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Bent Flyvbjerg

Professor, Research Director, Dr. Techn., Dr. Scient., and Ph.D.

Notice: On April 1, 2009, Bent Flyvbjerg moved to University of Oxford. Flyvbjerg's Aalborg website is up to date until the time of his move. After this date, please see his site at Oxford:
www.sbs.oxford.edu/bentflyvbjerg

 

 

Bent Flyvbjerg's Publications on Truth and Lying

Main Publications

"Curbing Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation in Planning: Reference Class Forecasting in Practice." European Planning Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, January 2008, pp. 3-21.
Abstract: The American Planning Association recently endorsed a new forecasting method called reference class forecasting, which is based on theories of planning and decision-making that won the 2002 Nobel prize in economics. This paper details the method and describes the first instance of reference class forecasting in planning practice. First, the paper documents that inaccurate projections of costs, demand, and other impacts of plans are a major problem in planning. Second, the paper explains inaccuracy in terms of optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation. Third, the theoretical basis is presented for reference class forecasting, which achieves accuracy in projections by basing them on actual performance in a reference class of comparable actions and thereby bypassing both optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation.
Fourth, the paper presents the first case of practical reference class forecasting, which concerns cost projections for planning of large transportation infrastructure investments in the UK, including the Edinburgh Tram and London's £15 billion Crossrail project. Finally, potentials for and barriers to reference class forecasting are assessed.

"Design by Deception: The Politics of Megaproject Approval." Harvard Design Magazine, no. 22, Spring/Summer 2005, pp. 50-59.
Abstract: Some argue that almost no projects, including our most treasured ones, would ever be undertaken if some form of deception about costs and benefits weren‘t involved. The Brooklyn Bridge, for instance, had a cost overrun of 100%, the Sydney Opera House of 1,400%. Had the true costs been known, these architectural wonders may not have been built. Deception is necessary for action—and for exquisite design—according to this argument. By systematic comparison of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and the Sydney Opera House, and by examples from dozens of other projects, the article demonstrates how seductive, yet precarious, the argument is.

"How (In)accurate Are Demand Forecasts in Public Works Projects? The Case of Transportation." Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Journal of the American Planning Association, vol. 71, no. 2, Spring 2005, pp. 131-146.
Abstract: This article presents results from the first statistically significant study of traffic forecasts in transportation infrastructure projects. The sample used is the largest of its kind, covering 210 projects in 14 nations worth US$59 billion. The study shows with very high statistical significance that forecasters generally do a poor job of estimating the demand for transportation infrastructure projects. For 9 out of 10 rail projects, passenger forecasts are overestimated; the average overestimation is 106%. For half of all road projects, the difference between actual and forecasted traffic is more than ±20%. The result is substantial financial risks, which are typically ignored or downplayed by planners and decision makers to the detriment of social and economic welfare. The data also show that forecasts have not become more accurate over the 30-year period studied, despite claims to the contrary by forecasters. The causes of inaccuracy in forecasts are different for rail and road projects, with deliberately slanted forecasts playing a larger role for rail than for road. The cure is transparency, accountability, and new forecasting methods. The challenge is to change the governance structures for forecasting and project development. The article shows how planners may help achieve this.

"Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?" Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Journal of the American Planning Association , vol. 68, no. 3, Summer 2002, pp. 279-295.
Abstract: This article presents results from the first statistically significant study of cost escalation in transportation infrastructure projects. Based on a sample of 258 transportation infrastructure projects worth US$90 billion and representing different project types, geographical regions, and historical periods, it is found with overwhelming statistical significance that the cost estimates used to decide whether such projects should be built are highly and systematically misleading. Four types of explanation are tested: Technical, psychological, economic, and political. Underestimation cannot be explained by error and is best explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying. The policy implications are clear: legislators, administrators, investors, media representatives, and members of the public who value honest numbers should not trust cost estimates and cost-benefit analyses produced by project promoters and their analysts.

Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice. University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Abstract: The research for the book was designed to understand the relationship between rationality and power in policy and planning. It quickly became clear, however, that in the hands of power rationality often became rationalization, and rationalization frequently turned into untruth and lying. The book documents in ethnographic detail how rationalization, untruth, and lying shape – and misshape – policy and planning. The book concludes that power has a rationality that rationality does not know, but rationality does not have a power that power does not know. This makes for an unequal relationship between the two, where rationality and truth become the power of the weak. To see Table of Contents and more, click here. For an example of truth and lying at work, click here. For a list of reviews of Rationality and Power, click here.

Other Publications by Bent Flyvbjerg

English

"Truth and Lies About Megaprojects." Faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management, Delft University of Technology, September 2007.

"How Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation in Early Project Development Undermine Implementation." In Kjell J. Sunnevåg, ed., Beslutninger på svakt informasjonsgrunnlag: Tilnærminger og utfordringer i projekters tidlige fase (Decisions based on weak information: Approaches and challenges in the early phase of projects) (Trondheim, Norway: Concept Program, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2007), pp. 41-55.

"Eliminating Bias in Early Project Development through Reference Class Forecasting and Good Governance." In Kjell J. Sunnevåg, ed., Beslutninger på svakt informasjonsgrunnlag: Tilnærminger og utfordringer i projekters tidlige fase (Decisions based on weak information: Approaches and challenges in the early phase of projects) (Trondheim, Norway: Concept Program, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2007), pp. 90-110.

"Megaprojects and Risk." In William L. Richter and Frances Burke, eds., Combating Corruption, Encouraging Ethics: A Practical Guide to Management Ethics. Second Edition. Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Nils Bruzelius and Werner Rothengatter. Published in cooperation with The American Society for Public Administration. Lanham, MA and Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, pp. 52-58.

"Do Road Planners Produce More 'Honest Numbers' than Rail Planners? An Analysis of Accuracy in Road-traffic Forecasts in Cities versus Peripheral Regions." Principal author: Petter Næss; co-authors: Bent Flyvbjerg and Søren Buhl. Transport Reviews, vol. 26, no. 5, September 2006, pp. 537-555.

"Machiavellian Megaprojects." Antipode , vol. 37, no. 1, January 2005, pp. 18-22.

"Verbatim Report of a Hearing Held by the Temporary Committee on Infrastructure Projects on 16 September 2004 in the Hearing Room at the Logement in The Hague." In Tijdelijke Commissie Infrastructuurprojecten, Onderzoek naar infrastructuurprojecten: Openbare gesprekken. Report 29 283, no. 11. The Hague: Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 2004-2005, pp. 693-700. Also published with illustrations in Tijdelijke Commissie Infrastructuurprojecten, Grote Projecten: Inzichten en uitgangspunten. Achtergrondstudies. Report 29 283, no. 10. The Hague: Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 2004-2005, pp. 249-260.

"Getting the Cost Right and Dealing with Optimism Bias." In Major Projects Association, Strategic Planning of Major Projects . Oxford: Templeton College, 2004, pp. 24-33.

"Misrepresentation Drives Projects." Engineering News-Record , January 5, 2004, p. 87.

Procedures for Dealing with Optimism Bias in Transport Planning: Guidance Document. Co-authors: Carsten Glenting and Arne Kvist Rønnest. London: UK Department for Transport, 2004, 61 pp. To see Executive Summary, click here.

"Delusions of Success: Comment on Dan Lovallo and Daniel Kahneman." Harvard Business Review , December 2003, pp. 121-122.

"Response to Roger Remington." Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren Buhl. Journal of the American Planning Association , vol. 69, no. 1, Winter 2003, p. 83.

"The Lying Game." EuroBusiness , vol. 5, no. 1, June 2003, pp. 60-62.

"Machiavellian Tunnelling." World Tunnelling , March 2003, p. 43.

"Planning and Foucault: In Search of the Dark Side of Planning Theory." Co-author: Tim Richardson. In Philip Allmendinger and Mark Tewdwr-Jones, eds., Planning Futures: New Directions for Planning Theory. London and New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 44-62.

"The Dark Side of Planning: Rationality and Realrationalität , " in Seymour J. Mandelbaum, Luigi Mazza, and Robert W. Burchell, eds., Explorations in Planning Theory . New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research Press, 1996, pp. 383-394.

Danish

"Laver vejplanlæggere ærligere prognoser end jernbaneplanlæggere?" (Do Road Planners Produce More Honest Forecasts than Rail Planners?) Principal author: Petter Næss; co-authors: Bent Flyvbjerg and Søren Buhl. Byplan, vol. 57, no. 6, 2005, pp. 234-242.

Dutch

"Stenografisch verslag van een gesprek in het kader van de Tijdelijke Commissie Infrastructuurprojecten op 30 augustus 2004 in de Enquetezaal van het Logement te Den Haag." In Tijdelijke Commissie Infrastructuurprojecten, Onderzoek naar infrastructuurprojecten: Openbare gesprekken . Report 29 283, no. 11. The Hague: Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 2004-2005, pp. 11-13.

"Verslag hoorzittingen Professor Bent Flyvbjerg." In Tijdelijke Commissie Infrastructuurprojecten, Grote Projecten: Inzichten en uitgangspunten. Achtergrondstudies. Report 29 283, no. 10. The Hague: Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal, 2004-2005, pp. 249-260.

"Liegen voor groen licht." Interview. Profiel: Weekblad voor medewerkers , no. 12, April 2004, p. 4.

German

"Kultur der Fehlinformation." Interview and German translation by Gordon Bolduan. Technology Review, no. 1, January 2008. For the full- length interview, see www.technologyreview.de/flyvbjerg.

"Politischer Druck: Warum zu viel Optimismus schadet." German translation by the journal. Harvard Business Manager , January 2004, p. 121.

"Kostenunterschätzung bei öffentlichen Bauprojekten: Fehler oder Lüge?" Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren Buhl. German translation by Simon Güntner. Planungsrundschau , 8, November 2003, pp. 15-34.

Japanese

"Inaccuracy in Traffic Forecasts: Part 2." Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Japanese translation by the journal. Expressways and Motorways, vol. 50, no. 11, November 2007, pp. 56-64.

"Inaccuracy in Traffic Forecasts: Part 1." Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Japanese translation by the journal. Expressways and Motorways, vol. 50, no. 10, October 2007, pp. 56-65.

Italian

"Sottostima dei costi dei progetti di opere pubbliche: Errore casuale o intenzionale?" Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren Buhl. Italian translation by Maria Rosa Sodero. Archivio di studi urbani e regionali, no. 82, 2005.

Norwegian

"Lager veiplanleggere ærligere prognoser enn jernbaneplanleggere?" Principal author: Petter Næss; co-authors: Bent Flyvbjerg and Søren Buhl. Plan, No. 3-4, 2006, pp. 78-83.

Spanish

"¿Imprecisión de las previsiones de los proyectos de Obras Públicas? Ámbito del transporte." Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Spanish translation by the journal. Estudios de Construcción y Transportes, no. 105, July- December 2006, pp. 195-214.

"Cinco malentendidos acerca de la investigacion mediante los estudios de caso." Spanish translation by Maria Teresa Casado. Revista Espanola de Investigaciones Sociologicas , 106, April-June 2004, pp. 33-62.

"Subestimacion de costes en proyectos de obras publicas: error o mentira?" Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren L. Buhl. Spanish translation by the journal. Estudios de Construccion y Transportes , no. 98, June 2003, pp. 137-158.

Swedish

"Sanning och lögn om megaprojekt" (Truth and Lies About Megaprojects). Swedish translation from English by Leif Åberg. Framtider, no. 4, 2007, pp. 4-10.

"Arkitektur som bedrägeri." Swedish translation from English by Bengt Samuelsson. Arkitekten, August 2005, pp. 42-47.

"Underskattade kostnader i infrastrukturprojekt: felräkning eller lögn?" Principal author: Bent Flyvbjerg; co-authors: Mette K. Skamris Holm and Søren Buhl. Swedish translation and adaption by the editors. Plan, no. 4, 2004, pp. 8-11.

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