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Comment | Winning the emotional argument

Mark Hansford

When it comes to proving the supposition that investing in infrastructure drives the economy of a country, hard facts are painfully difficult to find.

Like it or not, that has to be one of the main takeaways from our research into this month’s main theme – elevating the case for infrastructure.

It is hugely encouraging for our industry that the UK government is, right now, so volubly and vehemently committed to investing in civils infrastructure. It is good to hear the government conclude that such investment drives productivity and that this increased productivity in turn drives the UK’s GDP.

There are studies that support this supposition, although when you read into them, most use the same dated sources and most are based on qualitative rather than quantitative analysis. And there are also other studies that conclude, often regrettably, that no such link can be found.

That is not to say people should give up looking; and the government, in the shape of the National Infrastructure Commission, has the body to go on working on that.

But while these wise minds do that, we cannot sit idle. This is no time for complacency. With fast-forming policies around Brexit and the even faster-forming policies of new United States President Donald Trump set to dominate 2017, these are changing times. With Brexit and Trump we have clearly seen hard facts playing a secondary role.

And love it or hate it, this is fast becoming the new reality. And we, as people hard-wired to support society through our endeavours, need to be ready and able to play this game.

Put simply, it means, that civil engineering professionals now, more than ever, need to engagingly present the broader benefits of their infrastructure projects, highlighting the direct impacts they are having on society by connecting communities, creating jobs and improving quality of life.

There’s quite a movement here. Next year is the UK government’s Year of the Engineer, timed to coincide with the opening of Crossrail. It is also, handily, the ICE’s 200th anniversary and to capitalise on all that the ICE is, right now, seeking out 200 people who, over the years, can show how their projects have had that direct impact on society.

These 200 will form the backbone of the ICE’s year of celebrations – getting their achievements recognised in the media up and down the country.

It’s a great ambition, but one that could go horribly wrong.

Three years ago New Civil Engineer asked the question: “Why are civil engineers too boring for TV?” That was in response to reader frustrations that civil engineers were not getting the mainstream media profile their role demanded the last time the profession was really in the government’s sights – following the horrendous winter floods of 2013/14.

This month we ask that question again; to see if this time we are ready as a profession to make our case. And do you know what? This time we are more encouraged. There does seem to be the beginnings of a new breed of civil engineer which is able to present not just the technical arguments (and that is still in the job description), but the emotional ones too.

And that is so important. Because, like it or not, in 2017, emotional arguments win. Look at Brexit. Look at Trump.


Readers' comments (2)

  • The emotion most people need now is security - fed up of being pushed about by media - particularly social media soaking up time. Instead some are setting the example of using devices frugally.

    Although i have put below a scoping set of aims below NCE is needed to help shape those aims into sufficient coherence for mainstream real media -even encouraging into a saleable book advocating a diversion from commercially-created money to the public purse and a proper contribution from imports.

    By an adjustment from transport-intensive importing, a "levy" split to help the sea barriers that could be tidal-generating and water storage with floating booms (see below) . Success that would be using airtime via Real Radio (in-depth BBC R4)- all working together to increase the potential of British-German-EU-global-Asian collaboration on finance as well as US.
    Such a Text can be spiced with real remarkable stories ranging from our overland exploits (example- 6 months with 2 children through EU, behind the iron curtain, across Turkey and the Middle East and on to Asia and Australia) to 6 months partaking of the NHS via RTA under an 8-wheeler - designing from a hospital bed. "can you cough?" for example seems a good question after 2 weeks intensive care, why?

    Here are some mega-project ideas and ways to fund them, including the simple way of buildings becoming Eco-Fit, the first stage of the useful funds, actually creating the money. -

    Is there enough overview, fossil fuel and time to shift perceptions, resources and effort to use dredged material in beach-protected permeable bags creating perimeter foundations, then, over time forming offshore islands as tsunami-protection to vulnerable areas and road/rail (at the optimum height above sea level, in two stages, 20 metres, then 80 metres) links with shipping access between sets of 3 caissons supporting the roadway, sliding gates, wind-power, tide-power, etc? [see Arup-Halcrow led “Sea level rise – Retreat, Defend or Attack] Start with Swansea-North Devon, then East-of-Thames Airport island Barrage connecting contours.

    A diversion of effort would be refreshing, away from about half of "consumer appeal" esp in the car industry. Why not REAL APPEAL a stainless-steel vehicle with wind-up windows, 4 wheels and an engine you can work on that LASTS (choice of electric, of course). Built-to-last from Britain-India collaboration, even the Chinese? - That could be a real input for global benefit (and barrage-generating sea protection).

    That beats slavish follower of fashion and built-to fail which should be illegal, and beats further erosion of skill and brainpower by the driver-dulling self-driving car. Surely we have seen enough brain-dulling with calculators-computers stopping thorough learning and regular use of mental arithmetic - without another crop of gimmicks? And keyboards/screens eroding hand skill.
    There are obviously too many desk-bound engineers without enough quality time early on - relaxation and guidance/skill to dream of a simpler, more solid life – the joys of wood built to last, making your own as kids, growing your own, use less money on the non-durable, invest more. For example I used to dream of automatic gates so I did not have to shift the goats.
    Why not the New Civil Engineer to take the lead on perception-shifting – Engineering the simpler quality life, maybe advocating a few several-month overland trips connecting with the geography (sabbatical or long-service leave after 5, six months at 10, or 15 and 20 years) well before retirement. Fewer quality journeys rather than jumping on jets all the time?

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  • stephen gibson

    Neither the UK's referendum on remaining within the EU club, nor the Republican win over the Democrats in the US were anything to do with "emotional arguments", but were based on the public reviewing facts and deciding in a reasonably balanced way that change was necessary.

    Where Mark is correct, is that many politicians reverted to the politics of fear and emotive language and used their power and influence over much of the mainstream media to try and manipulate the public against change, so to ensure the preservation of the wealthy elite.

    The hard facts are quite different to the populist rhetoric. The average growth of European Countries with the Euro has been half that of those without. Unemployment in Southern Europe is 4 times that on average to the UK. Greece has over 50% youth unemployment. Both Italy and Greece have had unelected EU technocrat prime ministers imposed on them by the EU against their will.

    As former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King said he “resented suggestions by friends and acquaintances that Britons who even contemplated voting for Brexit were ignorant or racist". The debate was about sovereignty, democracy, internationalism and fair trade.

    The choice was clear. Vote for the UK to return to being an independent global trading nation, or merge into a single totalitarian European Union. Britain has a proud history of standing up against those who wished to create such a totalitarian European state - Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and now Jean-Claude Juncker.

    To quote 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson " I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical".

    Sir Alexander Gibb, Sir Owen Williams, Sir William Halcrow, etc all delivered projects internationally and were not tied only to our neighbours in Europe. As Civil Engineers we have perhaps the most to gain in any sector from an opening up of free and fair completion in the across the World, unhindered by the EU and its anti fair trade protective cartel - the common market and custom union.

    Now, with the internet and jet aircraft, the physical location matters even less than it did previously. As Civil Engineers we need to embrace change and the new opportunities it will present right around the World.

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