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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance 6 FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS In brief, the Committee on Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance defined performance as the carrying out of a task or fulfillment of some promise or claim, and for infrastructure this means meeting the broad community's requirements for movement of goods and people, clean water supplies, waste disposal, and a variety of other services that contribute to economic and social activity, public health, a safe and pleasant environment, and a sustainably high quality of life. The committee undertook in this study to devise a systematic framework that can be used by decision makers for describing and assessing infrastructure performance. The committee recommends that using this framework and process will yield benefits of improved infrastructure performance. Infrastructure is a public asset that provides resources for pursuing the community's broad interests. Measuring infrastructure performance is an essential step toward making decisions aimed at achieving higher performance and improved use of these valuable assets. Systemwide management of performance is the mechanism for accomplishing this improvement. The committee's several specific findings and conclusions are presented throughout the report and are summarized in Table 6-1. From its findings, the committee developed recommendations for how performance measurement might be most effectively implemented and used in managing the nation's infrastructure. These recommendations similarly are presented throughout the report and are summarized in Table 6-2 and discussed further here.
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance At the end of the study, the committee finds that many unanswered questions remain as obstacles to performance measurement. There is work to be done by practitioners and researchers working together to improve methods for dealing with multi-objectives, performance measures, and stakeholders in a decision process. Better ways are needed for accounting for uncertainty and for multimodal infrastructure management. Data collection and management underlies virtually all aspects of performance measurement, and here too, improvements are needed. HELPING DECISION MAKERS The point of performance measurement is to help decision makers. For infrastructure, these decision makers include not only the engineers, architects, urban planners, public administrators, elected officials, and other professionals who develop and operate infrastructure but all the citizens, residents, and neighbors who own the infrastructure and occupy the areas that infrastructure serves. In seeking to describe and measure infrastructure performance, one is attempting to judge how well infrastructure is accomplishing the tasks set for the system or its parts by the society that builds, operates, uses, or is neighbor to that infrastructure. As the committee has defined it, infrastructure that reliably meets or exceeds community expectations, at an acceptably low cost, is performing well. The committee recommends then that performance be measured in terms of its effectiveness, reliability, and cost. Measuring performance presents challenges of multiple expectations that the community holds for its infrastructure, the diverse views on whether those expectations are being met, costs that are distributed over time and paid from several sources, and the likelihood that community expectations and priorities may change during the typically long service life of infrastructure facilities. The specific performance measures used should be meaningful and appropriate to the needs of the decision makers, adequate and comprehensive to support thorough assessment, and have reasonable costs of measurement. Performance is not the same as engineering ''need" or the economist's concept of "demand," but rather represents an intersection of demand and supply, need, and capability, that can be established only within the context of community interests and priorities. Infrastructure may have other benefits or adverse impacts that are not aspects of its assessed performance, as when urban highways have been said to divide neighborhoods and destroy the sense of community needed to sustain older residential areas. However, such impacts may change community expectations and introduce new factors into the performance measurement. Judging how well infrastructure is performing typically occurs in a public setting. Many people are likely to be involved, and reaching con-
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance TABLE 6-1 Summary of Principal Findings and Conclusions Infrastructure Performance and its Measurement 1. Infrastructure comprises valuable assets that provide a broad range of services at national, state, and local levels. Its performance is defined by the degree to which the system serves this multilevel community's objectives. Identifying these objectives and assessing and improving infrastructure performance occur through an essentially political process involving multiple stakeholders. 2. Performance measurement, a technical component of the broader task of performance assessment, is an essential step in effective decision making aimed at achieving improved performance of these valuable assets. 3. Despite the importance of measurement, current practices of measuring comprehensive system performance are generally inadequate. Most current measurement efforts are undertaken because they are mandated by federal or state governments or as an ad hoc response to a perceived problem or the demands of an impending short-term project. 4. No adequate, single measure of performance has been identified, nor should there be an expectation that one will emerge. Infrastructure systems are built and operated to meet basic but varied and complex social needs. Their performance must therefore be measured in the context of social objectives and the multiplicity of stakeholders who use and are affected by infrastructure systems. 5. Performance should be assessed on the basis of multiple measures chosen to reflect community objectives. which may conflict. Some performance measures are likely to be location-and situation-specific, but others have broad relevance. Performance benchmarks based on broad experience can be developed as helpful guides for decision-makers. 6. The specific measures that communities use to characterize infrastructure performance may often be grouped into three broad categories: effectiveness, reliability, and cost. Each of these categories is itself multidimensional, and the specific measures used will depend on the location and nature of the problem to be derided. Assessment Process 7. The performance-assessment process by which objectives are defined, specific measures specified and conflicts among criteria reconciled is crucial. It is through this process that community values are articulated and decisions made about infrastructure development and management. 8. Methodologies do exist for structuring decision making that involve multiple stakeholders and criteria, but experience applying these methodologies to infrastructure is limited. 9. Performance assessment requires good data. Continuing, coordinated data collection and monitoring are needed to establish benchmarking and performance assessment. 10. The subsystems of infrastructure—transportation, water, wastewater, hazardous and solid waste management, and others—exhibit both important physical interactions and relationships in budgeting and management. Effective performance management requires a broad systems perspective encompassing these interactions and relationships. Most infrastructure institutions and analytical methodologies currently do not reflect this broad systems perspective. 11. The long-term and sometimes unintended consequences of infrastructure systems, whether beneficial or detrimental, frequently go far beyond the physical installations themselves. Community views of these consequences become a part of the assessment and decision-making process.
