A recent study by Reza Taheriattar at the University of NSW describes a mathematical approach to assessing adaptability. He distinguishes between ‘designed in adaptation’ (i.e. guessing at the likely future changes that will take place and allowing for them in the design) and ‘fortuitous adaptation’ (i.e guessing at them and calculating the cost of adjusting for them later.) [Note: I do not use the word ‘guessing’ disparagingly! Guesses, like assumptions, are extremely important, but we have to be careful we don’t mistake them for fact.]
Reza demonstrates a financial analysis model and an options analysis model but perhaps the most interesting is his social/environmental analysis where he includes non-measurables by the use of fuzzy numbers and qualitative analysis. He doesn’t give any detail of how these figures are obtained but the general idea is promising.
The example he gives is of rock seawalls where he compares a ‘designed in adaptation’ approach, (building a primary layer of larger armour units and building a parapet wall of stronger foundation) with a ‘fortuitious adaptation’ approach (later adding bigger armour units on seawall face and then strengthening parapet wall foundation’)
His general conclusion is that his method provides ‘ an easy to use method for financial valuation of investment in adaptable infrastructure’ and that ‘Life cycle costing could indicate whether infrastructure adaptabiity is sustainable and whether inclusion of environmental/social criteria enhances viability.’
As with any such academic study, it is subject to further research and development and the engineers amongst you may like to refer to his presentation.
All of us, however, may want to consider whether a study which compares two approaches to ‘known’ events. (‘known’ in the sense that you are able to put costs and timing on the outcomes) is really an answer to the problem of dealing with unknown events, where ‘adaptation’ may be more a question of how to efficiently and effectively leave your options open.