Some Common Beliefs in Infrastructure Development
- New infrastructure will bring about economic growth: build, and they will come (and growth is always a good thing).
- Constructing new infrastructure creates jobs.
- If we innovate, we can minimise on-going costs.
- Physical infrastructure is mostly about technical decisions.
- A government grant for new infrastructure is free money.
None of these are always true.
Specific groups will have particular beliefs that it is worth being aware of – to understand ‘where they are coming from’ in any proposal, for example.
- Maintenance teams and management are motivated to keep the assets working, and are likely to be risk averse about things like spare parts holdings.
- Purchasing is motivated by negotiating good deals with suppliers, but has long been incentivised to focus on upfront costs (rather than total cost to the organisation).
- Engineers are not one homogenous group: it often depends on whether they are focused on design and construction, or work more closely with operations and maintenance on sorting out existing problems. But, in general terms, engineers like to design and build, and are less interested in what happens next.
- Finance wants not to waste money, focusing on direct budgets. What money and resources may get wasted through the consequences of future asset failures may not be in front of them.
- Urban planners believe in the power of urban planning to solve social and economic issues. Their optimism is not always well-founded.
If you are sceptical about how much data there is supporting any of the recommendations before you – it’s worth be aware that all these groups, and more, have not been focused on pro-active data collection and analysis up until now. Most trust their own experience – and all will be missing part of the bigger picture, whether it’s actual costs, risks, or impact of performance.
In particular, almost no infrastructure organisation actually goes back to validate the business case for new assets against actual costs and benefits.
Some Common Traps
- Not considering on-going liabilities
- Not investigating lost opportunities – if we do this, what do we rule out? What do we take away from our communities as we build?
- Inadequate economic appraisal – where is the evidence, really, that this project will deliver what is promised?