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance TABLE 6-2 Summary of Recommendations 1. Local agencies with responsibilities for infrastructure management should explicitly define a comprehensive set of performance measures and set aside funds sufficient to sustain an adequate performance measurement process. The measures selected should reflect the concerns of stakeholders about the important consequences of infrastructure systems and recognize interrelationships across infrastructure modes and jurisdictions. The committee's framework of effectiveness, reliability, and cost is a useful basis for establishing these measures. 2. While not every aspect of performance is quantifiable, attempts should be made to devise quantitative indicators of qualitative aspects of performance. Quantitative measures should then be used to develop benchmarks that policy makers responsible for assessing infrastructure performance can use for setting goals and comparing performance among systems, considering effectiveness, reliability, and costs (including actual expenditures as compared to budgets). 3. Recognizing that infrastructure performance cannot be managed if it cannot be measured, data should be collected on a continuing basis to enable long-term performance measurement and assessment. a. Each region with infrastructure decision-making authority should establish a system for continuing data collection to give performance assessment a more quantitative basis and enable longer term performance monitoring. Metropolitan areas with basic databases and modeling tools already in place should seek to integrate information on separate infrastructure modes into a uniform and accessible system, such that existing data sets are documented in consistent ways, within the context of relevant national data collection activities (e.g., federal Department of Transportation or EPA statistics). b. Federal agencies should assure that national data sets (i.e., those collected by or under the requirements of federal programs) axe compatible (e.g., in geographic detail, time periods, and indexing), computerized, and made electronically accessible. c. All such performance data collection should be designed to facilitate benchmarking. d. New data collection activities should give priority to those functional areas where data currently are sparse (e.g., highway stormwater runoff characteristics, solid waste recycling reliability). 4. Responsible agencies should adopt infrastructure performance measurement and assessment as an ongoing process essential to effective decision making. The selected set of performance measures should be periodically reviewed and revised as needed to respond to changing objectives, budgetary constraints, and regulations. 5. Responsible agencies should undertake a critical self-assessment to determine the nature and extent of specific regulations, organizational relationships, jurisdictional limitations, customary practices, or other factors that may constitute impediments to adoption of the proposed infrastructure performance measurement framework and assessment process. Such a self-assessment could be conducted within the context of a specific infrastructure management problem or as a generic review, but necessarily will involve time, money, and a concerted effort to motivate active community involvement with open, candid discussion. The assessment should conclude with explicit recommendations of institutional change that may be needed to enable a systemwide approach to management of infrastructure performance. 6. Federal infrastructure policy and regulations should be revised as needed to accommodate local decision-making processes and performance measurement frameworks, within the context of valid national interests in local infrastructure performance. Federal policy effectiveness should be evaluated on the basis of its sensitivity to local variations in performance assessment.
