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Customer-led infrastructure a better way forward for communities

1 June 2017
New paper on infrastructure asks why wait for government?

A new paper by the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership recommends customer-led infrastructure projects to ease the pressure on government and deliver services into communities.

Customer-led DIY infrastructure projects are an important innovation to getting the right services into communities, quickly and cost effectively while taking the pressure off government, according to a new paper by the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney.

Released today, the policy outlook paper, Why wait for Government? Customer-led DIY infrastructure, Australia’s No. 1 Priority, canvases successful DIY infrastructure projects past and present and the economic and social benefits of creating a better infrastructure model.

Authored by Garry Bowditch, the Executive Director of the Better Infrastructure Initiative at the University’s John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, the paper is “a call to remove limitations from the nation’s assets and services and create a new decision-making model that is anchored in the community, for the community.”

“With an estimated $47 billion of community infrastructure in a poor or very poor state, we are calling on communities to be more empowered in deciding what gets fixed and built. Communities can and should transform into ‘DIY protagonists’ and when they do, waiting for government will be history,” Mr Bowditch added.

According to the new paper, Australia has a rich history of DIY projects including:

  • The Sydney Harbour Tunnel (NSW) – by Transfield and Kumagai Gumi
  • Pilbara Rail (WA) – by Lang Hancock
  • Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport (QLD) – by John Wagner
  • New energy entrepreneurs across the nation, fusing together renewable energy, big data to create new services.
  • Beaumaris Sports Club Inc (VIC) – by the local Beaumaris community, south-east of Melbourne.
Finding the middle ground where community groups can express and formulate their needs into well-developed proposals and have the support of financial backers as well as government is critical.
Garry Bowditch, Executive Director of the Better Infrastructure Initiative at the John Grill Centre

“We must reconnect with our history and correct the fact that today there are too few community groups, like the Beaumaris Sports Club Inc, who have successfully activated and completed their own infrastructure project.

“Some state governments have been successful with market-led (unsolicited) proposals but this now needs to be extended to community groups who have been missing the action,” said Mr Bowditch.

“Finding the middle ground where community groups can express and formulate their needs into well-developed proposals and have the support of financial backers as well as government is critical.”

Produced with global leadership partner National Australia Bank, the policy outlook paper recommends the establishment of a new community infrastructure ecosystem (see figure 1, attached). This ecosystem would include:

  1. a community infrastructure hub (where individuals, groups and clubs develop ideas)
  2. a community capital enterprise (potentially valued in the order of $10 billion in three to five years which is the financing and funding part of the ecosystem)
  3. project management (specific management and delivery plans with ongoing community oversight).

“In order for this new infrastructure ecosystem to thrive, government may need to loosen the reigns and recognise the important roles DIY protagonists can play,” Mr Bowditch said.

The John Grill Centre’s Executive Director Marc Vogts said, “Our third Policy Outlook Paper is part of a vast array of infrastructure research at the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership.

“From energy and resources to technology-enabled business transformations, the Centre is committed to pursuing research and projects with real-world impact, which contributes to Australia’s economic prosperity.”

Infrastructure only really works well when it is part of a connected system.
Garry Bowditch

According to a survey commissioned by the University’s John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, the lowest customer satisfaction ratings were concerned with roads (34 percent), while the highest ratings were for Uber (87 percent).

“This is paradoxical when we consider that roads are Uber’s most important physical asset. Empowerment through transparent information via a smart phone appears to be shifting satisfaction rates in a big way,” said Mr Bowditch. 

“Here lies the opportunity for improvement, if governments make infrastructure data available so DIY infrastructure protagonists can innovate with new ways of informing customers and joining up fragmented infrastructure.”

“Like any ecosystem, the infrastructure community is more likely to be productive when there are more participants, rather than just a few. Infrastructure only really works well when it is part of a connected system.”

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