Transitioning infrastructure governance for accelerating, increasingly uncertain, and increasingly complex environments is paramount for ensuring that critical and basic services are met during times of stability and instability. Yet the bureaucratic structures that dominate infrastructure organizations and their capacity to respond to increasing complexity remain poorly understood. To change infrastructure governance, it is critical to understand current conditions, the barriers to change, and the strategies needed to shift priorities and leadership strategy. The emergence of modern infrastructure bureaucratic and organizational structure is first explored. The need to rethink infrastructure as knowledge enterprises capable of making sense of changing conditions, and not simply as basic service providers, is discussed. Next, transformation of infrastructure governance is presented as both a challenge of organizational change as identity and power and leadership capacity to shift between stable and unstable conditions. Infrastructure bureaucracies should create capabilities to shift between periods of stability and instability, emphasizing flexibility where ad hoc teams are given power to make sense of changing conditions and steer the organization appropriately. Additionally, several critical factors must be addressed within organizational power structures, identities, and processes to facilitate change. Allowing infrastructure governance to persist in its current form is likely increasingly problematic for the future and may result in an increasing inability to maintain relevance.
Changing complexity in the increasingly integrated human, natural, and built systems within which our infrastructures are designed and operated make it necessary to examine how the role of engineering requires new competencies for satisficing. Several long-term trends appear to be shifting our infrastructures further away from the complicated domain where optimization and efficiency were the core approaches, to the domain of complexity, where rapidly changing environments and fragmentation of goals require fundamentally new approaches. While complexity in infrastructure has always existed in some form, making infrastructures agile and flexible for the Anthropocene will require us to acknowledge and work with the fact that infrastructure change now appears to be a wicked and complex process. Wicked complexity is the result of three competing forces that are inimical to rapid and sustained change of infrastructures in a future marked by acceleration and uncertainty: wicked problems, technical complexity including lock-in, and social complexity. The combination of these factors raises serious questions about whether rapidly changing demands, technologies, and perturbations (such as climate change, or cyber attacks) will affect our infrastructure’s capacity to provide services. What infrastructure managers need to do today is very different than in the past. Increased presence and polarization of viewpoints is becoming more common, where solutions are dictated not by technical performance measures but instead by “acceptable enough” to all parties. Adaptive management practices and associated competencies that have proven successful in managing complex socio-ecological systems may provide some guidance for how to manage infrastructure change. These competencies are i) promoting a shared understanding of what infrastructures can do, ii) managing infrastructures as systems with changing demands, iii) emphasizing experimentation over conventional approaches, and, iv) restructuring education and training for a complexity mindset that emphasizes what can be over what is, and relies on satisficing, not optimization.