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance sensus can be difficult. Even when one person has clearly defined responsibility for making investment or operating decisions about some element of infrastructure, that person must be prepared for public scrutiny of his or her premises and conclusions. This is the context in which the committee envisions the framework to be most useful. Performance assessment and management must be include the many individuals and entities who have a stake in performance. At a minimum, there are the providers of infrastructure services and users of those services. In addition, there are interested ''nonusers" who are not providers or directly served by infrastructure but who nevertheless have a stake in its performance, such as residents of a metropolitan area who are exposed to the air pollution originating from highway vehicles. Variations in preferences from one local area to another are crucial to determining what aspects of infrastructure's services are more important and how resources can be allocated to achieve the performance locally judged to be "best." Because the goals and tasks set for infrastructure change from time to time and place to place, so will the dimensions of effectiveness by which stakeholders measure performance. The levels at which infrastructure is viewed must also be recognized, from the individual or household to the national or international scale. Political subdivisions can serve as a convenient designation for an increasingly broad perspective, and for some aspects of infrastructure they have functional significance. However, these subdivisions seldom are well matched to the technical bases on which infrastructure performance can most effectively be managed. Existing institutional relationships, often based on infrastructure functional modes (e.g., highway authorities, water utilities), also cannot handle well the multimodal interactions that determine infrastructure performance. Effective performance assessment will generally depend on cooperation among agencies at a multijurisdictional scale. However, local values have overarching influence on all steps of the assessment process. Infrastructure is essentially a local concern, and even when the motivation for assessing performance comes from other levels, local values should be reflected in performance assessment. While the multifunctional system of infrastructure is primarily a local matter, the federal government's interest and influence are substantial. Many federal programs that provide funds for facilities construction and equipment purchasing and other programs set standards and otherwise seek to ensure the safety and efficacy of infrastructure. A decade of debate among policy makers and professionals has failed to resolve questions about the overall condition of the nation's infrastructure, how much spending for infrastructure is reasonable, where the money will come from, and how spending should be allocated. In a period of record budget deficits, the incentives are clear to do better with the assets currently in
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance place. Current administration efforts to hold agencies accountable for achieving program results and generally to enhance the effectiveness of federal programs emphasize adoption of indicators of performance and measures of "outcomes," that is, the solid payoffs of federal effort. The committee's framework will be useful in this context as well. Because the bases for managing infrastructure performance are not well developed, decisions sometimes are based on nothing more than whether the public has complained. Benchmarks or norms of performance are needed to apply comprehensively to all aspects of performance of any one type of infrastructure as well as to infrastructure as a system. Federal standards and standards-setting procedures are influential but may not foster "good" performance. Cities may be forced to incur costs meeting these standards and divert effort from other aspects of performance. IMPROVING PERFORMANCE The final result of assessment is a judgment that performance is adequate or good, needs improvement, or has improved following efforts to alleviate problems or realize a new vision for a community. An important value of performance assessment is in promoting and structuring interactions among stakeholders that lead to better understanding of community objectives and the role for infrastructure in realizing those objectives. This understanding is the basis for making good judgments on which decisions may be based. Even when a consensus is not reached, a structured approach offers the benefits of providing a framework for debate. Debates arise because infrastructure services for any one user may be disruptive to the services others receive, and performance of the system as a whole will generally differ from what the individual user experiences. Because infrastructure development typically draws on broad sources of funding, a central issue in many decisions about infrastructure is the question of who benefits and who pays. Sometimes decisions are based primarily on whether federal funds are available, which may not support the best possible performance. Communities make a distinction between infrastructure services that "must" be provided and what can be delivered if resources are made available. For example, some people will always choose to purchase bottled waters, even if the public water supply is basically healthful and meets requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The choice is available to those who can afford the higher cost, but the system's performance may or may not be "good." Achieving the balance that defines "good" infrastructure performance—between the capability of the multifunctional system and the demands of its users—requires public motivation and broad input to deci-
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Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance sion making. Reducing the demand or load on the system may be equally as effective as increasing the system's ability to meet higher demand, or even more so. When infrastructure professionals seek to make such judgments, there is potentially some tension between public perception and opinion on the one hand and professionals acting as experts on the other. There is likely to be continuing tension as well between national interests and local priorities in the setting of goals for infrastructure. It is probably unavoidable in a diverse nation that some areas will find that objectives set for clean air or highway safety impose burdens on local businesses or households that seem too great for the benefits realized. Resolving these tensions will always pose a major challenge for the political process. For major decisions, such as building new transit systems or waste disposal plants or imposing downtown parking controls or regional water-use restrictions, conflicts in values among various stakeholders within the community are likely as well. In addition, these values and resulting preferences may not be clearly defined or even well formed for many stakeholders. In all these settings, the assessment process proposed here and the strategies for improving performance will influence the way in which opinions form. The final decisions about how best to undertake performance improvement often will be resolved in the political process, not by scientific analysis. The committee recommends its assessment framework as an aid to exploration, discussion, and effective resolution of the complex issues of infrastructure performance, but it will be up to the users of these tools to make the difficult choices.
Representative terms from entire chapter: