Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World

‘Experts’ have been taken to task for being ‘close focussed’, thinking only of their own area and not connecting with the wider world.  If infrastructure decisions are to improve our world, they need to take in the wider context.  How difficult this will be is, I think, indicated in the following statement of purpose for the World Economic Forum that begins this week in Davos.

Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World

“The global context has changed dramatically: geostrategic fissures have re-emerged on multiple fronts with wide-ranging political, economic and social consequences. Realpolitik is no longer just a relic of the Cold War. Economic prosperity and social cohesion are not one and the same. The global commons cannot protect or heal itself.

Politically, new and divisive narratives are transforming governance. Economically, policies are being formulated to preserve the benefits of global integration while limiting shared obligations such as sustainable development, inclusive growth and managing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Socially, citizens yearn for responsive leadership; yet, a collective purpose remains elusive despite ever-expanding social networks. All the while, the social contract between states and their citizens continues to erode.

The 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting therefore aims to rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world. The programme, initiatives and projects of the meeting are focused on Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. By coming together at the start of the year, we can shape the future by joining this unparalleled global effort in co-design, co-creation and collaboration. The programme’s depth and breadth make it a true summit of summits.”

Global Risks 2018

Next week Australia will join world leaders, big business and international institutions at the World Economic Forum in Davos.   Ahead of this meeting WEF has released its Insight Report “The Global Risks Report 2018”.   It is worth reading – and fascinating! This is the world for which we need to make future infrastructure decisions. Here is a glimpse.

Also of interest for future planning is the section of the report that contains a chart showing how the risk profiles have changed year on year.


Change, can we do better?

Penny: We talk a lot about change today but as Chris Adam, Director of Strategic AM Pty Ltd, Brisbane, Qeensland, points out in this post, change has always been with us – and we have survived. But consider our reactions to the changes that have occurred within the last 100 years. Have we really done much better than just blunder through?  And, can we do better now?  Indeed, “how” do we ‘rethink the future’.

Do we just fight fires?

1. The Inevitability of Change

We need only reflect on the last century to recognise the inevitability of change:

  • The second decade of the 20th century was defined by “the war to end all wars” which brought destruction and dislocation on a scale never before experienced
  • The 1920s were a decade of social and economic change finishing with the most disruptive stock market crash of all time;
  • The 1930s yielded the depression with further social and economic dislocation on a grand scale;
  • The 1940s was defined by WWII with death, destruction and dislocation on a scale that dwarfed our previous efforts;
  • The 1950s were a massive social and economic challenge as the world rebuilt and millions immigrated;
  • The 1960s sexual revolution;
  • The 1970s energy crises;
  • The 1980s “greed is good” decade;
  • The 1990s with the “dot com bubble”

My point is not to undermine the idea that current forces are not indeed a major challenge but to demonstrate that change is inevitable and, as a species, we have a proven capability to respond to such challenges

2. How do we “Re Think” the Future?

We tend to see change as a threat and prefer it didn’t occur, so how do we address this challenge and avoid a “head in the sand” attitude?

We need to take the future seriously but predicting the future is problematic. With the possible exception of WWII, practically no-one forecast the massive changes that characterised each decade of the 20th century. Current predictions that IT will lead to massive unemployment as machines take over reflect the exact same claims in the 1990s where it was forecast that traditional retail was “dead” as people would abandon shopping (as an inefficient and limited way to produce what we want and need).

3. So, if we can’t predict the future, how do we “take the future seriously”?


Timeless Principles, Current Methods

Penny: Today’s post is by Hein Aucamp, Director, WA Integrated Asset Management, and member of our Perth City Chapter, WA,  He considers what infrastructure decision making today might gain from what he has learnt from years in the volatile area of Information Technology.

I spent many years developing Engineering and mapping related software. Rapid change, which is becoming apparent in infrastructure, has always been a feature of Information Technology, where the knowledge half-life is said to be 2 years. I trust that Infrastructure Decision Making will never become as volatile as that but it will certainly be less stable than it has been in the past.

Here are my suggestions of translatable lessons. One can cope much more easily with a volatile discipline by dividing it into two broad categories: first, timeless principles; second, current methods to achieve the timeless principles. We need to be able to distinguish between them, to hold tightly onto the timeless principles, and also to be lightly invested in what is temporarily useful.

Timeless Principles

To get our thinking started, I suggest that these are some of the timeless principles:
• Infrastructure must solve a human need. This sounds as if it is stating the obvious, but think about a situation where infrastructure solves a narrow need but creates a broader pernicious problem: environmental damage, economic hardship for generations, etc. The timeless principle here is a healthy understanding of the service needs we are trying to solve, and the trade-offs involved in our proposed solutions – and indeed a calculation about whether in some cases it would be better to live with the problems.
• Infrastructure creates a long-term responsibility, with unforeseen obligations that might emerge only over time – arising through legislation, reporting requirements, or safety issues. Think for example of the difficulties of managing asbestos, which was once very much in favour. Once built, society will tend to want to renew infrastructure.
• Infrastructure will always have a political aspect. Public infrastructure requires funding by governments and will be attractive during electioneering. Suggestion: an independent central banking system has immunised monetary policy from most aspects of political influence except commentary. Are some lessons for infrastructure possible here? I am of course not suggesting a command economy, but perhaps a broad consistent policy climate could be created – analogous to the way objective renewal programs are supposed to stop jockeying for resealing of roads for influential people.

Current Methods

On the other hand, here are some of the temporary, current methods at our disposal to deal with the timeless principles. We know they are capable of adjustment, because they have been adjusted in the past.
• Funding mechanisms.
• Contrasting promises during elections.
• Technology.
• Legislation.
• Best practices.


Do you agree with this division? With the ‘timeless principles’?
How can we apply these lessons from Information Technology?
What other areas might we draw upon for valuable lessons?


Get Ready for Change

Welcome to 2018 and our January theme – “Get Ready for Change”.

Who is this for?

To get ready for change we need to take it seriously.  Over the years, as professionals, we have studied and built up an enormous wealth of practical experience.  This experience has served us well, and much of it will continue to serve us well. But some won’t.

Sorting out what was valid, from what is still valid, requires us to challenge practically everything.  This not only takes effort, it takes courage.  What we know becomes part of who we are, so that challenging what we know seems as if we are challenging, even disowning, ourselves.  Moreover, for those who are brave enough to challenge themselves, there is still the problem of disenfranchising friends and colleagues who are content to stay with the way things have always been.

For those who want to take up this challenge, to move ahead and ready themselves for the issues and opportunities to come, but who want to do so without offending colleagues and friends – try out your ideas here!   This is a ‘safe zone’.  Only those who are seriously thinking about the future comment here.  Not everyone agrees, but everyone is prepared to think, to put forth their ideas, challenge those of others, and to be challenged in turn.


Challenging what we know is an exercise in re-thinking. Here are some of the issues that we will be addressing:

  1. Re-thinking the aim of infrastructure investment  (e.g. what do we mean by ‘public  value’ and how do we create it?
  2. Re-thinking the players  – who should be involved in the decisions?  How do we involve more points of view? How do we ‘think forward’? (e.g. Citizen’s juries)
  3. Re-thinking the decision processes  (tracking progress)
  4. Re-thinking the way we measure? (beyond the dollar?)

What else?   

What are the issues that you consider we should be looking at in our attempts to get ready for change?