“I love ‘Talking Infrastructure’ – you ask questions that I have no answers to”. (recent email from an experienced asset management trainer)
Questions for which there are answers are ideal for training courses, manuals, and instructions. Asset management, where the task is to how to choose those asset activities that best achieve the organisation’s objectives, is now, after thirty years of development, at this stage. Not everyone may know the answers but an increasing number are learning the ‘how to’ from those who do. The procedures themselves may change, a little: they may be clarified, refined, improved, but they no longer need be ‘discovered’ for that has already been done. The reason I can say this with a certain amount of confidence is that the task of ‘achieving objectives’ is a technical issue, one of optimisation under constraints.
Choosing those objectives, however, is a different matter. Clearly communicating the chosen objectives is yet another! Here we are dealing with values, and with complexity. We are in the realm of ‘wicked problems’. According to Wikipedia. “A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil”. Incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements, well describes the problem facing those who need to set infrastructure objectives today. And, yes, they are also difficult to recognise.
How could it be otherwise where, for infrastructure decisions, the need is to plan ten, twenty, or more years into an unknowable future; where we need to juggle the needs of present v future generations, of present v. future technology, of present v. future needs, demands, values and expectations. What do we favour – economic, social or environmental outcomes? With due respect to the ‘triple bottom line’ which implies that all can be accommodated, the truth is that all conflict.
We can act as if this complexity does not exist and ‘muddle through’, a long established British tradition.
But perhaps the complexity is ‘difficult to recognise’ because we are not examining it?
‘Talking Infrastructure’ is designed to explore these difficult, complex, issues, so that we become more aware, more able to see a path through the complexity, and to debate them so that we are more able to explain whatever path we have chosen to others.