Article | August 4, 2021
In amongst the chatter about how we can 'do' infrastructure better, there's now a growing consensus that we need to improve the way we design our interventions - 'design' in the broader sense of the word, rather than the narrow sense we tend to use as engineers.
My front-end principles for better infrastructure
Over the course of my career, the following front-end principles have served well to ensure we think through, before we rush in where angels fear to tread.
Be clear about the purpose and the expected outcomes, and engage communities in decision-making through an effective communication strategy.
Prioritise the user, aiming to offer services that are modern, effective and affordable.
Seek to improve people's quality of life and support the transition to a more sustainable future, while also facilitating the functioning of the economy, enhancing productivity and accommodating growth (to the extent possible, given other competing objectives).
Extract greatest value from existing infrastructure through timely maintenance, repurposing, renewal and upgrading. Seek to remove constraints and bottlenecks.
Aim to make best use of data, automation, innovation and technology (including for future asset management), recognising the complexity and risks this may introduce.
Recognise, analyse, mitigate and manage technical, environmental and climate risks, and complete any surveys necessary to support this.
Improve governance, with robust, timely and transparent decision-making, supported by strong evidence-based planning, clear prioritisation, and best practice technical design and delivery.
Seek an appropriate funding balance between 'user pays' and general taxation which incentivises behaviours in the best long-term social, economic and environmental interests.
Complete well-evidenced business cases and risk assessments of proposed initiatives before embarking on projects, including financing proposals. Aim to allocate the risks identified to those best able to carry them.
Facilitate collaboration between the government and business to promote delivery of the broader social, economic and environmental benefits.
Clearly, there are many other issues to consider as a project develops, and the above principles may seem obvious to some, and a counsel of perfection to others, but it's surprising how many are overlooked in the rush to build.
Article | May 5, 2021
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is revolutionizing the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry worldwide. For many public sector and major projects, BIM has become the required method of working. Yet, despite the increasing acceptance and use of BIM, there are still some barriers to its adoption.
Article | June 17, 2021
The Strategic Road Network (SRN) is the backbone of the road network in England. The UK’s road network is a fundamental part of our transport system; all journeys start on a road or pavement of some form.
The functioning of the SRN is critical for the economy. Entire sectors depend on it, with some of the most dependent including retail, primary materials, manufacturing and construction. Thirty percent of all traffic is carried by the SRN road; inefficiencies, in the form of congestion, negatively affect productivity, the environment and quality of life.
Article | July 6, 2021
One way or another, we all work on infrastructure; whether design, construction, operation or maintenance. We solve problems and make things work – often without the public realising the complexity of our task. We sit in the background and don’t make waves.
We are good at the technical challenges, but how often do we take a step back and think about how our work or project fits into the ambitions of wider society? Who is commissioning it? Why are they commissioning it? What are the political drivers? What do they want the outcome to be? What has changed since we started work on it?
This sort of questioning will help us deliver better projects, as we see the bigger picture, beyond our technical solutions. With so much of our infrastructure delivered through public bodies, it is important that civil engineers understand, and give professional advice to, the political process that drives infrastructure investment for our communities.