Affordable Digital Tools to Assist Asset Decision-Making

Data is crucial to making good decisions about managing public infrastructure. However, while cities with large populations and complex built environments yield high volumes of digital information, smaller centres can struggle.

WSP investigated how smaller local authorities can harness the power of smart data to analyse and diagnose infrastructure performance and allow communities to participate in decisions over the whole life of assets.

 

A paper, Enhancing Liveability Through Community-Centric Approaches to Asset Management and Affordable Digital Tools, authored by Vivienne Ivory, Kai O’Donnell and Phil McFarlane, is being presented at the World Engineers Convention in Australia this November.

 

Using Data to Get Smart

Data and information are the foundations for taking a smarter approach to asset management. Geospatially-referenced data is crucial because it provides decision-makers with spatially-relevant information upon which to make and evaluate decisions about infrastructure investments.

 

Information overlays can be viewed as the digital skin of urban environments. To date, the smart agenda has primarily focused on large urban centres where the data possibilities, information needs, and built environments, are large and complex. Yet the need for good quality information to manage and govern assets efficiently and effectively is as great in smaller towns and cities.

 

Lack of economies of scale for collating and managing data, and the struggle to attract the interest of technology providers with services that are fit for purpose, are real barriers for smaller centres.

 

Smaller budgets mean that affordable ways of being smarter are now needed and this is the area WSP focused on.

 

Getting Community Buy-In

Vivienne Ivory, Technical Principal, Social Science, Resilience and Public Health, says the project looked at how this information could be shared with communities to engage citizens in decisions about assets. A key outcome is to ensure that the goal of managing assets is to improve the quality of life for the communities they serve.

 

She says, “For communities to be engaged in asset decisions, they need to be informed about the status of assets (current and future) and be able to understand the inevitable trade-offs. Both experts and citizens need information about the diversity of perspectives and values across the community so that decisions about assets are transparent and fair.”

 

Designing Digital Tools

WSP invited two small regional local authorities to participate in a research pilot run over three workshops to develop tools.

 

Both organisations were identified as grappling with asset management challenges, a drive to engage more fully with their communities over asset decisions, and a desire to use data and technology more effectively but with limited resources (funding, technology, and expertise).

 

Three questions were posed:

  1. How can we tell whether our infrastructure is giving us what we need?
  2. What information, processes or tools do we need to tell us whether it is giving us what we need?
  3. What can we make that is meaningful, accessible, useful, and affordable to help people making decisions?

During the workshops, the data needs, availability, and gaps were mapped into a matrix, revealing challenges to using the knowledge, closing data gaps, and making decisions.

 

Positive Outcomes

Affordable digital tools that harness the power of integrated geospatial data were recognised as critical to facilitating a community-centric approach to asset management over the whole lifecycle of infrastructure.

 

“What emerged from the pilot was that telling stories about infrastructure and environments through digital tools can engage the community in meaningful decisions with the council about the ongoing management of those assets,” says Vivienne.

 

Several other insights were gained through the pilot – particularly on the use of digital tools to reduce siloes within councils, and between council and community. They could also reduce inter-regional silos by enabling multi-council cooperation where data themes cross regional boundaries, such as water quality and traffic volumes.

 

From a council perspective, more effective use of data through affordable, integrating digital tools can increase the ‘smartness’ of managing assets through enhanced capacity to analyse, diagnose, and communicate about assets.

 

Ultimately the research showed that if councils are to move from the rhetoric of people-focused consultation, they need information tools to collate, connect, and communicate between asset managers and the communities they serve.

 

To read the paper in full or for more information, please contact Vivienne at Vivienne.Ivory@wsp.com.

 

Phil McFarlane will present on this topic at World Engineers Convention on Wednesday 20th November, 2019 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.

 

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