Welcome New Full Members!

Community membership is open to everyone who has an interest in making the changes in infrastructure necessary for the 21st century, there is no fee  – and we welcome you all!

However, for those community members who would like to go further and actively contribute to the goals of Talking Infrastructure, invitations are offered to become full  (i.e. voting, direction-setting) members.

Please welcome our most recent Full Members:

Dr Neville Binning

Neville’s company, EDAB, has a speciality in transport infrastructure. He has a PhD in Asset Management and is the International Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT).  Neville has taken on the role of Chair of the Talking Infrastructure’s Perth City Chapter.


Hein Aucamp,

Hein is Infrastructure Asset Management Consultant at WA Integrated Asset Management.  Hein is a member of the Perth City Chapter and a contributer to the Blog.  Multi-talented, Hein also has broadcasting experience in South Africa.


Sophie Wallis,

Sophie is an experienced facilitator and Strategy and Sustainability Consultant at Upthink, a member of the Perth City Chapter and contributor to the Blog.  When we realised that we both had an interest in Nudge Theory and Behavioural Economics and its relationship to infrastructure, Sophie and I collaborated on a series of blogs on Nudge Theory.


Chris Adam,

Chris is Director of Strategic AM Pty Ltd, is a management consultant specialising in the water industry.  Chris was a regular contributor to Strategic Asset Management and is one of the first to have made the essential transition now to Infrastructure Decision Making. He is a contributor to the Blog and a specialist advisor to Talking Infrastructure.


ACTION    If you would like to be invited to become a full, voting, direction-setting, member of Talking Infrastructure, there are TWO simple steps you need to take:

Step One:   Join the Talking Infrastructure Community as a Community Member

Step Two:    Text me your mobile number so that we may organise a chat to find out what you are interested in and would like to see us do.

Penny Burns, Chair, Talking Infrastructure,  0434 406 751

Nudging, Cognitive Bias and Us

Sophie Wallis, Upthink, and member of the Perth City Chapter, writes that we know from behavioural science that our brain responds to the complexities of daily life by seeking out simple rules of thumb – shortcuts called ‘heuristics’. And that these impact many of our decisions, in both our personal and our professional lives.

React? Or Think?


Daniel Kahneman (also a Nobel Prize winner) first described three of them in the 1970s:

  • The ‘anchoring’ effect which can influence our ability to accurately estimate, as we will naturally tend towards a suggested figure or starting point.   Ed: Over 5 years I conducted hundred of market simulation experiments in which we varied the market rules, available information and incentives. Every time the market conditions changed, the participants were informed – yet they still initially tended towards the equilibrium prices that had been determined in earlier experiments even though they knew this was a different market. It was an ‘anchor’.
  • ‘Availability’ This is where we easily recall readily available stories, even if they don’t represent the bulk of evidence. Following a high profile but rare disaster, we are more likely to focus on the risk of this occurring again than on more probable, less visible risks. Conversely, the more we hear about successful innovations in infrastructure, the more achievable they will seem. Knowing about ‘availability’ helps us understand just why it is so hard to change the status quo towards something unfamiliar for which we have no examples yet.
  • ‘representativeness’ – ‘a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest’ (Paul Simon, not a Nobel Prize winner) which might blind us to the validity of other’s points of view, to stereotype people. Have you ever been at a community consultation session, and been surprised by the insight of a local resident? Perhaps you had made a judgement based on the person’s appearance, assumed a level of education and not expected they’d be capable of such understanding. They are. And you’re deciding on their infrastructure.

Question:  Being aware of our natural human cognitive biases is the first step in being able to counter them.   How have these biases impacted your decisions, or the decisions of others affecting you in the past?

Nudging Transport Project Delivery

Sophie Wallis, Upthink, and member of the Perth City Chapter, believes that nudge theory (or behavioural insights) can help to address some of the natural cognitive biases (as introduced in the last two posts) and thus to improve infrastructure decision making. In this post she looks at a study of project delivery in the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT), carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team (which Nobel Prize winner, Richard Thaler and others helped to set up).

Cognitive biases are hard for us to notice, even if we’re aware of them. It’s taken painstaking research to uncover the ones we have, and we’ve only just started to realise some of their implications.

The BIT chose to focus on 3 key cognitive biases that could impact DfT’s major projects. Interviews with key personnel indicated where these biases were impacting decisions, whether biases were built into their systems and processes – and what could be done to correct them.

