Editor's Note: The The following is a guest post from Lauren Gore, Principal and Co-founder at LDR Advisory Partners. This post is a continuation of last month's op-ed on program management offices.
Last month, we provided a rationale for local government leaders to utilize an independent program management platform to prioritize and drive collaborative smart city infrastructure projects. Just two weeks after sharing those insights, Sidewalk Labs announced it would end its involvement in the $1.3 billion Quayside project on the Toronto Waterfront.
This decision, made in the face of community resistance and operational hurdles after nearly three years of intensive planning and investment, emphasizes the need for local governments and smart city infrastructure champions to embrace new, community-driven smart infrastructure organizations.
As population and urbanization growth trends continue, the long-term societal benefits of integrated smart infrastructure become ever more significant. Unfortunately, growing criticisms of smart city projects, including claims that they are disjointed and benefit too few residents, continue to pick up traction.
Such complexities and costs result from the need for smart infrastructure designers, developers and decision makers to carefully weigh the risks and opportunities of smart infrastructure programs. This requires both niche project-specific expertise and a deep understanding of community values and preferences. Filling professional knowledge gaps across a wide range of competencies requires often unavailable funds (especially early in the infrastructure planning process). As a result, projects can move slowly through bureaucratic channels, or even stall entirely.
Public-private partnerships (P3s) backed by a program management office (PMO) is a model capable of curing these well understood smart infrastructure challenges.
Enhancing the P3 for community inclusion and operational efficiency
A P3 structured with a PMO, or a P4, alleviates funding, time and structure constraints for leaders to achieve complex goals related to infrastructure, innovation and inclusion. The P4 organization integrates community stakeholder perspectives and a cross-functional team of professionals to reduce upfront costs and improve accountability, decision making and implementation speed across the infrastructure value chain.
Not all P4s require the same level of PMO involvement, however. A PMO’s support can take one of three forms:
- Supporting: A supporting PMO exerts low control and assists full time organizational personnel with the execution of already established priorities and objectives.
- Controlling: A controlling PMO exerts moderate control and leads the execution of specific organizational priorities and objectives.
- Directing: A directing PMO exercises high control and manages the execution of the organization’s goals and objectives.
Given the complexities of smart infrastructure organizations, a controlling or directing PMO is best suited to dynamically respond to community input and operational challenges.
Launching a community-focused smart infrastructure program
Regardless of the selected degree of control, the PMO facilitates a smart infrastructure P4 through the execution of five steps:
1. Building an organizational charter
The PMO's first task is to develop an organizational charter. This charter should articulate a vision for the organization and why achieving this vision positively contributes to the community.
Developing this charter is the product of a broad community stakeholder engagement. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, for instance, provided thoughtful examples of organizational visions from each of the 78 applicant cities. Perspectives from across the community should inform the organization’s vision and educate stakeholders on strategic level risks and opportunities.
2. Recruiting a founding leadership team
When complete, this charter becomes a tool to recruit the P4’s founding leadership team. Drawn from public and private organizations, these founding leaders work closely with, and strategically direct the PMO. Through efficient governance and community connectedness, the founding leaders and PMO catalyze further support for the P4’s strategic vision.
The founding leaders of Houston’s electric vehicle initiative, EVolve Houston, include Shell, NRG, CenterPoint Energy, the University of Houston, and the City of Houston — all of which are strong community leaders collaborating to modernize Houston’s electrical infrastructure and improve regional air quality. P4s, like EVolve Houston, work best when local government, private industry and community residents exhibit high-trust, relational partnerships guided by an intuitive interaction framework.
3. Developing an organizational roadmap
The founding leadership team and PMO then develop an organizational roadmap. The PMO facilitates and synthesizes a wide range of community perspectives through structured working group sessions. Ultimately, a P4 roadmap must outline specific community validated high-value goals and objectives. Once approved, the roadmap empowers the PMO to design execution systems capable of delivering tangible value.
4. Securing organizational longevity
Like virtually all organizations, the P4 must have the necessary resources and community credibility to conduct its daily operations. Developing a strategic communications plan and incorporating passionate community members into the P4’s membership provides necessary support for organizational longevity. Systematic engagement, education and dialogue with impacted community members ensures the P4 organization has the lasting power to execute its vision.
5. Executing roadmap initiatives
Execution is at the heart of any P4 organization. Tangible smart infrastructure program results are difficult because the charters (or vision statements) are often drawn too broad.
Anchorage Alaska’s DOT Smart City Challenge vision statement, for example, included 11 "Vision Elements" whose points of emphasis ranged from communications to architecture standards to urban delivery. To sufficiently consider all 11 Vision Elements the city created a 10-committee, 125-person team to advise local leadership on a singular smart infrastructure charter.
Naturally, the level of difficulty is high. However, with a specific and narrow charter, the P4 can foster a sense of ownership amongst a small group of passionate community members who then assist P4 in innumerable ways to create tangible value for the broader community. This is then returned through heightened political will and designed infrastructure use — creating a community driven value rich infrastructure "do-loop." To the extent that the immediate infrastructure needs are broader than a single focused charter allows, adjacent P4 organizations are recommended.
Adopting the P4
P3s must continue to evolve with the changing challenges, opportunities and constraints of smart infrastructure. In the P4 model, community stakeholders collaborate closely to achieve valuable infrastructure outcomes. Through guided community activations, P4s foster an unprecedented level of operational flexibility, organizational resilience and trust between communities to unlock the promise that smart infrastructure has long held.