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Shaping a learned society fit for the next millennium

ICE News

The ICE's engineering department is going through a period of radical change.

Director John Prichard tells Ruby Kitching how it will affect members.

ONE YEAR ago the ICE began restructuring the engineering division at its Westminster HQ, to bring operations in line with its profile-raising five year business plan. The plan will see the Institution remain centred on its role as learned society, but focused on disseminating knowledge effectively to both government and public (see box).

To make this happen, former membership director Jon Prichard has taken on the new role of engineering policy and innovation director.

He describes how the role of the Institution has changed since the 19th century, when many engineering companies were based in Westminster and One Great George Street was common ground on which to socialise and network.

'The Victorian way was that members came to us, ' says richard. 'The ICE was a club and the role of the staff here was as a secretariat in the truest sense.

'But the 21st century learned society lives in a busier world and you have to take the game to the members now, ' he says.

He explains that engineers now have less time to meet and develop informed opinions on subjects of national interest, and this has led to a decline in the input civil engineering has at government level.

But it is in precisely this area that members want greater representation. This is where the institution steps in.

ICE policy used to be created by its 16 engineering boards.

These specialist groups of around 15 members would meet quarterly to cogitate on and debate the issues in sectors such as energy, waste management and transport.

The sessions would lead to papers 'on what we [the boards] wanted to publish', says Prichard, with little focus on how they could lever wider in' uence.

This is now changing, with the boards focusing on specific government consultations such as the energy review, revision of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations and dissemination of Eurocodes.

The boards are also being encouraged to link up so that a submission for, say, the energy review, takes into account the views of the energy, waste management, sustainability, and structural and building boards.

With the ICE facing 'declining membership engagement', Richard adds that the secretariat is repositioning itself as a body which can help 'steer' the boards and active members to add more value to ICE policy.

This change of emphasis has led to resignations and redundancies at the Institution, with the knowledge development manager and board managers for transport, maritime and municipal engineering all departing shortly before Christmas.

Prichard is now recruiting new staff who he believes will fit the ICE's new business model -people with communication and writing skills as well the ability to understand engineering issues.

They will join what Prichard describes as the 'engine house' of the ICE, which includes the boards and the associated societies. They will form ICE policy, guided by a yet to be appointed head of engineering policy.

The library, conferences and the ICE's commercial arm Thomas Telford sit within what he describes as the 'knowledge transfer' area.

Former head librarian Mike Chrimes has the job of heading up knowledge transfer.

Richard adds that the boards will continue to raise engineering issues, citing last year's report on the skills shortage in flood risk management (10 March 2005). This was a classic example of an ICE board in action, quietly winning funding from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency to investigate a significant issue facing the industry.

This year the boards will tackle the government's energy review and form policy for guidance on the industry standard for site investigation.

Mandate for change The ICE business plan was conceived in early 2003 by the institution's directors and approved by Council in February the same year.

The five year plan focuses on establishing a sustainable membership; developing a customer service culture; creating a business culture; improving the public image of the ICE and civil engineering; and developing an effective way to exploit the ICE's knowledge bank (NCE 24 July 2003).

The plan also takes into account the May 2003 membership satisfaction survey which revealed the members' five most important issues concerning the ICE (NCE 1 May 2003).

These were: the need for the institution to communicate a clear strategic direction, to raise the importance of civil engineering to society, raise the profile of civil engineers, influence politicians and decision makers, and encourage young people into civil engineering.

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