April 21, 2017


National Culture and Private Investment in Transportation Infrastructure


1:40 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.


1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village


American national policy has recently shifted to emphasize private investment in transportation infrastructure. Globally, there are many ways that private dollars have been used in infrastructure construction. For example, private dollars may be used to create new infrastructure assets, or to rehabilitate existing assets. This presentation shows statistical evidence that the choice of these various investment strategies is not culturally neutral; in other words, these choices are shaped by aggregate local tendencies such as relative comfort with uncertainty or preferences for individualism vs. collectivism. As such, these research results enable policy makers and engineers to select mechanisms for private investment in transportation infrastructure that better reflect the cultural preferences of the taxpaying public.

The analysis is built on a World Bank database of 1,792 railroad, seaport, airport, and toll road projects with private investment from 27 low and middle income nations. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are used to explain variation in the choice of different project delivery methods used to invest private dollars in infrastructure. Multinomial logistic regression models show that there are statistically significant relationships between Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and the power distance index) and the various project delivery methods (brownfield projects, management and lease contracts, and greenfield projects) used to enable private investment in infrastructure. For the engineering practice and policy makers, these results may be used to understand what forms of private investment in transportation infrastructure are more likely to be culturally acceptable in a wide variety of local contexts. For example, the results suggest that in the US, brownfield investments in rehabilitation of existing assets tend to be the better cultural fit.

Biographical Sketch

I am an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Washington. I received a BS civil engineering from Rice University and a PhD in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. A scholar of engineering projects and organizations, I conduct research on infrastructure for developing communities with a particular interest in topics of social sustainability. While I am particularly interested in the global south, I am also interested in any context that is experiencing significant change in basic civil infrastructure (or, is developing). The practical goal of my research is to make basic civil infrastructure better serve all the world’s people by enabling increased human capabilities.

Prior to entering academia, I spent 6 years working internationally for one of the world’s largest engineering firms. Other than my work, I enjoy spending time with my family, playing the banjo, and bad science fiction.

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