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Despite the emphasis on sustainable development in some of the contemporary planning and policy rhetoric, we face an implementation deficit in practice. The impediments to the widespread adoption and successful implementation of sustainable infrastructure in cities' critical sectors—such as water, energy or transport—are varied and complex. Although the scholarship has made some attempts to understand and categorize those impediments, not much has been said about how to identify them in a specific practical context. This study proposes a model for a diagnostic intervention in the ongoing process of strategic infrastructure planning, as a way of revealing context-specific impediments. The diagnostic intervention incorporates an explicit and reflexive consideration of short-term barriers and long-term disruptors into the strategic planning process, and assists with drafting the required coping strategies. The intervention has been tested in water infrastructure planning for one of the world's largest urban renewal areas in Melbourne, Australia. This trial application provided promising outcomes for addressing the implementation deficit of sustainable development: it created a platform for various stakeholder groups to engage in explicit discussions on their confronted problems, which often have transorganizational causes and impacts; it enabled reflexivity within the ongoing planning process; and, it helped to consider a large portfolio of future uncertainties to provide an enabling condition for more robust decisions to be made. Moreover, the trialed intervention provided empirical evidence in support of the scholarly discourse which contends that sustainable infrastructure delivery is not only about the development of technical solutions, but is also about the development of processes and tools that support the widespread adoption and successful implementation of those solutions in the face of wide-ranging impediments.
In this section, we discuss the implications of the trialed diagnostic process, as well as the produced results/contents, for sustainable infrastructure delivery. We then conclude by discussing broader implications of this research for policy and planning research in the context of sustainable development.
6.1. Implications of the trialed process
Although we cannot determine the ultimate effectiveness of our proposed intervention approach for sustainable infrastructure delivery based on a single trial and in the shot-term, we can provide critical reflections on the trialed application to indicate its potential for supporting sustainable development.
Using the case of water services planning for an urban renewal area in Australia, the trialed process brought various stakeholder groups into a participatory and interactive conversation through which they systematically revealed a range of impediments to sustainable infrastructure delivery and explored potential coping strategies. The participants stated that although some of those impediments were not entirely unknown, they were hardly ever made explicit and systematically discussed in a participatory environment involving various stakeholders. In contrast, the diagnostic process provided a platform for representatives across different organizations and specializations to engage in clear-cut discussions around their confronted problems, which often have trans-organizational causes and impacts. This outcome is particularly important for addressing the implementation deficit of sustainable development, since shared understanding and concerted efforts of all parties are required to tackle impediments, drive change strategies and avoid detrimental failures (Voß et al., 2007).
The trialed process also enabled reflexivity as part of the planning process. After the trial, those participants who were advocates for sustainable infrastructure in their organizations expressed that they realized they were often emphasizing benefits in their advocacy, but were less proactive in addressing the complexities and vulnerabilities of transition agendas. They mentioned that the deliberate attempt to reveal vulnerabilities and risks associated with sustainable infrastructure planning helped them to better anticipate and engage with the concerns of those who are ultimately responsible for signing off on multi-billion dollar investments, and highlighted the necessary competencies for addressing those concerns.