The three biases BIT studied were:

Planning Fallacy – We’re wired to assume things will turn out well, that we are more than capable of reaching our goals, and less likely to fail than others are. For major projects, BIT found this led to consistent overestimation of success and under-estimation of cost and time requirements, particularly during the project planning phase.

Groupthink. Strong group dynamics are great for project teams, but we must be wary of the tendency to be influenced by others in our group and the impact this can have on decisions. Have you every been in a group where an ‘outsider’s’ view was shut down and discounted? That might be groupthink at play, and it can tend towards non-contentious ‘middle ground’ decisions rather than the ‘best’ decision. Have you been in a team where it felt safe to raise alternative ideas, and leaders encouraged this? What was different?

Sunk cost fallacy. Stopping a project mid-delivery is a fairly unpalatable option – a ‘courageous decision, Minister’. But when we make decisions based on the money and time already spent, rather than on the suite of potential outcomes, we fall into the sunk cost fallacy trap. BIT suggests a simple tool like a decision-tree can help to break the ‘escalation of commitment’ in large projects.

Question:   Are these cognitive biases affecting decisions in your organisation? One elegantly simply tool suggested by BIT is the ‘pre-mortum’. Imagine the project has been completed, but went really badly – what went wrong?

Have you tried this? Did it provide insight? What other solutions might also prove effective?


Nudging them, nudging us

Aim for the Fly A.Currell/ Flickr

Nudge theory was originally used to make small but consistent changes in user behaviour over a period of time to create better personal and community outcomes. In the last post we mentioned the case of organ donation but perhaps the most famous example is the ‘urinal fly’ introduced at the Amsterdam airport – a fly painted on the men’s urinal, encouraging better aim (or more attention!) which had the effect of reducing spillage by 80% and cleaning costs by 8%.  It was results like these that led to governments around the world setting up ‘nudge units’ to see what other applications were possible. But the focus was on consumer behaviour.  They looked to see how others could be nudged, but what about nudging ourselves – the decision makers?

Can we be nudged to make better decisions?    Joe Arvai, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, says “ governments have made important strides when it comes to using behavioral science to nudge their constituents into better choices. Yet, the same governments have done little to improve their own decision-making processes. Consider big missteps like the Flint water crisis. How could officials in Michigan decide to place an essential service – safe water – and almost 100,000 people at risk in order to save US$100 per day for three months? No defensible decision-making process should have allowed this call to be made”. (my emphasis)   His article in The Conversation is worth reading.

User decisions, such as choosing a default option, or aiming at a fly, are pretty simple. Infrastructure decisions, by contrast, are not. Joe Arvai refers to nudges as as ‘passive decision support’ because they don’t require a lot of effort on the part of the decision maker. “They are about exploiting – not correcting – the judgmental biases that people bring with them to all manner of decisions, large and small”.

Which lead us to ask:  What cognitive biases affect our ability to make sound infrastructure decisions?  And how can we use behavioural economics (of which nudge theory is but a part) to improve our choices?  This is what we will look at in the next few posts.

Nudging Us – In the wrong direction!

Nudge theory is currently in the news and the next few posts examine aspects of it that are relevant to infrastructure decision making.  Have you had any experience with ‘nudging’?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Back in the day!

In 2010 Richard Thaler (the 2017 Nobel Economics Prize winner) and his co-author, Cass Sunstein, wrote “Nudge Theory”.  The idea behind nudge theory is that the brain is lazy, or rather that we have so many decisions to make every day, that where there is an easy way out, we are likely to take it. Governments around the world have established ‘nudge’ units to figure out how to encourage (yet not force) people to take decisions that are in their, or the community, interest.  The most popular of the approaches is to make the beneficial decision the ‘default’ option.  For example, making organ donation the default standard but allowing people to opt out, generates significantly highly numbers of organ donors than where the default is out, but people are allowed to ‘opt in’.  This relies on us defaulting to the ‘easy option’, the one that requires the least effort, the least thought.

When it comes to infrastructure decision making, this means that we are more likely to choose options with which we are familiar, rather than ones that require effort, exploration, thought, and time.  In other words, although we know that the world is rapidly and radically changing with technology providing far more options than we have had in the past, we will (being human) have a tendency to default to the infrastructure that we have built in the past.  This means that we have an inbuilt tendency to construct infrastructure better suited to the 20th, rather than the 21st, century.

Question:   How can we use nudge theory to work in our favour, rather than against?