The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach

25 February 2016

Lead author: Jim Hall

ITRC book coverA new book published by Cambridge University Press.


The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach provides practitioners, decision-makers, and academics with the concepts, models and tools needed to identify and test robust, sustainable, and resilient strategies for the provision of national-scale infrastructure. It takes a “system-of-systems” view on the interconnected infrastructure networks – including transport, telecommunications, energy, water, and waste-management – and derives an integrated vision on infrastructure provision required to ensure that nations have an infrastructure system that is fit for the future.


  • Decision makers: ITRC has already strong links to decision makers and regulators on multiple levels from government to local authorities. To them and many other decision makers, The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach aims to be both a comprehensible introduction into the integrated infrastructure assessment and a practical guide to a suite of decision support tools for cross-sectoral strategy analysis.
  • Academics: The field of integrated infrastructure assessment and the consideration of national infrastructure as an interconnected system have only grown over the last five years, with rapidly growing international recognition and interest. ITRC and The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach therefore is positioned as an entry point and a standard reference for this literature, both nationally and internationally, combining accessibility and scientific rigour.
  • Professionals: Many professionals in infrastructure utilities, service providers, finance, insurance, etc. have a very good understanding of single infrastructure sectors or single aspects of infrastructure service delivery. To them, The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach provides an opportunity to use a comprehensive methodological framework to combine their expertise across sectors and processes.


National infrastructure systems – including energy, transportation, telecommunication and computation, water and waste-management systems – have been created over many decades and centuries. This long legacy and its central role of underpinning all economic activity, in resource consumption, production processes, and pollution, make infrastructure a central point for a transition towards a sustainable economy in the 21st century. However, the management arrangements and planning tools for the different infrastructure systems have been developed in silos and are not fit for analysing the long-term implications and impacts of infrastructure developments at a national scale and across sectors.

The future of national infrastructure: A system-of-systems approach takes up that challenge. It explains the nature of modern infrastructure systems, with changing patterns of demand and supply. It focusses in particular on the interdependence between different infrastructure sectors, and the complexity, risks and benefits that that interdependence brings. It describes new methodologies that have been developed for thinking about, analysing and visualising these complex systems of systems in a very uncertain future. The methodologies and accompanying models have been applied to analysis of infrastructure systems in Great Britain, providing a complete case study of how to analyse alternative long term strategies for infrastructure provision in other national contexts.

The book is based on the work of the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, a consortium of seven of the UK’s leading universities, led from the University of Oxford. Funded by the Environmental and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for five years from 2011, the ITRC is a collaboration with leading international research institutes seeking to solve the infrastructure planning problem in the United States, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Understanding the national-scale infrastructure networks as a “system-of-systems” of interconnected networks, the book recasts long-term infrastructure planning as a problem of finding strategies that deliver robust performance of infrastructure services across a wide range of future socio-economic and environmental conditions.

ITRC has developed a process for devising long-term strategies for national infrastructure. It starts with high-level assumptions about the willingness to invest from public and private sources, the commitment to environmental targets, or the willingness to reduce demand for infrastructure services.

The evaluation process for these strategies combines system simulation modelling, analyses of risks and resilience to natural hazards, the propagation of these risks through interconnected networks, and the analysis of emergent properties of infrastructure systems as complex adaptive networks.

The resulting performance of national infrastructure strategies is introduced as a multivariate construct, combining e.g. indicators for costs (investment and O&E), greenhouse gas emissions, environmental impact, security of supply, congestion and other indicators of quality of infrastructure services.

Solid science to inform decision-making and infrastructure delivery needs to consider arrangements for regulation, procurement, finance, and operation of infrastructure systems. The proposed book examines these issues in order to understand the context for infrastructure planning and delivery.

Using the concept of “system-transitions” the book identifies key decisions and system components to be tackled for reaching a sustainable mode of national infrastructure delivery and operation, and combines these findings with innovative visualisation and dissemination techniques to generate a comprehensive, innovative vision of infrastructure provision.

Key features of the system-of-systems approach:

  • Develops an interdisciplinary conceptualisation of infrastructure systems, with a focus upon the mutual interdependencies between energy, transport, water, waste and ICT infrastructures.
  • Presents concepts and methodologies for modelling, evaluation and visualisation of these complex systems of systems.
  • Demonstrates, though application to the challenge of infrastructure provision in Britain, how long term plans for infrastructure provision can be developed and evaluated.
  • Sets out a range of alternative strategies for infrastructure provision in GB and analyse their performance in a range of possible futures. It will use this evidence to develop a long-term vision for infrastructure provision in Britain
  • Covers a broad scope of methodologies in a comprehensive presentation: system simulation, robust decision making, risk analysis, complex adaptive systems, transition theory, complex visualisation



Hall, J.W., Nicholls, R.J.,Tran, M. and Hickford, A.J.

Theme: Infrastructure systems

Output type: Books