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.