Nick Starkey of the Royal Academy of Engineering explains why engineering input is so crucial for policymakers
I SUSPECT engineers read the newspapers slightly differently to other people. Like anyone else, we read daily about the challenges of combatting climate change, or increasing UK productivity and competitiveness, of meeting housing shortages or the demands on the health service. But engineers’ eyes don’t just see the personal and political stories that others see, they also see complex systems problems – engineering and design challenges of the sort they are trained to address.
While engineers are on the frontline tackling these issues, they present huge choices for policymakers in national and local government too. Policymakers cannot be experts in all topics, and their decisions affect us all. So it is vital that they benefit from that practical, real-world engineering perspective as they make those decisions.
The National Engineering Policy Centre – led by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), working in partnership with the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the other 37 organisations representing engineering – aims to ensure that engineering expertise is brought to bear on these crucial policy decisions for the benefit of society.
Firstly, while the great diversity and scope of our profession is a huge strength, it brings great institutional complexity with it. Put simply, 39 engineering organisations is a pretty baffling landscape for government to find its way around! And we know, because policymakers tell us, that it makes matters much worse when we don’t appear joined up or can’t give a clear message between us. So the Policy Centre is a vehicle to enable us to speak with one voice when that is appropriate, and to help route policymakers to the right specialist institution when that is what they need.
Secondly, the big challenges of today are complex systems problems that stretch well beyond single disciplines, even those as broad and diverse as chemical engineering. By working together we can just give better, more holistic advice, drawing in multiple perspectives and using our convening power to involve others outside engineering where needed.
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