Communicate or crumble

"The thing Local Government engineers have not done as well as they might over the past decade is to communicate the asset management message to politicians," said Dean Taylor, Asset Management Coordinator Wanganui District Council in New Zealand. "If we fail to communicate, it is the assets we control on behalf of our communities that will crumble."

Dean was the keynote speaker at the recent Institute of Municipal Engineering Australia - NSW Division Annual Conference. He said with our colonial inheritance and relatively young infrastructure the emphasis has been on construction rather than maintenance.

"We must make an effort to apply ourselves to the needs of maintaining our assets," he said. "Asset management is vital but it can also be boring." Dean Taylor believes asset management must be customer driven - that the people paying and receiving the benefit must always be involved.

"We need to have the attitude that we do not own these assets, they belong to our communities," he said. "We must build a bridge of communication, particularly with our elected members, putting the people making decisions on behalf of the community in a position of informed control.

"The key question to be asking is do people really know what they are getting for their money?" He said that as engineers the message must be clear and understandable to all. Dean suggests that engineers must study their audience and then pitch their message to the lowest understanding level.

"Infrastructure and its maintenance is not always easy to see with much being underground," he said. "Look for simple messages and illustrations, things people can relate to such as what sort of legacies do we wish to leave our grandchildren."

He said using comparisons, such as the high cost, preventative maintenance for 747 jets resulting in low failure probability, as against low cost, reactive maintenance with a high failure probability we would apply in the case of a low risk item such as our lawn mower.

"Repeat the key messages rather than getting bogged down in too much detail and give options, as there are always alternatives," Dean Taylor said. "People will make the right decision if they are given the right information."