expensive process in providing clean, safe drinking water for their own residents. Seeking such favorable outcomes, avoiding unfavorable ones, and determining what outcomes have been achieved are the principal aims of the assessment process, but these aims should be explicit.

Assessment for its own sake, conducted in isolation from the people served by the systems being assessed and devoid of the values of the local community, is an empty exercise. The assessment process must begin with identification of a problem, demand, or need for assessment, that is, with the question "Why are we doing this?" There are many possible answers, ranging from "We have to" (e.g., to meet federal requirements) to "We want a clearer understanding of how to make our public assets work harder for us" to ''We have a strategic vision for our community and want to use infrastructure to help us achieve it."

Regardless of the particular motivation, the performance assessment process is a primary mechanism for the expression of community values and subsequent decision making about infrastructure development and management. It is through this process that objectives for infrastructure are defined, specific measures of performance selected, and judgments made about performance. The process must both encourage communication and facilitate resolution of the conflicts that often arise among the diverse objectives infrastructure is meant to achieve.


Figure 3-1 illustrates the generic process that assessment should follow. The process effectively begins with a question of whether infrastructure performance is adequate, which implies a problem, demand, or need for something different from the existing system. Formulating the question and beginning to search for answers involves identifying who is involved and how and what their ranges of interests may be. The process then proceeds through describing the infrastructure system and its setting in a way that enables performance to be measured and then making the measurement. A judgment is then made as to whether performance is adequate or might be improved by taking specific actions identified during assessment. The process seldom really ends but rather starts anew with different perspectives developed in the assessment. Data about the system and the values underlying a community's judgments inform all stages of the process, which are described further in the following paragraphs.

Figure 3-2 shows the context of questions that initiate the assessment and the types of answers likely to be given. The questioners may include community and other special-interest groups, elected officials, businesses, individual citizens, and others who use, own, operate, abut, or otherwise have an interest in the outcomes of infrastructure-related actions. These

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement