5. Framework Features

5.1 Objectives, outcomes, problems, options, solutions

Objectives, outcomes, problems, options and solutions are central concepts in the Framework. Figure 4 illustrates the relationships between them.

Objectives, outcomes, problems, options, solutions
Figure 4: Objectives, outcomes, problems, options, solutions

Figure 4 shows that the aim of the Framework is to achieve the desired outcomes expressed in the transport system objectives[1] and targets (which are statements of desired outcomes not yet achieved). A gap between an actual and desired outcome creates a ‘problem’, and a case for potential action. The term ‘problem’ is specifically used in the Guidelines to represent all other similar terms - issue, challenge, deficiency, opportunity and need.[2]

A strengthened focus on problems and options makes the revised ATAP Guidelines much more aligned with the IA RIF. Focusing initially on problems, their scale and priority, means that the planning process can proceed by focusing on the most critical issues.

A fundamental aspect of the Framework is that it considers a wide range of options (both investment/infrastructure and reform/non-infrastructure) as alternative possible solutions to a problem. It is a pre-requisite for effective decision-making. It is fully consistent with the ‘problem-option’ focus of the IA RIF. This approach provides the best opportunity to move beyond the narrow focus on infrastructure and single-mode solutions that has prevailed in the past.

Options assessment is required in several parts of the Framework: the various levels of systems planning and identifying, assessing and appraising individual initiatives.

Options assessment of a wide range of potential solutions should start early in the Framework. If options are identified only in later steps, there is a risk of focusing on a small range of options that may have limited effectiveness and a risk of having to more frequently go back and repeat earlier steps of the Framework.

Options assessment is undertaken with different levels of rigour depending on which step of the Framework is applicable. For the higher planning levels (city, region, network, corridor, area), the assessment is generally broad-brush, relying on readily available data and analysis complemented by professional judgment. At the lower planning levels (route and link planning), options assessment should be more rigorous, relying on more detailed data and analysis. In the assessment of initiatives, options assessment moves through several stages: strategic merit test, rapid appraisal and detailed appraisal.

5.2 Role of strategic system planning

Objectives-led strategic system planning plays a key role at the start of the Framework (see F0.1), setting the desired broad direction of the transport system.

Strategic planning can be complex and challenging. It balances many competing factors including value judgments, subjective assessments and political considerations that cannot easily be reduced to quantitative measures. Nevertheless, the process should be designed to be well-informed, with feasible outputs based on realistic forecasts. It should incorporate enough in-built flexibility to be responsive to changing futures.

Information for strategic planning comes from a range of sources, including data analysis (context scans, literature reviews, demand studies and forecasting, and scenario planning) and stakeholder engagement. Key considerations in strategic planning include:

  • Relationships between land use and transport, and between transport and other systems (e.g. the environment)
  • Transport infrastructure configuration and condition
  • Government and stakeholder expectations
  • Existing government policy settings and legislation
  • Options available to government
  • Technological change
  • Demand drivers
  • Realistic funding futures.

Consultation with other levels of government is important where responsibilities intersect.

Gaining a good understanding of demand drivers, both positive and negative, is particularly important. The uncertainties associated with the future need to be understood, with agility required in decision-making to be able to respond most effectively.

5.3 Information support for decision-making

Throughout the Framework, there is a focus on providing all of the necessary information to support informed decision-making at various levels. Information on the merit of strategies and initiatives should be presented to decision-makers in a way that recognises the full range of impacts. Information should also be easily understood and address government goals, objectives, targets and priorities.

Summary information that identifies the key impacts and trade-offs involved in a decision should be foremost in those presentations. However, this does not mean that rigour should be sacrificed: summary information should always be supported by more detailed assessments and documentation. In the Guidelines, there are references to various formats (e.g. the Appraisal Summary Table, see F3; Business Cases, see F4) to help guide how to present good summary information to decision-makers.

The Framework incorporates key roles for both quantitative and qualitative information.[3] Where quantitative information is available, it can greatly assist decision-making. On the other hand, important considerations that can only be described in qualitative terms should not be omitted from the decision-making process. For example, the Strategic Merit Test (see F3) is likely to consist of qualitative information that may be important in assessing whether proposed initiatives align with transport system objectives, targets and strategies.

5.4 Stakeholder engagement

The Framework recognises that transport system decisions are made within a complex political environment in which the views of a range of stakeholders need to be understood. Stakeholder engagement is therefore a key component across the whole Framework.

Stakeholder engagement usually includes individuals, businesses and groups affected by a strategy or individual initiatives, either via direct involvement or via organisations that represent them. It can take many forms: formal and informal, reactive and proactive, top-down and bottom-up. There should also be engagement between the levels of government involved in decision-making processes.

Engagement processes, including their timing, should be carefully planned if successful results are to be achieved. Various engagement approaches are available. The nature and details of the approach in a particular situation will depend on the issue under consideration and the stakeholders.

The views of stakeholders can sometimes be based on anecdotal evidence and be subjective. Accordingly, the Framework also emphasises the critical role of structured thinking and analysis, which can help to test conclusions reached by intuition and subjective views. Structured thinking and analysis can draw out conclusions from available data, provide projections about the future, provide evidence of problems, test the viability of options and compare alternative options. Such a process, which combines the views of stakeholders with data/evidence-based assessment can only improve the quality of advice to decision-makers.

A useful reference on stakeholder engagement is the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Public Participation Spectrum.

5.5 Role of analysis, data and tools

In the Framework, the level of assessment becomes progressively more detailed as decisions move from strategic planning to specific initiatives. Strategic planning often uses broad-brush indicative assessment, whereas final decisions about the exact nature and timing of initiatives require detailed assessment and information.

Analytical and decision-support tools play a key role in the Framework. The following is a (non- exhaustive) list of commonly used tools:

  • Transport system performance indicators
  • Economic analysis — market failure analysis, economic analysis (of networks, maintenance and proposed initiatives), cost-benefit analysis (CBA), cost-effectiveness analysis
  • Multi-objective analysis (e.g. multi-criteria analysis, planning balance sheet, goal achievement matrix)
  • Demand analysis, scenario analysis
  • Financial and budget analysis
  • Environmental and social impact assessment (monetised and non-monetised)
  • Equity and distributional impact assessment
  • Regional and employment impact assessment.

Different jurisdictions use, and will continue to use, different combinations of these tools. The Framework provides a way in which the various elements can be brought together.

5.6 Time frames

The Framework incorporates both short-term and long-term perspectives. Moving through the Framework, the time frame shortens. For example, land use, transport system, network, corridor, area, route and link strategies are generally cast between 15 and 50 year time frames. In contrast, decisions about initiatives and program development and delivery involve a three- to five-year time frame, within which the most practical considerations (one to three years) play a key role.

For maximum effectiveness, the shorter-term considerations should be set in a strategic context. This context consists of both:

  • Longer term considerations such as future demographic trends, transport demand, long-term environmental considerations and the reservation of land for future infrastructure expansion
  • Shorter term considerations such as government priorities.

5.7 Funding

To be realistic and achievable, the Framework acknowledges that transport proposals compete for funding with other sectors. The level of funds sought for transport initiatives usually exceeds the funding capacity of government. This introduces a trade-off between funding, achieving performance targets and time, although the trade-off can be moderated through the generation of new sources of funds.

Initially, information about justified levels of transport funding (based on justified initiatives) and available funding sources, can be used in negotiations with Treasury Departments and the Government when jurisdiction-wide funding quantums are being assessed. Once that quantum has been set by the jurisdiction, it will be a key constraint when setting transport system objectives and targets (both longer and shorter term). It is reasonable for those objectives and targets to be moderately aspirational and to contain an element of ‘stretch’. However, expectations must be kept manageable, with objectives and targets grounded in reality.

One way of moderating these trade-offs is to generate new funding sources. For example, Infrastructure Australia (2013b) has highlighted likely future funding shortfalls and raised options for dealing with any shortfalls.

During program development and delivery, several responses are available if funds fall short of the original expectations. The long-term target may be changed; the time frame for achieving the target may be extended; or the target may be achieved for only a part of the transport system through prioritisation.

Where targets have been determined from information about stakeholder needs, it may be preferable not to amend the targets in the short term and to adjust the other parameters during program development.

5.8 Learning, feedback and continuous improvement

The Framework incorporates a philosophy of learning from practical application, so feedback loops play a key role in the Framework.

Figure 4.1.1 broadly indicates the primary top-down direction of progress through the Framework, providing a driving mechanism to ensure that decision-makers are provided with strategic advice. Feedback between steps ensures that the top-down approach is informed by good bottom-up information. Bottom-up information can include analysis of data and the views of stakeholders. The learnings from one step are used to review and improve earlier steps, and to facilitate continuous improvement of outcomes and the Framework.

[1] Which in turn support higher level economic, social and environmental goals of a jurisdiction.

[2] Note, in NGTSM06 the term challenge was used as the lead representative term. The term ‘problem’ plays that role in this revised version of the Guidelines for consistency with the terminology used by Infrastructure Australia’s Reform and Investment Framework.

[3] A further distinction is between monetised and non-monetised information. Some benefits and costs can feasibly and reliably be expressed in monetised terms. Other benefits and costs that can only be expressed in non-monetised terms are equally important in transport planning and development. Monetised and non-monetised information should therefore be presented side-by-side in an unbiased manner. See further discussion in Step 3 (see F3).