which was co-designed with the IPA and senior representatives from across government. This modular design has fostered distinct research communities across disciplines and knowledge areas, united by a common interest in improving project delivery. Six themes address the following significant research topics:

Theme A: Defining value, understanding and measuring success
Theme B: Front end and back end management practices
Theme C: Data quality and use  
Theme D: Assurance, reporting and governance
Theme E: Capability & knowledge management
Theme F: Transformational Projects 

Methodology

Project X blends fundamental social science research with problem-focused questions. For the research community there is an imperative to develop more robust methodologies that combine the findings from important case studies (Heathrow, the Prison Estate Transformation Programme and the London 2012 Olympics) with analysis drawn from the GMPP data. The University of Sussex research team, will use methodological approaches that emphasise the contextual nature of projects. For example, in theme E process methods and bracketing approaches will be used to trace the social and institutional practices that enable transitions within and between projects. These findings will be used at the programme level to generate practical insights.  

Impact and outreach

Impact generation is fully integrated into the programme’s multi-institutional design. The close partnership with the IPA enables research to move directly into official government mandated guidance. Ongoing dialogue with the government network responsible for training project managers and those directly involved in the project delivery profession will help to close the loop between research and practice.  

Research will be captured in academic articles and book chapters as well as synthesis reports, models and frameworks. Findings will be communicated via briefing papers, technical industry-focused reports, workshops and web-based materials. The project will deepen research networks and build capacity to enable a new generation of researchers to work at the interface of academia, industry and government.

Further information

Project X is led by Prof Paul Nightingale (SPRU) and Dr Rebecca Vine (Accounting and Finance) is a Co-Investigator. Prof Nightingale co-leads Theme F which investigates Government Transformation programmes. Dr Vine’s research examines performance management and control within Theme E “Capability and Knowledge Management.”  

The Project X consortium includes the University of Sussex working in collaboration with the Universities of Manchester, University College London, Brighton, Bath, Oxford, Edinburgh, Hull and Cranfield University. In December 2018, it received a major grant of over £1m from the ESRC.

Visit the Project X blogsite and follow @IPAProjectX on Twitter for more information and the latest news from Project X.