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The evolution of megascience project leadership

posted on 2023-06-09, 19:38 authored by David EggletonDavid Eggleton
Background and rationale - A development within the last century in scientific research has been the need for very large apparatus to explore new experimental fields, notably within high-energy physics. These ‘megascience projects’, which have a minimum budget of one billion US dollars, are generally undertaken as cooperative ventures by countries seeking to exploit scientific opportunities. Such projects are characterized by high levels of technological uncertainty, because success will likely depend on the development of new highly-advanced technologies. However, there is a notable lack of research into the leadership of megascience projects. Methods and Research Questions - The projects investigated were the Tevatron at Fermilab, near Chicago IL, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN on the border between France and Switzerland. This research used a combination of archival and interview-based research to develop two case studies that answered three research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of those who lead megascience projects? (2) Where were their leadership skills developed? (3) How were their leadership skills developed? Results and significance - The most important finding was the tailoring of senior leadership selection according to the needs of specific project phases. Four phases were identified: initiation, approval, construction, and exploitation. During the project there was a transition in senior leader characteristics from a transformational autocracy to an increasingly laissez-faire style. The characteristics of successful leaders of megascience projects at all organizational levels include 1) the primacy of technical competence, 2) strong management ability, 3) trustworthiness, and 4) team empowerment. This is somewhat unusual compared to other projects on this scale. The experiential nature of leadership training within megascience projects is also critical for success, with formal leadership training programs acting in a support role at most. This work also has implications for the next generation of megascience projects which is addressed as a conclusion.


Publication status

  • Published

Event name

Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy 2019

Event location

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA

Event type


Event date

14th - 16th October 2019

Department affiliated with

  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications

Full text available

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Peer reviewed?

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