ICE Council's decision last week to press ahead with plans to broaden membership of the Institution beyond the civil engineering profession is a bold move. But will it make the ICE a better institution?
On one hand, there is no doubt that welcoming other non-engineering members of the civil engineering team into the fold will boost the knowledge base within the ICE and help it to refl ect the civils remit more closely.
On the other hand, there is of course a huge risk that the ICE's unique 'engineering' expertise will become diluted by more general 'technical' expertise.
Certainly the new policy must be implemented with care to ensure that broadening never becomes dilution. In reality, the low number of professionals likely to join the ICE as associate members means that, in the short term at least, there is little threat to the ICE's engineering credentials. But is this the real threat?
The civil engineering profession is already so diverse that the addition of new skills and professions to the institutional melting pot can only be a good thing - provided the focus of activity remains on engineering.
Yet as it stands, membership of the ICE - whether as a chartered engineer, incorporated engineer or technician - stands for something tangible. It is the 'gold standard' qualification of the global civil engineering profession and is a recognised measure of competence.
The ICE must never lose sight of this primary objective and, it must be added, nothing about its current programme of revitalisation suggests that it will.
There is no question that multi-disciplinary teams already dominate work in the built environment. On this basis, welcoming 'someone engaged in a profession that directly supports, or is closely allied with, the work of a civil engineer operating in the built environment' to the ICE can only be sensible.
Take this week's G8 discussions on climate change, for example. The civil engineering profession has a huge role to play in leading the world towards a more sustainable future. But we will not be able to do this in isolation. If civil engineers are to lead the multi-disciplinary team tackling the problem then it is essential that we really understand all the issues at stake, not just those closest to our knowledge base.
The same theory applies to all fi lds of civil engineering activity - transport design is not just about building roads;
coastal defence is not just about building walls and energy supply is not just about building power stations.
Bearing this in mind, the ICE needs to ensure that members understand how this new policy to broaden membership will help them, and in particular explain why it will allow them to become better civil engineering professionals.
Members must be reassured that this policy is not just a means to boost membership numbers but part of a bigger plan to create a centre of excellence for the built environment.
Broadening the membership base will make the ICE a better institution, but only if it is an institution that professionals - civil engineering and others - want to join. Failure to achieve this is the real threat to the ICE.
So having adopted this new policy the ICE must go all out to ensure that associate members join and to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.
To be effective, this policy must be more than just a change in the by-laws.
Antony Oliver is editor of NCE