IPA ESRC Projects Conference

On the 22nd July, Project X held it’s IPA/ESRC Conference, offering a chance for new members to join and learn about our aims and mission and providing the opportunity all present to be involved in the development of our 4 key themes of research.

Over 40 people were in attendance on the day, including representatives from the civil service, top universities, private sector partners and professional bodies.

At the start of the morning, attendees were asked to fill in a bio sheet, giving us a brief description of their key experience and interests. We also asked everyone to choose a theme of research that they would like to discuss. We have since found these profiles extremely useful for understanding the array of skills we possess in Project X and the variety of experience that will come in useful as each theme of research develops.

Terri Harrington, Head of Portfolio Insight in the IPA then introduced the event giving the new members of the group a chance to learn a little about Project X’s purpose and aims which are summarised on the ‘About Project X’ page.

Paul Nightingale from the University of Sussex then outlined our funding request with the ESRC and other academic research funding bodies. For non-academics, this may have been slightly confusing as the process is far from straight forward. However, it should have instilled a sense of confidence in the work being done to achieve as much funding as possible for this project, to help restrict limitations on the work we hope to do.

Geraldine Barker from the National Audit Office the outlined some of the key issues in the delivery of major projects in government to ensure all present understood the importance of the work on Project X and also focussed the discussions on those areas of research which would have most impact.  As Terri had mentioned, with > £400bn being spent on major projects in government, even an improvement of 1% in the outcomes of these projects in terms of value for money/cost reduction could lead to increased funding for public services such as hospitals and schools and/or other key projects.

After a short break, everyone gathered into four different themes:

  • Theme A, led by Terry Williams (University of Hull)– Defining value, measuring success and identification of critical success factors (this topic includes brief and scope development, coping with the impact of significant scope change, engagement with owner/investor/operator and identifying benefits)
  • Theme B, led by Mike Lewis (University of Bath)– Front-end management practices and their influence on project performance (this topic includes collaboration, public/private sector differences, interactions and knowledge management).
  • Theme C, led by Richard Kirkham (University of Manchester)– Better use of data and the connection to project performance improvement (this topic includes methodological issues at the interface of quantitative and qualitative methods, the use of data in decision-making (risk and uncertainty), ethnographic studies in projects, use of data in performance assessment)
  • Theme D, led by Mike Bourne (Cranfield University)– Reviews, reporting and governance and their connections to effective decision making (this topic includes, evolution of performance metrics in the life-cycle, identifying critical decision situations)

The discussions covered some of the following topics:

  • Outlining the details of the theme as it currently stands
  • Updating the group on the progress made so far
  • Raising any issues relating to theme, including issues with funding, research possibilities, access to resources etc.
  • Priority research topics
  • What role individual members of the group would like to take in the research

The discussions proved to be very useful and having new members gave the leaders a chance to hear a different perspective on the topic. All ideas have been recorded and collated into 4 individual documents, which will be shared with the group.

After feeding back to the wider group, each theme was set the task of deciding on two potential research projects. Whilst these are not set in stone, they form a solid foundation for some very strong streams of research to be carried out over the next few years.

We then ended the day with a summary of the outcomes of our discussions. The day was left on the agreement that the theme leaders will write up and finalise a first draft of their two research ideas, ready to feed back at the next steering group working meeting on the 14th September. These will also be sent around to wider Project X group.

We were lucky enough to have been joined by Andy Gibb from ESRC for the afternoon and he said a few words to confirm that from the discussions he had been involved with and the topics under consideration, he felt that the aim of Project X was in line with those of the UK research councils.

Our plan going forward is to determine and agree the two research proposals from each theme and set a plan in place to decide how we will conduct this research effectively.

Overall, we feel that the conference was highly successful and hope that all those in attendance feel the same.