"When people talk, listen completely"

Article by Jon Prichard

TEN months have passed since I joined IChemE. The good thing about being a newcomer at an organisation that is required to meet the needs and expectations of a diverse community like ours, is that people like to let you know what they think. And why you should be thinking it too; and, what they would do in your shoes. The other good thing about being the newbie is that you can listen. Really listen. Coming from The Engineering Council and with a preconceived notion of the Institution, I thought I had the measure of member engagement at IChemE. I was wrong.

The eagerness to engage surpassed my expectations. I have received a steady stream of email with considered recommendations and wise counsel. IChemE’s social media platforms carried more of the same. Every dinner attended provided some very real food for thought. One-to-one meetings with members enabled some home truths to be shared in confidence. Others took a different tack and were more demonstrative and colourful in their language. I made time to listen and really hear the subtext and demands for changes to many aspects of IChemE’s operation.

I urge all members to take pride in the fact that, collectively, they constitute the chemical engineering body that sets and regulates professional standards, promotes best practice, and champions the contribution that chemical engineers make to society

On reflection, I feel that IChemE can be fairly criticised for not encouraging our members to engage and have a real say in our future. We are taking very real steps to address this shortcoming, as you will see from my Council report on p56.

We have a rich history, and despite its arcane language, IChemE’s Royal Charter, which defines our purpose, is still relevant today. That is not to say that it should not be regularly revisited and updated, because times change and members are entitled to expect modern, accountable and transparent governance.

Those who are deeply interested in the regulations that support the awarding of Chartered Engineer status often argue: “Why bother trying to engage a silent majority which has previously shown scant regard for such matters?”

This hardly comes as a surprise, because in the past, members have not been actively prompted to take much interest in their Institution’s governance arrangements.

This state of affairs has contributed to a perceived democratic deficit and a feeling of distance between members and their Institution. This must change, and the review of IChemE’s governance is driving that change.

As we address this and related issues, I urge all members to take pride in the fact that, collectively, they constitute the chemical engineering body that sets and regulates professional standards, promotes best practice, and champions the contribution that chemical engineers make to society.

The governance review project has now reached the stage where Council is considering member feedback and developing detailed recommendations that will be shared with you in the weeks ahead. For some, the pace of change has not been quick enough, and an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) will be scheduled for early 2018. I welcome this opportunity for debate. The formal arrangements are being finalised and will be confirmed shortly. I encourage all members to engage in the discussion and to take part in the vote.  

Members make all of the key decisions within our Institution; ranging from who should be admitted, to which courses should be accredited, and what policy initiatives should be pursued. Working together, we can ensure that chemical engineering fulfils its potential as a force for good in our changing world.

Readers of The Chemical Engineer can play an essential part in IChemE’s operation. I am proud to work alongside so many passionate and engaged volunteers and the professional staff team that supports you. But we can always do better and to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, when people talk, we listen completely..

Article by Jon Prichard

IChemE CEO

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