Philip Davies, the chief executive of Infrastructure Australia warns that “Australia needs to make a complete shift in the way it plans cities”. He believes that asking people what they need is the best way to make infrastructure changes, as it is easier to identify problems.

He has a valid point. The best change comes from listening to other people’s beliefs, values and needs. Every successful project, it being reducing congestion, recycling, increasing local taxes, creating new routes, supporting local investments, starts with listening to people’s beliefs and values.

The administration can provide infrastructure and it can change whenever it is needed, but regardless of the effort put into informing people, it won’t be as successful as it would have been if it listened to its citizens. Moreover, the administration won’t feel the need to change anything if it doesn’t listen to the taxpayers.

People’s beliefs are what they think it is real and true. And they have a great feedback for how things should work when they are asked.

How do you quantify belief?

Let’s ask two questions. The first is: “Do people think that traveling by car is more convenient than traveling by bus?” and the second: “It is dangerous to ride a bicycle to work every day?”.

The answers might vary. Those who go to work every day and are stuck in traffic might answer that they would prefer another mean of transportation because they hate sitting in the car all day. Others might answer that they don’t mind the traffic because they have the comfort of their own car. And there is category which will say that they love driving and sitting in the car because they can listen to music or their favorite podcast. The same types of answers you will get for the second question.

But, there are also the people who give great feedback can be used in future infrastructure projects. Bikers might feel the need for a bigger bike lane, drivers might need coordinated stops in some areas.

Of course, some beliefs are irrational and for others don’t make any sense. But sometimes they are a base for amazing ideas.

How do you quantify what people value?

Value is another subjective problem. Each person has his rating system and it is hard to find a common point. But by asking people what they value, it is easy to find solutions that will please most of them. Here are some examples for the type of question administration should ask:

  • Make a list of things you value most in your city. What are they?
  • What do you think about open spaces and parks?
  • What do you think about the public transportation?
  • What do you value the most?
  • What is the least important thing in your community?

The answers to these questions will give you a gasp of what people need and want for their community, which is a great starting point for an infrastructure project.

How do you start?

Public surveys are a great place to start. You should ask everyone, not only some people. Direct, simple, yes or no questions are easy to answer and they won’t bore the taxpayers. Sociologists and marketing specialists know how to phrase questions in order to get the best and sincere answers. You should use their services when you want to make a change.

Also you should publish an Awareness report every year and track how people’s opinions have changed over the years. Philip Davis is right. Authorities need to listen to people when they want to change something, because their values and beliefs are a great feedback one can learn from.