Measuring the social value (amenity) provided by waterways

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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AECOM and Jacobs were engaged by Melbourne Water with support from RMIT to measure social value provided by its waterways. AECOM provided asset management leadership and project management support to this project.

Waterway amenity is measured by the often-intangible user experience of the asset, making it challenging to define asset performance in comparison to traditionally built assets. However, like traditional assets, management of waterways requires a clear articulation of the value gained from investment in maintenance and renewal activities, which is not possible unless their performance objectives can be defined and linked to tangible, measurable outcomes.

Approach

To address this challenge, the project team adapted Melbourne Water’s asset management framework to waterways, focusing on defining service and technical objectives of amenity, developing measures and targets to monitor performance and inform evidence-based decisions for ongoing management.

As amenity is measured by often intangible user experience of the natural asset, defining the performance of waterway amenity can be more difficult than for traditionally built assets. For example, defining what it means for a waterway to be ‘pleasant’ or to ‘provide an escape from the urban landscape’ and then measuring this.

To address this involved six key steps:

  1. Defining the service objectives associated with amenity social value for vegetation extent: and litter for amenity
  2. Defining the associated technical objectives.
  3. Defining performance measures and targets for each technical objective.
  4. Defining the criticality of assets in meeting amenity social value.
  5. Assessing the risk of assets not meeting objectives.
  6. Developing a decision-making framework to tailor the type and frequency of interventions.

 Outcomes and Value

As the value of managing natural assets is often intangible or hard to define and measure, application of asset management principles to these assets is a novel undertaking. It gave the ability to set a benchmark and framework for increasing the scope of asset management to natural assets. Upon its completion the successes and lessons learnt from this process are expected to be applied to other waterway classes such as wetlands and on-ground delivery programs that achieve social value outcomes, such as grass cutting.

The project outcomes allow Melbourne Water to make evidence-based decisions on investments across its entire portfolio with consideration given to impacts to all its values. The outcomes of this project also acts as a case study for other organisations with similar challenges associated with defining community focused value from natural assets.

Melbourne Water and AECOM were joint winners of the influential national Asset Management Council 2021 Excellence Awards for the Asset Management Social and Environmental Award category. Melbourne Water Managing Director Michael Wandmaker said to receive the Social and Environmental Award was an honour. “The Award is a testament to our core values as a business.

“This innovative and successful collaboration builds on our role as an essential service provider while enhancing life and liveability for our community”