The British Geotechnical Association held its first-ever strategy day in October. Max Soudain reports.
IT IS NOW more than two years since the British Geotechnical Association was formed from the merger of the British Geotechnical Society and the Institution of Civil Engineers' Ground Board. Since then, work has continued to develop the association's activities and promote geotechnics to a wider audience.
Executive committee meetings always throw up new ideas but many of them never come to fruition. So, in October, the BGA strategy group met to engage in some 'blue-sky thinking' and develop a strategic plan for key association activities.
The first stage was to come up with a definitive list of issues.
Executive committee members were asked to suggest key topics and from the initial 24, six were chosen for discussion: registration and licensing; research and development; membership; guidelines and specifications; special events; and publicity.
BGA chairman Barry Clarke said: 'BGA has now entered a new and exciting phase at a time when the industry is undergoing major changes, with an increasing workload driven by infrastructure renewal, international policy and the shortage of skills.
'The association has always been innovative and supportive and enjoyed the support of its members. This strategic review will help it continue in that tradition, but working with other bodies representing the geotechnical community both nationally and regionally.'
Registration and licensing
Registration and licensing is one of the most important issues affecting the industry. While the importance of 'geotechnical specialists' has been conveyed to clients with some success, it is felt that an official register of specialists in geotechnical and related work is needed to achieve further progress.
Some clients, including the Association of British Insurers, are calling for something along these lines. The issue is also being debated by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the UK Engineering Council.
A list of BGA members will be published on CD-rom early next year. Subsequent updates will ask for experience and qualifications (as in the original British Geotechnical Society directory).
Criteria will be set for geotechnical specialists and those qualifying will be asked to sign up to a code of professional conduct and be entered in a register. This will encompass members of other bodies, including the Engineering Group of the Geological Society and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. Licensing could then follow, although there are many hurdles to be overcome.
Rather than having a code of conduct specifically for BGA members, it is felt that it would be more appropriate to have one covering all ground professionals, under the auspices of the Ground Forum. Ground Forum is compiling codes of conduct and good practice from its members (see box). This is the first stage of developing a unifying code for self-certification.
Research and development
The UK is the only European country that does not have 'joined-up' research activities and as a result, funding and direction of geotechnical research and development can be diverse and fragmented.
The government funds more than half of UK geotechnical research. Money is available from the EU but the geotechnical community is probably not best placed to take advantage of this.
Consortia such as the Faraday Partnerships do lobby for funding but the BGA should be doing more, through Ground Forum and ultimately government, to try to encourage more investment by having a clearly focused strategy to demonstrate the needs and benefits of research.
A seminar on geotechnical research is planned, as is a campaign promoting the need for funding. A working group involving senior figures from academia, contracting, consulting and government has been set up to create a vision for geotechnical research.
Guidelines and specifications
One of the key roles of the Ground Board was to produce design guidelines and specifications. The most famous of these have been the volumes on site investigation.
These have proved so popular that a second edition is being produced. The Ground Board was also actively involved in production of the ICE Conditions of Contract for Site Investigation.
Several organisations are developing such documents, including AGS, FPS, CIRIA and BRE. Is there a need for BGA to continue to provide that service?
The view is that there is, because it can provide an industry-wide focus. A database of publications will be assembled so gaps can be identified and a rolling programme of publications set up, providing a 'one-stop-shop' for those interested in geotechnics.
Ground Forum members
The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS), the British Drilling Association (BDA), the British Geotechnical Association (BGA), the British Tunnelling Society (BTS), the Federation of Piling Specialists, the Engineering Group of the Geological Society (EGGS), the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IMMM), the Pipe Jacking Society (PJS) and the International Geosynthetics Society (UK) (IGS).
BGA runs a number of special events - the Rankine Lecture, the Cooling Prize, the Fleming Award, YGES, BGA touring lecture and the Geotechnique Lecture - as well as being involved in seminars and conferences which are often run by the regional groups.
The success of these regional and national activities is demonstrated by the excellent support from the geotechnical community, making geotechnics one of the most active areas of civil engineering.
In recognition of this, an annual meeting of the BGA is being considered.
This will be an opportunity for members to meet in an informal manner and for the BGA to formally present prizes and awards and to publicise these achievements. The event could also include focus groups on key issues and special lectures from international practitioners.
A lot of the discussions led inevitably to publicity. For example, a membership drive could be carried out through flyers and emails to engineers who should be interested in joining.
One of the BGA's key activities is meetings. It was suggested that their subject matter should be closely examined to maximise attendance - perhaps trying to get a 'newsy' angle or covering high-profile projects (for example CTRL, Crossrail and West Coast Main Line). This could encourage both BGA members and potential members to attend.
Other suggestions included colour flyers, email alerts to members, previews and follow-up articles on meetings in Ground Engineering and sending information about meetings to other magazines.
BGA will appoint a publicity officer to promote all its activities.
Membership has been relatively static for a number of years, despite the growing workload and diversification of geotechnical engineering. A key question is: 'Why am I a member of the BGA?'
While BGA organises monthly meetings in London, supports international events (including ISSMGE and ESSMGE conferences and young geotechnical engineers' activities) and contributes to policy and practice through Ground Forum and ICE, many members appear to feel the main reason for joining is to receive Ground Engineering every month.
There are great opportunities for growing membership, as BGA members represent only a small proportion of the geotechnical community. Setting up a directory/register of geotechnical professionals would make it a must for geotechnical engineers to join the BGA and would help define its role.
A working group has been set up to drive membership. The first move will be to put together a welcome pack for new members, which will include the past couple of issues of Ground Engineering and details of activities and meetings.
The geotechnical community based on the regional groups could be strengthened so they can be involved in the national agenda as well as the regional one. For example, the research needs of engineers operating in Scotland may be different from those in the south east of England.
Coordinating the research agenda nationally with regional involvement will help this and will enhance the benefits of being a BGA member.
It is hoped that members in major companies and universities will encourage membership from within their own ranks.