In my early twenties I belonged to two different writing groups. One was organised by an elderly South African man called Ernst who was a published short story writer. These Hamilton meetings were genteel occasions, where copies of novel chapters, short stories and poetry were pre-circulated and seriously critiqued while sipping from tiny glasses of sherry.
The other was a more casual group at Waihi Beach, with meetings held in a bach with no electricity, where the flatmates lived on mussels and flat bread cooked over a chippie stove. Half an hour before the writing group was due to start one of the flatmates would head into the sand dunes to come up with song lyrics to share that night. A friend’s mother joined our group and memorably recited a poem about poisoning her husband with her scones.
I took the same short stories and poems along to each of these groups. In those days I didn’t think as much about what different readers might be interested in.
These days this is my first consideration when writing documents for councils. For most of this year I have been focused on asset management plans but recently helped to write a long term plan (LTP) consultation document.
The LTP consultation document encourages feedback from a broad range of people, most of whom are not being paid to read that document, and will be squeezing in time to read it. While I don’t want to make too many assumptions, most of the target audience probably don’t have a pressing need to know how long the pipes are or the age of the pump station down the road, just as long as it’s still working.
That means every word that’s not paying its way needs to be cut, as in a poem or short story. In contrast, an asset management plan is more like a novel. There’s time to set the scene and get to know the challenges facing our protagonists, even if they are pumps and pipes!
The people reading your asset management plans are likely to be more interested in the subject (and to be paid for their reading time). You will be forgiven for a few boring bits, and can afford to include more background information without losing the interest of your audience.
One of the main challenges I have been grappling with while working on asset management plans is the huge amount of detail that could be included, and what can be taken out to enhance the narrative flow without affecting the overall integrity of the plan.
When structuring and writing an asset management plan, it’s worth considering the different subsets of asset management plan readers (including executive team members, councillors, staff involved in service delivery and Audit NZ).
The International Infrastructure Management Manual (IMMM) 2015 provides this advice:
The example structure in the IMMM is very helpful, but the manual clearly states this is an example rather than a structure which needs to be followed slavishly. It’s worth looking at how different councils structure their asset management plans. For example, Tasman District Council’s 2015 asset management plans place a significant amount of information in appendices rather than in the body of the document.
It’s a fact there will be fewer people lining up to read an asset management plan than a LTP consultation document. However, as noted in the IMMM 2015, the developing or revising of an asset management plan is “a process involving strategic and tactical thinking and decision making, not just a technical writing process.”
In other words, while making improvements to the style and structure of your document will help your readers, the decisions you make through the process of developing or revising an asset management plan will continue to be the most important contributor to the success of your document.