The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


Dr Vedran Zerjav awarded ESRC Future Leaders grant

15 August 2016


Dr Vedran Zerjav, Lecturer in Infrastructure Project Management at C&PM, has been awarded a grant by the Economics and Social Research Council as part of the Future Leaders scheme. The title of the grant is “Business Innovation Dynamics in Infrastructure Projects” and will aid the continuation of research that has been taking place at the School. This builds upon Vedran’s work with the International Centre for Infrastructure Futures, where he worked with C&PM’s Professor Andrew Edkins and Professor Andy Davies, and Professor Brian Collins from UCL STEaPP to look at innovative delivery and business models for the provision of infrastructure. 

We spoke to Vedran about this achievement and to find out more about the research in detail.

What is the focus of the research you will carry out?

This research will examine the role of infrastructure projects in promoting business innovation in the economy. Projects have traditionally been looked at as isolated chunks that have a beginning and an end – which, of course, they do. However, we are starting to look at their role more broadly, incorporating the project front-end and back-end considerations into the picture. The former is about the strategic thinking that needs to happen for the project to be established in the first place, and latter is about use and operation aspects. As opposed to traditional time-cost-quality criteria, we will be looking at benefits realisation and value - key aspects of business innovation. I am very lucky that through this research, I get to work with Professor Andy Davies who is very well known for his work on innovation. A lot of existing research has been focusing on poor performance of infrastructure projects, painting a fairly grim picture of these things. We want to move beyond this understanding and start looking at a range of positive outcomes that these projects provide for their society.

Given that your research has this more optimistic foundation, what value do you think this perspective add to the existing literature?

Yes, value is precisely the point. We need to start understanding the value equation of infrastructure projects better than we currently do. Senior policy and industry personnel who we interviewed in the past two years talk about it all the time. So it is important that research starts paying more attention to these aspects too. It is really about how these projects create value for their users and how they then capture a proportion of that value back. This kind of idea has normally been used in the space of start-ups and entrepreneurship, but not so much in the space of mainstream infrastructure. It’s always been considered a slow, boring business. So, now we will look at it from a somewhat more exciting perspective.

How long do you expect this research to take?

This is a career development grant and I proposed this as a long term line of enquiry. This two-year project will be instrumental in establishing the basis of this work. I am very interested in this area because it links back to work I have done previously, before joining C&PM, when I was in the Netherlands, Austria, and Croatia. This project will bring together nearly all of my scientific interests. Working closely with Andy and the project industry partners (Stanford’s Global Projects Center, the European Investment Bank, TfL, UCL East, Heathrow and Rijkswaterstaat) on this topic is truly a privilege. 

You have mentioned your academic background. What first made you interested in an academic career and your subject?

Choosing a career in academia, when I think about it now, is probably 50 per cent enthusiasm and ignorance of what is expected, and the other 50 per cent is just being in the right place at the right time. I started as a research assistant at the University of Zagreb but, for my PhD, I was interested in interdisciplinary design aspects and was based in the Vienna University of Technology. This was at the Institute of Industrial Building Interdisciplinary Planning – an eclectic place, combining architectural design, engineering design, and some construction and project management. Such an interdisciplinary mind-set was essential for the focus of my PhD, which used a major London Olympics enabling project back in 2010, as an in-depth case study. After completing my PhD in 2012, I did my first postdoc in the Netherlands – University of Twente - in the area of Healthcare Facility Planning and Design. This project included a fair bit of technology development. In 2014, I got the chance to join the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, working with Prof Andrew Edkins, Prof Brian Collins and others at the UCL-based International Centre for Infrastructure Futures (ICIF).

How does it feel to have now been awarded this ESRC grant?

Even though I am the Principle Investigator of the project, this grant is a result of working with others and countless collaborations with colleagues, not only in the School and ICIF, but also elsewhere. It is fair to say that this grant is really a sum of all those past and on-going conversations. I therefore see it more as a team accomplishment rather than an individual one.

Read more about ESRC's Future Research Leaders funding