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Infrastructure blog

Canada's approach to enabling better infrastructure

09 November 2022

We show how Canada’s methodology for its first infrastructure assessment embodies Enabling Better Infrastructure principles through its iterative approach to decision-making. 

Canada's approach to enabling better infrastructure
Canada has produced a methodology for developing its National Infrastructure Assessment. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD), has produced a methodology for producing Canada’s first National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA).

The IFSD has identified agility as a critical factor in supporting high-impact decision-making.

Agility is supported by gathering data over time, where knowledge and supporting evidence are 'layered' to provide up-to-date information for decision-making.

Working in this way ensures that 'people, places, and assets' are adequately planned for by helping to bridge gaps between knowledge and practice as they arise in the policymaking process.

Here we show how agility, a cross-cutting feature of ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme’s 12 principles, can help to strengthen the planning and prioritisation of infrastructure by:

  • Principle 1: Identifying a strategic objective
  • Principle 5: Conducting a needs-assessment
  • Principle 11: Consulting with a broad stakeholder group
  • Principle 12: Enhancing data quality for decision-making

Infrastructure Canada is in the process of finalising how the first NIA will be carried out using the methodology developed by IFSD.

Why are agile approaches needed?

We live in a changing world, and the steps needed to plan and prioritise infrastructure are often uncertain.

Agility and high-impact decision-making can help drive efficiency in planning and prioritising infrastructure by breaking down long-term outcomes into a series of manageable short-term activities.

This enables countries to meet long-term infrastructure goals while keeping abreast of critical challenges and emerging needs, thus allowing the policymakers to respond to an uncertain future.

The EBI programme acknowledges recent global shifts where it's necessary to take a different approach to building reliable and sustainable national infrastructure.

This involves incorporating learnings across the entire infrastructure lifecycle into policy and decision-making frameworks.

This means strengthening the planning and prioritisation of infrastructure is a ‘journey, not a destination’.

How is agility factored into the NIA?

Agility has been factored into the methodology as a cross-cutting theme, where it plays a key role in how policymakers respond to challenges and emerging needs.

A more agile approach ensures policymakers 'realise the greatest benefit by assessing their infrastructure on an ongoing basis'.

The 12 Principles of EBI highlight four ways agility has been factored into the methodology:

Principle 1: identify strategic objectives

The methodology identifies prosperity and resilience as key strategic objectives.

To achieve this, 'people, places, and assets' must be considered in the design and supporting frameworks, where they are factored into the assets, services, and outcomes.

Pairing these imperatives ensures strategic objectives are met while supporting a more flexible and adaptable approach, where needs and performance can be defined according to its application.

Principle 5: conduct a needs-assessment

As needs assessments look different depending on their application, the methodology supports reviewing needs on an ongoing basis.

Setting up multiple assessments can support the development of an 'increasingly comprehensive evidence base' to adequately identify existing and emerging needs.

Benefits of this include:

  • supporting proactive decision making.
  • building long-term visions that apply to their context.
  • utilising built and non-built solutions for ensuring well-being outcomes.
  • developing a clear understanding of interdependencies and wide-ranging impacts.

Principle 11: consult with a broad stakeholder group

To develop the methodology, IFSD embarked on a consultation phase to draw on international practices in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, including international experts and thought leaders.

They also consulted stakeholders from across Canada’s infrastructure sector.

Benefits of consulting a broad stakeholder group include:

  • understanding opportunities and challenges to be identified across countries.
  • developing a robust methodology that can be used across jurisdictions.
  • contributing valuable contributions to the knowledge ecosystem.

Principle 12: enhance data quality for decision-making

Gathering the right kinds of data to support agility requires a 'strong, credible, comprehensive and up-to-date evidence base'.

The IFSD identified insufficient data on national infrastructure needs and performance, including silos in data gathering and housing across the infrastructure lifecycle.

The NIA will therefore need to factor in knowledge sharing to fill this gap.

Together, government and the private sector can collaboratively identify data frameworks to share data using commonly agreed principles over time.

This helps to develop focused data generation and sharing across government and the public sector, where it meets real and emerging needs.

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  • Dr Kerry Bobbins, head of Enabling Better Infrastructure programme at ICE