In the face of accelerated economic, social and environmental change, global experts suggest that governments and organizations can stimulate economies, and improve community outcomes by investing in high impact projects. As cities and regions continue working toward recovery, leading with infrastructural improvements and strategic funding will offer new opportunities. During a webinar hosted by Andrew McDougall and Alison Holloway of SGS Economics and Planning, panelists Peter Colacino (Infrastructure Australia), Mitra Anderson-Oliver (Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions), and Kim Bowater (Frontier Advisors) shared lessons from Australia.
As seen in many parts of the world, Australia faced a year of compounding impacts and risks. Drawing from this Australia’s latest infrastructure audit, Peter Colacino, noted that social and transportation infrastructure projects were key factors in building resilient infrastructure. To that end, adopting longer-term, sustainable strategies should take precedence over short-term projects. At the same time, it's important to build more flexibility into infrastructure plans in order to adapt more effectively to external shocks. Panelists noted that predictability models do not adequately account for nuanced scales of project impacts, therefore prioritizing projects over others can become a challenge. Current metrics for infrastructure impacts tend to focus on cost benefit analyses and the Triple Bottom Line, often leaving little room for community welfare viability. As governments grapple with accomplishing new visions, multi-sectoral collaboration will be increasingly necessary, both because of market failure but also because of a greater need for different kinds of infrastructure in other catchment areas. In turn, increased collaboration can produce more innovative strategies, and wider funding streams.
Medium and small scale projects were recognized as instrumental in improving infrastructure impacts. In large part, these projects help fulfill unmet needs and establish opportunities for more long-term improvements. The experts cautioned that regardless of size, projects should align with common visions and identify key stakeholders beyond those at the table. To streamline project management, they also suggest a standardized method of prioritization. In the meantime, converging experiences and lessons from past projects, with future visions can foster continued learning during infrastructure and smaller scale investments. From a fiscal perspective, investing in diversified portfolios (that include sustainable society projects) can also strengthen and amplify infrastructure impacts.
Kim Bowater shared that in the current state of events, impact investors are seeking demonstrable positive impacts. Due to the challenges associated with public welfare metrics, it can be difficult to convey the value of long-term implications over short-term outcomes to investors. However, in this regard, investments in renewable energy portfolios, and renewable builds specifically, are a growing niche.
In order to invest with purpose and amplified impacts, cities and regions should begin with understanding the usability and social benefits of infrastructure in question. Funding research on climate resilience, quality of life, and other projects with tangible impacts can also help integrate resilience and environmental sustainability into infrastructure impacts. Finally, benchmarking reforms, and introducing a Quadruple Bottom Line as a measurement for project outcomes could pave the way for new investments and the multi-sectoral partnerships necessary for growth.