The objectives of this PhD are: (I) extend existing real option theory (ROT) literature to complex spatial projects and planning, (II) address the long existing concern of uncertainty in planning literature with a new theory and approach, and (III) impact planning and design practices by offering project stakeholders an innovative and hands on management framework for adaptive planning.

Our planning environment has become more dynamic, complex, and uncertain, but dominant planning approaches still rely on deterministic and static views of the future, wrongly believing the future is controllable and predictable. This growing mismatch between planning context and approaches led Planning scholars to increasingly advocate a paradigm shift towards adaptive planning and uncertainty acknowledgement. However, planning practice runs behind due to a lack of hands-on adaptive planning approaches, a lack of successful precedents and empirical studies, and institutional constraints. This PhD researches the potential of the economic real option theory as an adaptive planning approach to better cope with uncertainties in complex spatial projects (large infrastructure and urban (re)development). Real option theory offers a generic set of flexibility options to develop adaptive strategies in a structured way and uses mathematical models to value flexibility.

In ‘Real option applications in megaproject planning: trends, relevance and research gaps. A literature review’ real option applications in transport infrastructure projects are reviewed, illustrating the value of real options for the field of planning and important research gaps impeding its application potential.

In ‘Uncertainties in the decision-making process of megaprojects: the Zeebrugge new sea lock’ and ‘Explaining Uncertainty Avoidance in Megaprojects: Resource Constraints, Strategic Behaviour, or Institutions?’, results are presented of an in-depth case study of a Flemish seaport expansion project, illustrating how uncertainties occur and influence the project process, while being ignored in the official decision-making documents and research reports. A novel theoretical framework is provided to explain uncertainty avoidance.

In ‘A real options framework for adaptive urban design’, a real options framework for urban masterplans is developed, offering different flexibility options to urban design under conditions of uncertainty. To demonstrate its applicability, a rich overview of real-life examples are used that fit within strategies of real options theory-based flexibility.

ResearcherThomas Machiels
Promotor: Tom Coppens (FOW), Co-promotor: Tine Compernolle (FBE)
Funding: FWO SB Fellowship (2019-2023)
Period: 2018 - 2023