Professor Sara Bice genuinely cares about people, but not just in the "soft and fuzzy" sense.
There are few areas of life that affect people more than their day-to-day interactions with infrastructure, she says, and she wants to make sure that experience is a good one.
Social scientist Professor Bice, co-founder and Director of the Institute for Infrastructure in Society (I2S), and institute co-founder, Kirsty O'Connell are developing a new start-up, CommQ, to provide seamless, smart "Software as a Service" to manage the social ecosystem of major infrastructure projects.
While not formally launched yet, CommQ has received funding from the ANU Connect Ventures Discovery Translation Fund (DTF), and Professor Bice says that promising early venture capital discussions are underway.
"We're working to develop world-first, social risk management tools, in the first instance for Australia's $290bn infrastructure sector, to assist in developing systematic identification and mitigation of social risk," she says.
"Following five years of research with industry, we absolutely know that we are developing tools and services that will meet needs."
Professor Bice, from the Crawford School of Public Policy, says that while she is usually the only social scientist in the room, presenting community-centric data among engineers, project managers and financers, she finds it exciting to be bringing an important perspective to the discussion.
"I've heard our work described as the 'soft and fuzzy' side, so I love that we're able to do that in a scientific way, so that the information we're providing is as robust and hopefully as valued as an engineering diagram or a financial statement," she says.
"It may be considered the soft side, but we also need to be strategic.
"At the end of the day, it has to be about people. We can't lose sight of why we're building these things."
At I2S, Professor Bice leads the Next Generation Engagement program, Australia's largest study into community engagement in infrastructure. She says the team is also working to ensure that the institute itself is sustainable.
"We know that we're one of the world's only research institutions focused uniquely on the social aspects of major engineering projects, and so we are now in the market for long-term funding to make the institute viable over time," she says.
Professor Bice and her ANU co-investigators Dr Hayley Henderson and Professor Helen Sullivan have received an ARC Linkage grant for studying the measurement of mitigation of social risk, so getting the grant up and running is the next priority for the team.
"Mitigating the negative impacts on communities that come alongside big projects drives everything we do, and we necessarily adopt a 'work with the system to change the system' approach," she says.