Project evaluation is not an exact science. While it is possible to apply standard techniques of engineering economics in assessing costs and benefits, most large-scale projects have inherent evaluative complexity with significant cost and benefits that are either difficult to predict, difficult to convert to monetary terms, or controversial, at least to a subset of relevant stakeholders. This project is designed to expose you to these complexities, give you a chance to study in depth how project evaluation is implemented in practice, how it relates to the design process and try your hand at evaluating a major project.


Prepare a case study of the evaluation process for a major project. The project could be historical, recent past, current, or proposed; it could be a project that was successfully implemented, implemented but unsuccessful, or never implemented. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you may even produce your own preliminary analysis of a project that as of yet exists only in the realm of ideas (just remember, it has to make sense). Based on past years, we are guessing that many of you will choose a large infrastructure project. Projects such as the new bridge near the Hoover Dam, buildings (The Z Center at MIT and the Hancock Building in Boston were both selected in the past, and also the rehabilitation of a high school in Greenwich, CT), rehabilitation of the Washington Metro, financing and building a nuclear power plant — actually two — in Georgia), high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and the Trans-Alaska pipeline are options, but we are open to other ideas.


This is a group project, to be prepared in teams of 2-3 students. While components of analysis may (and should) be split up within the group, every member should be engaged in the entire process and grading will be by group. Of course, more content will be expected from 3-person groups than from 2-person groups.

The case study should be about 15 pages long, including:

  • Background on the project.
  • If a current or past project, a summary of the costs and benefits that were considered by decision-makers and how they were analyzed.
  • Major issues that affect(ed) the project.
  • Significant decisions that will be/were made regarding project design and implementation.
  • Status of the project and results if it has been completed.
  • Your own analysis of the relevant costs and benefits (if you choose an entirely new project, this will be the main body of your project).
  • Discussion and critique of the project and the project evaluation process.

Project Selection and Analysis

The topic selection is intentionally open-ended. To ensure wise project choices, each group will meet with the instructors following submission of the initial project proposal. You will present your proposal and we will critique. This is our way of assuring you are on the right track, and this is your chance to refine your proposal and ask questions.

Choosing a Project

  • Think about large-scale as meaning a project that "changes everything" within a given worldview, be that at the international scale (e.g. the Panama Canal), regional scale (Big Dig), or a more localized scale (performing arts center at an university).
  • Consider your sources of information or data. Good information will make your life much easier. Possible resources include CEE journals, books concerning the history of major projects, MIT theses or project reports, newspaper articles, web sites for current projects, etc.


  • Define the perspective of the evaluation: Is the project concerned with public good? Client profit alone? Both?
  • Critiquing the project evaluation process: Ask yourself, did decision makers ask the right questions in the course of planning the project? Was their analysis adequate? Present your own analysis of the project's success in relationship to the decisions and evaluation techniques of those actually involved.

When developing your project, please review the project evaluation checklist to make sure all the important issues have been considered.

Project Evaluation Checklist


In addition to our feedback on your proposal, there are two formal progress reports with specific deliverables on which we can provide feedback as well. Each progress report should also include any questions that have come up in the course of your analysis. We will do our best to answer your questions or talk you through the issues. Projects often evolve from your original thoughts during the semester; the progress report is a means by which to document that evolution as well as giving the teaching staff the opportunity to weigh in.

Project Deliverables

P1: Project description Lec #10
  1. Provide a brief project description.
  2. Why is the project interesting?
  3. What are the key uncertainties involved in the project?
P2: Progress report I Lec #17
  1. Identification of stakeholders.
  2. Identification of benefits and costs.
  3. Data sources you are using and any data problems you are encountering.
P3: Progress report II Recitation 10
  1. Project finance.
  2. Major barriers to a successful completion of your written project.
P4: Powerpoint presentation Lec #23  
P5: Final report Lec #26  

Examples of the final report are available below. All work is courtesy of MIT Students and is used with permission.

Sydney Opera House (PDF - 1.8MB)

Atlanta BeltLine (PDF)


Oral Presentations

In addition to the project deliverables, students are expected to make two oral presentations on their term project:

  • Mini-presentation (<7 minutes) on your initial ideas — Recitation 6.
  • Final presentation at end of term — Lec #23, 24 and 25.