Covid-19 and the legitimacy of drastic action: lessons from megaproject management

Josef Oehmen*, Verena Stingl, Petr Witz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Other contributionNet publication - Internet publicationCommunication

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Soon, we will all have convinced ourselves that we knew all along what was going to happen. Hindsight bias is how our brain manages its scarce resources and protects us from losing faith.

The reality is that for the time being, both policy makers and business leaders have to keep making some of the biggest decisions of their lives under some of the worst uncertainty of their lives. In a previous article, we talked about how we can use resilience thinking to make better choices. Today, we want to look at another crucial aspect: how can we ensure the legitimacy of our actions, i.e., reflect on how much support we can expect from the general public or our employees for what we are about to ask of them.

Megaproject management may not be the first area of expertise you turn to for advice in the current situation. We will explain in a little while why you should. Our interest in megaproject management focuses on the risk management side of things, particularly risks surrounding public support (or opposition) of these rather impactful and wide ranging endeavours. Here is why looking at megaprojects for inspiration in the current situation is interesting: They are very significant investments, they cause changes at societal scale (at least locally), they are unique, with a significant dose of first-of-a-kind actions, and at some point they are over and transition what they build into operations. That does sound a bit familiar these days.

While legitimacy is important, there are also other factors. Most notably, legality and feasibility. A common pitfall for managers of megaprojects and business leaders or policymakers alike, is to take action that is legal (or at least: later legalised) and feasible, but not seen as legitimate. That leads into dangerous territory of provoking significant resistance.

There are three aspects to the legitimacy of megaprojects that also apply to the legitimacy of the rather drastic actions being taken today by governments and business leaders.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
PublisherThe London School of Economics and Political Science
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

LSE Business Review


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