This paper provides the background to the 50th Rankine Lecture. It considers the growth in emphasis of the prediction of ground displacements during design in the past two decades of the 20th century, as a result of the lessons learnt from field observations. The historical development of the theory of elasticity is then described, as are the constitutive frameworks within which it has been proposed that geotechnical predictions of deformation should be carried out. Factors affecting the stiffness of soils and weak rocks are reviewed, and the results of a numerical experiment, assessing the impact of a number of stiffness parameters on the displacements around a retaining structure, are described. Some field and laboratory methods of obtaining stiffness parameters are considered and critically discussed, and the paper concludes with a suggested strategy for the measurement and integration of stiffness data, and the developments necessary to improve the existing state of the ar
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