From tactical response to 4th order design
Traditional consulting in the information sciences starts with the approach of capturing user requirements and then designing technical specifications to meet those user needs. It's an approach that has had is fair share of spectacular failures, cost over-runs and missed deadlines.
Traditional cost benefit analysis for major infrastructure investments also have their problems - over-estimating demand for services, unrealistic assumptions used to estimate indirect benefits and narrow scopes of analysis, with any negative impacts of a new development that is not directly costed treated as an 'externality', and ignored in decision making.
The wicked problems of our communities requires a different approach to developing the decision support needed to achieve good outcomes.
Rather than rushing to build a technical infrastructure to hold and analyse data, or using text book formulae to evaluate options we start with designing the knowledge architecture. To do this we focus on the questions that must be answered to create strategic insight, and these questions can be different for different issues, cities and programmes.
These questions are asked in the context of where are we now, and where do we want to be? Using this approach it is then possible to develop hypotheses about what factors may influence outcomes, and it also allows exploration of what levers may be available to achieve our goals.
Thus we are able to develop a roadmap from our current state to our goal, with real baselines established and performance metrics designed to assess the impact of our interventions.
Simulations and virtual city models
For long term investments such as major infrastructure investments, we can design complex simulations of how changes will occur (in population, land use, built form, environmental factors) under a range of scenarios and then use these simulations to assess how our interventions will change life under the different scenarios, substantially improving the probability of successful interventions and more realistic cost benefit analysis.