“Beware the Dangers of Groupthink”

“Beware the perils of groupthink…” These are the wise words of Michael Ocock, a British surveyor and project risk management expert with strong Irish connections, who died last month at the age of 81.

Ocock was keenly interested in the mistakes made in the management of the Corrib gas refinery and other infrastructure projects that hurt local communities in Ireland and Britain.

Onshore and offshore wind farm developers should heed past mistakes, he said.

“Some infrastructure project developers are arrogant enough to think they know what’s best for everyone,” Ocock told Afloat in a Wavelengths podcast last year.

“They are convinced that they have enough power and more than enough influence to overrule objections to their plans – and they act accordingly,” he said.

“It’s the notorious ‘decide-announce-defend’ or ‘bulldoze’ approach to infrastructure projects,” he said, leading to opposition and cost overruns.

“It may be a roughly acceptable approach in an emergency – but otherwise it may be reckless, and any consultation process used will almost certainly be a sham,” he warned.

Ocock, co-author with Barry Trebes of Making Sense of Challenging Projects: Things to Know, Questions to Ask, has spent most of his career managing, overseeing and advising on infrastructure, and was acutely aware of how Inconvenient truths are often dealt with.

Over the past two decades, he has worked with psychologists to develop ways to facilitate infrastructure project teams’ understanding and engagement with local communities, and to identify “rogue stakeholders” who may not have no interest at heart but their own.

He has facilitated training on risks related to project management and strategic planning, and he has contributed to numerous publications, including the “GRASP” or “Global Risk Assessment for Strategic Planning” training manual.

His argument, as articulated in his interview with Wavelengths, was that it makes economic sense for developers to properly engage with stakeholders at an early stage – not just at a “checked off” public comment stage like the law requires it.

“Why, when major infrastructure developments are announced, are we always surprised at the degree of public opposition? ” He asked.

“For any community faced with the prospect of new infrastructure on its doorstep, it is surely the shock of the ‘new’ that triggers its protests – coupled with a stubborn belief that most pain remains local, while most gains go elsewhere,” says Ocock.

“To make their voices heard, communities have little choice but to oppose and oppose with fury. But immediately they do – they are accused of being negative and deserving of such a label than NIMBY (not in my backyard) or banana (build absolutely nothing near anyone),” he observed.

“What they are forced to oppose has become LULU (locally undesirable land use) for them, or with offshore wind turbines, for example, maybe LUSU (locally undesirable sea use),” said he declared.

Engagement, rather than consultation, should begin before options, considerations or ideas are put on paper, he suggested.

“Too often we’re told, ‘This is the blueprint we’ve spent months (sometimes years) perfecting – what do you think? Please leave your comments on a piece of paper at the back of the room or tick a box on the computer feedback form…,” he noted.

“Local authorities deserve to be invited to take part in a real dialogue with the promoters of projects which concern them, better still, they deserve to take part in negotiations to find the means of creating working relations between them as local authorities. and the teams responsible for designing and carrying out the projects,” he said.

Mike Ocock was born in Maidstone, Kent on May 24, 1941, and developed a lifelong interest in archeology at Maidstone Grammar School. After school he worked for Kent County Council and trained as a quantity surveyor.

His second wife, Janet, remembers him telling her that he spent most of his time “measuring the playgrounds”.

He graduated as a Chartered Surveyor and became a Fellow and Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

In his spare time he participated in a local archaeological group in Kent with his first wife Wendy. In 1962 he photographed some interesting swallows from a light aircraft over some fields at Eccles in Kent.

He was delighted to learn – during excavations of the area – that a Roman villa, a bathhouse complex and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery had been identified. The 60th anniversary of this discovery is to be celebrated this year.

Ocock worked for design, engineering and project management consultancy WS Atkins and managed power station projects in Britain and Mexico. He was also involved in project management for several Debenham stores in Ipswich, Cardiff and Swansea.

After he and Wendy separated, he married Janet who had a son, Neil, and a daughter, Madelaine; in 1978 Tim was born. Neil studied physics in Liverpool and London, and Maddy became a doctor of psychology with consultant status.

Tim studied for a Masters in Engineering and Computing at Lancaster and then in Business Management at Cambridge. Janet graduated from the Open University in 1984.

In the late 1970s, Ocock became involved in the extension of Guy’s Hospital in London – “unknowing that he himself would become a long-time patient of Guy”, Janet noted.

He founded Conspectus Project Management Ltd which operated from offices in Garrick Street, London.

“In 1994 the recession nearly ended Conspectus, but Mike managed to continue the operation from his home in Orpington in Kent, and later again from Ambrosden in Oxfordshire,” Janet recalls.

Family ties drew Mike and Janet Ocock to Cloonfad in County Roscommon, where they bought and restored a 200-year-old cottage and formed a local archaeological group researching early Christian sites.

While in Ireland he also provided advice to one of the survivor groups linked to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in County Galway.

He and Janet took great pleasure in becoming grandparents to Maddy’s two daughters – Ruby, born in 2009, and Scarlett in 2012. As a lifelong cyclist, he took great pleasure in teaching them to ride. bike.

His son, Tim, has put together links to some of his dad’s posts, including the podcast for Afloat.

“I would therefore like to invite here anyone who might have a passing interest in any work that involves avoiding the perils of groupthink, uncovering inconvenient truths and engaging disenfranchised stakeholders, or reconciling conflicting vested interests to check it out, what you can do to those links,” says Tim Ocock.

More Mike Ocock

Democratization of planning

It makes economic sense for marine developers to gain stakeholder trust (Podcast)

Read Mike Ocock’s recent e-book here

Read its methodology manual here

Read its British Standard on Project Risk Management here