Making the case for smart infrastructure investment

Lee Jollow, National Lead - Economics

Lee Jollow, RPS National Lead - Economics, Advisory and management consulting, Perth, Western Australia

As National Lead for Economics, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lee Jollow was all about the numbers. But as a consultant who has specialised in economic assessment for major projects from day one, Lee’s focus is firmly on what the figures can tell us about what communities need, and how infrastructure can improve people’s lives.

QTell us about your journey into the world of economics

I always enjoyed economics, but originally I wanted to be a lawyer! I decided to pursue law at university, but that required a double degree, so I ended up choosing economics as well.

As things progressed, I was drawn to the “real world” aspect of economics - that you're solving problems and delivering tangible outcomes that can benefit society. I decided that was what I really wanted to do, so while I finished off the law degree, economics was the path that I took right from the beginning.

Meet Lee

Role at RPS

National Lead for Economics in Australia

Specialising in

Infrastructure business cases and evidence to invest - creating the evidence that governments and communities need to invest wisely in projects and policies that benefit communities. 

QHow did you turn this passion into a job? How did your consulting career begin?

Like a lot of people, I thought economics would mean working for the Reserve Bank (RBA) or Treasury - those sort of government jobs – so I kind of stumbled into consulting, really.

When I finished uni, I applied for a grad role and started my career at one of the big four accounting firms.

I was lucky to get that job actually! I was applying for a lot of programs that were all due on the same day (my birthday), and by the time I got to that application I’d almost run out of steam. My friends and family were arriving and I just wanted to stop and have some drinks. Luckily, everyone encouraged me to relax, finish it off and submit the application – it might have been a different story otherwise!

QHow do you explain your role to people?

Usually I've got to explain that I’m not going to be able to tell them where the interest rate on their home loan is heading first! That’s what a lot of people’s perception of economics is – macroeconomics.

I then explain that my team’s work is about looking at specific projects or investment options, and trying to put a value on them from a whole of society perspective. We don’t just focus on financial outcomes but try to take into account a range of economic, social, and environmental perspectives. We then weigh these up and provide advice on whether a particular project or policy proposal will provide a net benefit to society (or not).

In terms of my current role as National Lead for Economics, I provide quality assurance for the economics products that come out of our business and shape the methodologies we use to create evidence and provide our advice. I also have a key role in developing new approaches and thought leadership so we can better measure and account for various social costs and benefits.

Most of the business cases we do are state-based and assessed by state agencies, but I help make sure we’re incorporating innovation and best practice from other jurisdictions and sectors so we can put forward the best case for our clients.

QYou’re known as a transport economics specialist. What do you love about it?

I was given the opportunity to work on cost benefit analysis for major transport initiatives really early on in my career. In fact, evaluating some of the original proposals for Sydney Metro rail lines was one of the first jobs that I ever did out of uni.

Over the years I’ve been involved in business cases for plenty of transport mega projects, but one of the things that keeps me interested is how transport infrastructure can deliver benefits beyond getting people from A to B. Transport business cases are as much about placemaking, city-shaping and regional development as they are about creating physical connections.

The increasingly "place-based" approach to these projects has seen me branch out into other areas such as land use, regional development, sustainability, resilience, and social value. Distribution of benefits to address social disadvantage and contribute to social equity goals has also become a focus.

I was drawn to the “real world” aspect of economics - that you're solving problems and delivering tangible outcomes that can benefit society. That’s what I find most rewarding – working on projects that have a real social impact.

Lee Jollow

National Lead - Economics

QYou’ve been really involved in the development of new methods for social cost benefit analysis that have been adopted by organisations like Infrastructure Australia - tell us about that.

Infrastructure Australia (IA) was setting up at the time I started out as a grad, and the company I was working for had a big hand in supporting the agency to establish itself functionally. I kind of got a front row seat to the organisation’s development and had the opportunity to get involved in IA project reviews from day one.

It’s a relationship that’s continued and I’m still involved in reviewing business cases for the Infrastructure Priority List and helping them evolve their guidance for business case development and assessment. Most recently that’s included peer review of updates to the Infrastructure Australia Assessment Framework (IAAF) and development of new multi-criteria analysis guidelines and modelling tools that were applied in the Australian Infrastructure Plan 2021.

QWhat’s the most rewarding thing about your work as an economist?

I think it’s that the insights you create can shape the decision-making on projects or policies that generate positive outcomes and have a real impact on people’s lives.

For example, at the moment we’re working with Housing All Australians on some research into homelessness among vulnerable groups – in this case veterans. The statistics are quite shocking, but that’s what’s so important about the work. It’s only by doing the research and actually looking at problems that we can figure out ways to solve them.

I also developed a new approach to estimate the health and higher education benefits of regional transport investment for the Great Western Highway Upgrade Program, which was presented at the WA Major Projects Conference in 2022.

This looked at the relationship between transport costs, demand for services and service outcomes and valued these using established techniques from the health and education sectors. The estimates were significant and provided a key piece of additional evidence in supporting the program.

That’s what I find most rewarding – working on projects that have a real social impact.

More ideas and insights from our local team

Discover more from our team or get in touch with Lee for support with your next project. 


Boats moored off the beach at sunset, Rottnest Island, Western Australia

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