Or, making sure we always ask who truly benefits by a new infrastructure project.
Infrastructure investment always attracts several groups with particular interest in the projects themselves.
There are the construction companies where it is all upside (work for them) and no cost, at least to them. They probably won’t even be around when the assets are in use.
There are internal project engineers who want cool things to build, whose interest in the assets once constructed can be minimal. That is to say, they don’t necessarily worry about handover of as-builts or how well the assets work after ten years. Their job is to do shiny news things!
And of course there are developers, whose interest extends to how much they can exploit the infrastructure – and with a long, long history of lobbying to the point of corruption.
I am not sure if the people who fund it always think about this. Assuming, of course, they have not already been captured by the lobbying and mindsets of construction companies and developers.
A lot of people like to see money invested in their neighbourhoods, at least until the construction noises start.
So, wearily, we have to take this on as infrastructure Asset Managers and stewards.
Like mad-eyed prophets calling out in the wilderness, and not necessarily honoured in our own country, nobody maybe wants to hear: Cui Bono?
At an event organized by Women in Asset Management North America for Infrastructure Week USA in May, several of us explored how we develop future Asset Management practitioners. And not just through formal college courses, but also engaging high school students in infrastructure.
With Lou Cripps of Talking Infrastructure and three leading women US Asset Managers – Amy Lindblom, Mildred Chua and Katty Fleming – we also included a draft ethics statement for discussion.
We are managing the assets on behalf of our communities as well as our organizations, not assets for their own sake, and certainly not for ours
We take responsibility for continuously developing the knowledge and skills to manage the assets well
We recognize our dependence on other skills and experience, especially from those people who work directly with the physical assets
Our communities and organizations depend on us to take the longer view, the bigger picture, the system-wide view, and to ask hard questions about the implications of what we decide to do and not do to the assets
We need to consider all the unintended costs and risks across time of decisions
This requires both honesty about past performance and our current processes, and the ability to understand what the data can (and cannot) tell us, through good analysis
We need, above all, to face honestly who benefits and who does not from our infrastructure decisions
What do you think? Would you sign?
NB I do not know why North America has so many preeminent women in thought leadership roles in Asset Management, I am just glad it does.
People like us who are responsible for managing public infrastructure assets always leave a legacy. Good or bad, that depends on how well we do our jobs now.
Famously politicians, along with billionaires, are attracted to the idea of a shiny new asset with their name on it. They see themselves remembered and honoured every time anyone drives down a road named for them. But this is often not true.
Firstly, if the road is poorly designed and badly maintained, no-one will be honouring your memory.
Secondly, if this puts the community into long-term debt, or wrecks other community benefits such as a stream or potential for other services – anything that will prevent them from doing what is needed in future: this is a poor legacy. Even if not everyone remembers it was your doing, they will not think kindly about whoever was responsible for such short-sightedness.
Thirdly, by definition, it is a poor public servant who puts their own ego against the needs of their community.
What would be a good legacy?
What would you like to leave for future generations?
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’*
What do envy and the attitudes of some people responsible for infrastructure at this time have in common?
Wishing things were different, instead of getting down and actively working to change things.
This was prompted by a conversation last week with an Asset Manager struggling to get their executive to stop moaning about how unlucky it all is, and start planning for what’s going to be needed going forward from Covid-19. People paid a goodly amount of money to take responsibility, who instead are acting like victims: everything would have been ok, if only….
Wanting the world on your own terms is not a strategy. Managing assets is for life, not just for Christmas, not just the good times.
It made me think again how vital the principle of honesty is for good infrastructure management. Chris Lloyd and Charles Johnson in their Seven Revelations of Asset Management (Assets, May 2014) put it like this: Asset Management demands openness about past performance. We have to face up to what’s gone on before, how well (or how badly) the assets are doing.
But we also have to honestly face up to change – even when it looks calamitous. That is what responsibility means.
Even discussing the deadly sins soon comes round to Asset Management!
The serious point is how we build up that sense of responsibility, in ourselves and in top management, to do our level best with what we have taken on. To commit to be better informed, better trained, to learn from best practice and to live it.
No-one forces anyone else to involve themselves in crucial infrastructure. You do not have to apply to be CEO of a public service, or run for election to the Council – but, having made that choice, it’s not a cushy number.