The national ESRC Festival of Social Science included ten events organised by BU this year. One of these was ‘Putting Social Science into Project Management’, held in London and organised by Dr Karen Thompson and Paul Summers, from the Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisation. Karen and Paul collaborated with UCL and the Association for Project Management (APM), which is the Chartered Body for the Project Profession in the UK, to put on the event. Feedback from participants shows the event was a success in all three dimensions of Fusion: education, professional practice and research.
Project management is often viewed as a technical activity, but recent research highlights the human aspects. Our event was designed to bring together practitioners and researchers, to showcase and discuss research on the social side of project management.
The Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management at UCL kindly provided the venue in a brand new building on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Professional practitioners and researchers came from as far afield as Liverpool and Sussex; quite an achievement as there was a rail strike on the day.
The full day event was in four parts. Karen began by framing the day with a presentation that encouraged participants to think ‘outside the box’ about project management. Six researchers, including Karen and Paul, presented their research findings, and APM Research Manager Daniel Nicholls introduced APM research. A poster exhibition was open for viewing during a networking lunch, with contributions from undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers. A winner was selected for a poster prize. To conclude the day, there was a debate on questions from the audience in the style of the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ with a diverse panel of experts. Question topics included Brexit, mis-use of social media and the rail strike.
For the educational dimension, students were engaged in co-production and found the discussions intellectually stimulating. They heard about the latest research and had opportunities to network with researchers and practitioners. One student commented “my mind is overflowing with ideas … that I will be able to use in my assignments”.
Professional practice in the field of project management remains largely uninformed by research because practitioners do not generally read academic journals. One objective of the day was to make research accessible to practitioners and good attendance by both researchers and practitioners meant this was achieved. One outcome was that Rob Leslie-Carter, a Director of Arup who presented the results of research on ‘The Future of Project Management’, offered to come and deliver a longer presentation at BU: an invitation we will certainly be accepting.
Research on project management has been criticised for lack of relevance to practice. One aim of this event was to provide an opportunity for researchers and practitioners from across the UK to begin a meaningful dialogue, with emphasis on qualitative research. An outcome from the day was that the APM Research Manager will be coming to talk at BU and we will invite academics from across the region to attend. Another outcome was an invitation for Karen to share her research at a ‘reverse workshop’ organised by the APM’s People SIG. Naturally she was delighted to accept the invitation and the ideas discussed may well go on to be used to revise the APM’s Body of Knowledge that is increasingly influential in shaping the practice of project management in the UK and abroad.