How local councils can achieve more with storytelling

Sustainability, operational resilience, and doing more with less have become front and centre for local councils as they navigate the complexities of modern-day asset management, writes David Horseman.

David Horseman

Now more than ever, there is the need to adopt a mindset and strategic operating framework that supports smarter working, evidence-based decision making, and optimised investment that balances service levels and risk while avoiding unnecessary costs.

Which is why local councils must be able to engage stakeholders in a compelling community outcomes story rather than relying on complex data and technical reports alone.

We recently conducted a survey of over 200 industry participants to understand the state of strategic asset management in Australia and confirmed the importance of being able to convert theory, practice and data into real world outcomes. An engaging asset management story that uses key headline indicators to directly address the “why” is key to success.

What is strategic asset management (SAM)?

SAM is a framework that helps councils get a clear understanding of both the current state of their assets and their predicted future performance under various alternative service level and investment scenarios.

By using this framework councils can optimise budgets and resources, especially when faced with funding cuts and skills shortages.

With the help of asset inventory data and predictive analytics, councils can better identify the life cycle needs of their assets. They can also make better long-term risk and service level-based investment decisions.

Instead of managing assets according to available budgets and guessing at their future needs, SAM shows the consequences of what their portfolio would look like in 5, 10, or 20+ years under different scenarios.

Addressing the “why” is critical for local councils

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a necessary shift in the conversation away from the pure technical challenges of managing assets, to how to best engage stakeholders and decision-makers.

Asset management can be quite complex, and the challenge is to be able to simplify plans by presenting relevant headline indicators that make sense to everyone and engages them in a compelling story.

Local councils must focus on stakeholder and community priorities by providing evidence-based planning recommendations that address their real-world needs.

It really comes back to what matters — why is renewing or upgrading a particular asset by a certain timeframe important? Why does one investment strategy offer a better overall outcome than another? How can I achieve my goals in alignment with community expectations?

How the University of Adelaide became storytellers

The University of Adelaide (UoA) needed a robust asset investment plan to manage its portfolio of more than 300 buildings, which vary significantly in age, complexity, and condition. Balancing the needs of these buildings and their associated risks against given funding was a significant challenge.

UoA created a 25-year asset investment plan that included “what if?” scenarios to predict the deterioration of its buildings and condition states under various funding levels. These scenarios allowed UoA to improve its understanding of tipping points beyond which risks to business continuity would be unacceptable.

Using visualisations to tell the story was a crucial part of communicating the predictive insights to key stakeholders and ultimately getting the project across the line.

So how can local councils become better storytellers?

  1. Draw insights from your data and present this to decision-makers in a compelling way. Show them that it’s not all smoke and mirrors, but that your recommendations are evidence-based, reliable, and address stakeholder requirements.
  2. Focus on the things the leadership team are interested in — don’t get lost in the noise.
  3. Be sure to clearly communicate indicators such as whole of life costs, funding requirements, service level outcomes, changes in risk profile, and funding gaps.
  4. Use scenario modelling to demonstrate the impact on these indicators under alternative strategies.
  5. Create powerful and easily digestible visuals to show leaders the long-term impact of investment and service level strategies.

Local councils possess a treasure trove of asset-related data, but it’s time to unlock its potential by marrying the science with the art. After all, as the Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson said, humans think in metaphors and learn through stories.

*David Horseman is Senior Manager, Professional Services, Strategic Asset Management at Brightly

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