Selected Publications

Technology Can Drastically Improve the Environmental Performance of the Mining Industry: A Perspective on Satellite-Based Remote Sensing

In Press | Atif Ansar, Stephen Lezak, Guy Wolf | Perspective Brief

Technology has the potential to drastically improve the environmental performance of global mining operations. Here we show how satellite-based geospatial technologies can be used for monitoring environmental impacts and mitigating possible disasters, such as predicting the collapse of tailings dams. We review the evolution of remote sensing technologies and future trajectories. Their promise notwithstanding, these technologies remain in the early stages of scaling in the mining sector. We discuss pathways to amplify their market diffusion.

In Search of Good Energy Policy

Scaling Clean Energy for Data Centres: Trends, Problems, Solutions

2019 | Atif Ansar, Dan Madrigal, Seth Collins | Book Chapter

In a world of big data, widespread sharing of content on social media, data-intensive applications enabled by artificial intelligence, the Internet of things (IoT) and Blockchain, the need for data centres is becoming insatiable. Here we argue that a binding constraint to the scaling of data centres is the availability of low-carbon energy. The technology revolution in the making will choke without a satisfactory clean energy solution for scaling data centres. Here we argue that achieving energy optimisation via on-site production and location siting are the key drivers to overcome the clean energy barrier to scaling data centres.

Journal of Cleaner Production

Frameworks for conflict mediation in international infrastructure development: A comparative overview and critical appraisal

2019 | Stephen Lezak, Ariell Ahearn, Fiona McConnell, Troy Sternberg | Journal Article

While the extractive industries and related infrastructures are highlighted as key to economic development, they often come at a cost. Most projects involve a network of stakeholder parties; even though developers are allocating more resources to stakeholder engagement, conflict surrounding infrastructure development continues to rise. Whilst the causes of this paradox are numerous, ranging from the increasing demand for natural resources to the limited regulatory capacity of governments in the global south to oversee developers, they also highlight the lack of engagement with effective conflict resolution mechanisms. This paper undertakes a comparative review of 21 existing frameworks or "toolkits" presented by international organizations for avoiding and resolving mining-related conflicts in emerging markets.

Transportation Research

Five things you should know about cost overrun

2018 | Bent Flyvbjerg, Atif Ansar, et al. | Journal Article

This paper gives an overview of good and bad practice for understanding and curbing cost overrun in large capital investment projects, with a critique of Love and Ahiaga-Dagbui (2018) as point of departure. Good practice entails: (a) Consistent definition and measurement of overrun; in contrast to mixing inconsistent baselines, price levels, etc. (b) Data collection that includes all valid and reliable data; as opposed to including idiosyncratically sampled data, data with removed outliers, non-valid data from consultancies, etc. (c) Recognition that cost overrun is systemically fat-tailed; in contrast to understanding overrun in terms of error and randomness. (d) Acknowledgment that the root cause of cost overrun is behavioral bias; in contrast to explanations in terms of scope changes, complexity, etc. (e) De-biasing cost estimates with reference class forecasting or similar methods based in behavioral science; as opposed to conventional methods of estimation, with their century-long track record of inaccuracy and systemic bias. Bad practice is characterized by violating at least one of these five points. Love and Ahiaga-Dagbui violate all five. In so doing, they produce an exceptionally useful and comprehensive catalog of the many pitfalls that exist, and must be avoided, for properly understanding and curbing cost overrun.

Scientific Data

Predictive mapping of the global power system using open data

2020 | Chris Arderne, et al. | Journal Article

Limited data on global power infrastructure makes it difficult to respond to challenges in electricity access and climate change. Although high-voltage data on transmission networks are often available, medium- and low-voltage data are often non-existent or unavailable. This presents a challenge for practitioners working on the electricity access agenda, power sector resilience or climate change adaptation. Using state-of-the-art algorithms in geospatial data analysis, we create a first composite map of the global power system with an open license. We find that 97% of the global population lives within 10km of a MV line, but with large variations between regions and income levels. We show an accuracy of 75% across our validation set of 14 countries, and we demonstrate the value of these data at both a national and regional level. The results from this study pave the way for improved efforts in electricity modelling and planning and are an important step in tackling the Sustainable Development Goals.

Project Management

The fate of ideals in the real world: A long view on Philip Selznick's classic on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

2018 | Atif Ansar | Journal Article

Philip Selznick's first book - TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization, 1949 TGR - tells the story of how the ideals of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were thwarted by the reality of political pressures from its environment. Although TGR boasts one of the highest citations for a scholarly work in management, project management scholars do not cite it. Why has project management scholarship lost one of its founding classics? We investigate why TGR meets the criteria of a classic. We show that TGR's focus on societal outcomes and ideals is an improvement on conventional project management's focus on technical outputs and efficiency. Moreover, TGR contributes process theories-e.g., goal displacement and values depletion-for how major projects often fail. We conjecture that project management scholars ignore TGR because it represents uncomfortable knowledge. Project management discipline is in a crisis. We call for a humanist paradigm shift.