Emily takes out the top spot at IPWEA

At this year’s IPWEA conference Rationale Infrastructure Advisor and key team member, Emily Gualter, was awarded the best under 35 presenter for her speech on the Art of Decision Making.

Emily took what she’s learned in the past two and a half years at Rationale and used it to outline why energy spent up front on a project reaps rewards when making infrastructure investment decisions. She also managed to neatly compare this process with what she learned training for and running her first ultramarathon in November.

Needless to say we’re all proud as punch and offer a huge congrats on behalf of the whole Rationale team!

Emily’s speech is available in its entirety below and is well worth the read.


The Art of Decision Making (7 mins)
IPWEA Conference 2020

Tenei te mihi kia koutou katoa

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi o te motu

Tenā koutou, tenā koutou, tenā tatou katoa


Ko Takitimu te waka

Ko Ruahine te pae manuga

Ko Rangitīkei te awa

Ko Ngāti Hauiti te iwi

Ko Ngāti Tamateraka te hapū

Ko Hauiti te marae

Ko Emily Rawinia Gualter ahau

Kei Wanaka tōku kainga ināianei

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā rā tatou katoa

Morena everybody, I’m Emily Gualter from Rationale, a small consultancy based in Arrowtown.

Two weeks ago, the team and I completed the Mt Isthmus Traverse, a mountain marathon in which we thought we were running 42 kms with 1500 m climbing. However, as is inevitable with any large undertaking the route was longer and harder than first thought, it ended up being an ultra-marathon which traversed 47 kms and climbed over 2000 m.

At the 41 km mark, 5 hours 30 minutes into the run, it became apparent that the race was going to go over budget – it was going to be longer than expected. I just had to keep going. Putting one foot in front of the other. Relying on the fact I had done the training and preparation in the months leading up to the race to carry me through the last 5 kms.

Now, a lot of you might be thinking, what on earth does running a surprise ultra-marathon have to do with infrastructure decision making?

In both disciplines, you can’t just turn up on race day and expect to weather the storm. Work done up front reaps rewards and pays dividends when the going gets tough.

Prior Planning

Rationale takes a front foot approach to decision making ensuring work is put in up front to clearly set out the project.

At the outset of a project, bringing the team together builds project momentum. There are a number of key questions the team must ask itself:


    Why is the work necessary – what are the problems that need to be solved? What benefits can be achieved through investment? To complete this we would often facilitate a Investment Logic Map.
    What work needs to be undertaken – a preliminary scope, past work that needs to be built upon, organisational and national policies need to be considered.
    How the work will be completed, what are the timeframes and deadlines that need to be achieved, where does engagement with community and stakeholders need to occur, what are the gateways that need to be passed through.
    Who is going to do the work – what are the roles and responsibilities? Who are the decision makers?

Defining a clear understanding of the why, what, how and who upfront helps the project team understand where the project is going, the roles and responsibilities each person has, the ability to hold each other accountable. And when the going gets tough this information can help steer the team in the right direction.

Additionally the information can be used to bring decision makers into the tent and along on the journey. It’s important to have everyone reading from the same race book right at the outset.

Bring decision makers in early

Decision makers are increasingly busy people with many competing items on an agenda that scale numerous sectors and complexity and they are expected to be across all of them in detail – especially in local government.

Building a no surprises approach where decision makers are kept informed through the process builds trust and confidence in the process that the right questions are being asked and the right things are being looked at. It also ensures everyone is working collaboratively and that decision makers can have early input where it can add the most value.

When the time does come to have to adopt or approve a project, the decision makers are significantly better informed to make an accurate decision.

Go to the public

And for most of our work we also need to engage with the public in a bold manner, without fear of negative responses. Often we think we know what the community wants, but when we actually go out and ask, the responses are very different.

Working largely in the public infrastructure sector, our work must improve the lives of the community it serves and provide value for money for those who are funding it.

Engagement is a critical piece in a successful project, but it does take time and effort to get it right.

To ensure we reach a representative proportion of the community we include a number of touch points throughout the project including:

  •  Investment Logic Map session with informed participants
  • Issues and opportunities sessions open to the community
  • Public surveys
  • Community drop in sessions
  • Optioneering sessions with informed participants
  • Key stakeholder meetings

During these sessions we need to ensure the messaging is clear and accurately and transparently describes the process being followed to ensure we are supporting the public to provide us with robust feedback.

Reaching out to the community and sharing this with decision makers helps to increase the support for the project and improve robustness of the preferred option.


Using prior planning, bringing decision makers into the fold early and engaging with the community we are able support better informed decisions which improve the lives of the community we are serving and deliver improved value for money optimising infrastructure spend.

Without these three components, we won’t be able to climb higher, run further and achieve more than we set out to.

These aspects will become increasingly important as we look to face the wicked problems ahead of us:


  • Three waters reform
  • The impacts and effects of climate change and the required adaptation and resilience we need to undertake and build into our systems
  • Urban development and growth pressure
  • Integrated spatial planning
  • Freshwater management
  • Economic change

To create an environment that builds relationships, trust and confidence between the public, stakeholders, decision makers, staff and consultants creates a place where we are all in one team, working together to achieve the best outcomes for our community.

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata, its about the people, the people, the people.

Often us engineers get too excited about the pipes and the roads, the pump stations and the treatment plants that we forget we are not isolated in our endeavours.

At the end of the day our infrastructure is about the people – because without people why do we need it in the first place.