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Community spirit

8 May 2012
Connecting communities around the world

After an highly successful 2011, IET communities are set to go from strength to strength thanks to a restructure that will break down communication barriers and lead to further collaboration opportunities, reports Keri Allan.

The last 12 months have been extremely positive for the IET’s Local and Technical & Professional Networks with their events reaching over 77,000 people, many of whom were non-members.
The IET has over 100 local and technical & professional communities, active in almost 40 countries. There are over 1,200 IET members volunteering for them, supported by 27 members of IET staff.
In 2011 over 800 lectures, seminars and exhibitions were arranged by these volunteers, over 100 membership and professional registration events were held, plus over 200 technical visits took place around the globe; but they’re set to beat this in 2012, as the communities already have over 1,600 events planned for this year.

At the heart of the IET

These volunteer communities are at the heart of the IET in many ways, championing the Institution by sharing knowledge and bringing their passion for engineering out into the local communities through the events, workshops and lectures they arrange throughout the year. They also support members’ professional development by holding lifeskills and regular professional registration advice events, the number of which is growing year on year.
“These volunteer communities are exceptional ambassadors for the IET, raising awareness of science, engineering and technology, and the Institution, around the world. There is no way that the small staff team that supports these groups could achieve the same impact,” Alex Taylor, the IET’s community development manager enthuses.
It is also important to highlight the instrumental role they play in helping the IET to achieve its charitable remit of providing public benefit. “The majority of local and technical events are free to attend and open to everyone, and this is as well as the information that is available online,” Taylor notes.

A new way of working

Last year the IET recognised that it needed to change the way it supports its volunteer communities in order to remain relevant and reflect the fast-paced, multi-disciplinary world that engineers and technicians work in today. In consultation with the membership and volunteers it has developed a new community model, designed to break down barriers, making it easy for communities to form, for people to get involved and connect with like-minded individuals and for groups to collaborate and respond to new developments quickly.
A new Communities Resourcing Committee (CRC) has been created, supported by five regional Communities Committees. These groups differ from the old Regional Boards in that their remit is much more targeted towards effecting change via the communities in their area, identifying opportunities for further development and providing support to the existing communities. However, as well as the Local Networks, the CRC is also responsible for supporting the Technical & Professional Networks that exist around the world.

Supporting the volunteers

The Local and Technical & Professional Network staff teams have also been united into one integrated Communities Team. This will aid collaboration as the community relationship managers will support a portfolio of communities that includes Local and Technical & Professional. Within this team there will be a community development team focused on developing and expanding communities’ activities, as well as an operations team with specialists in marketing, online and events to provide a more expert level of support to all communities.
“The focus is particularly on helping the communities to carry out their jobs, so providing more support to the volunteers on the ground,” says Nigel Ward, CRC chairman. “It was pretty good before, but I think there will definitely be a tighter integration between the staff and volunteers for sure.”
“The new community model is enabling us to support these communities in a completely new way,” continues Taylor. “In the past there were many barriers to Local and Technical & Professional groups collaborating, these barriers have been removed and the new aligned governance structure, integrated staff team, and new resources and tools that we are developing for all volunteer groups to use mean that life should be much easier and more flexible for our networks in future.”

Funding

In order to simplify the process and make it easier for communities to work together and share ideas, one of the first jobs of the newly formed CRC was to align the funding cycle of the Local and Technical & Professional Networks.
“Going forward they will follow the same funding calendar and will shortly start planning activity for the 2012/13 session that will start in October 2012. To support this streamlined approach, the CRC is creating a single planning and funding application process for all existing communities,” explains Fiona Dew, community communications manager.

MyCommunity

There will be lots of exciting changes taking place over the next few months to support IET communities further, including a volunteer extranet and an online marketing toolkit, but at the heart of the new model is MyCommunity, a new IET online networking platform that will be launched this May.
Currently in beta testing, it will provide an environment where communities can tailor the functionality to suit their needs. It will be open to everyone and will allow groups to form around subjects that motivate them, which may not necessarily align to the IET’s strategic objectives. The IET hopes this freedom to create groups and engage more easily with others will encourage and empower communities to be more self-sufficient.
“It’s really an extension of the other ideas of communities, in so much that it doesn’t have to be about physical interaction,” says Ward. “It can be about virtual interaction, networking, offline ideas of collaboration taken to an online form. The tools are an easy way for people to start to collaborate, build momentum for an idea which then may become a physical event.”
The IET looks forward to seeing the difference this new community model will make to the volunteers and hopes to see more collaboration, knowledge sharing and great ideas come from these changes. It’s also very exciting to see how MyCommunity will evolve once volunteers are able to mould it to their needs. 2012 is set to be an exciting year ahead.

Success stories

Pythagorean Cabaret
The Pythagorean Cabaret evening was the brainchild of IET member Rhys Phillips of the South Wales Local Network. Held in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, the evening saw eight acts perform, consisting of everything from stand-up comedy and science raps to a science junkie looking at the forces at play in bikes, diablos and gyroscopes and even a live straightjacket escape.
Although clearly a social event, the aim of the evening was to promote science to the general public in a fun and entertaining way, as well as showcasing the different kinds of science communication outreach work that is going on across the UK.
An avid promoter of science and engineering, Phillips thought it would be great to bring together the people he had met in the last 18 months through his schools outreach and radio work. He approached them, each experienced STEM communicators in their own right, and they agreed to take to the stage for free.
Approximately 200 people turned up to the show, which had a very positive audience reaction. Phillips has been asked if he’d take the show on the road, but although nothing’s set in stone, he would like the Cabaret to live on in some form or other and there’s talk that it will reappear at this summer’s Cardiff Science Festival.

Promoting electric vehicles
Since 2010 the Automotive and Road Transport Systems and Power Generation, Conversion and Utilisation technical communities have worked jointly on a series of evening lectures. These focused on the technological challenges electric and hybrid vehicles face in the aspiration for mass adoption of low-carbon transportation, energy resources/power usage, on-board vehicle challenges and regional infrastructure planning.
In 2011 two successful lectures came from the Technical & Professional Networks collaborating with Local Networks. In April they were supported by technical sub-groups of the Manchester Local Network in an evening lecture in the area. Later in August, the IET delivered an Electric Vehicles lecture at the 14th European Conference on Power Electronics and Applications as part of the on-going lecture series ‘From power station to wheel’.
The groups that worked together discovered they had a lot to gain from collaborating, including a chance to increase their audience reach and demonstrate the importance of key topics across regions.

Smart and sustainable city
In a great example of collaboration, in July 2011 the IET’s Shanghai Local Network co-organised China’s first ever International Conference on Smart and Sustainable City (ICSSC) conference, garnering over 100 attendees from around the globe.
The Network worked closely with the IEEE CIS Shanghai Chapter and the Councelors’ Office of Shanghai Municipal Government to make the event a success. Planning began back in October 2010 when the three groups came to realise that there was a merging of disciplines in regards to researching the problems cities face, but no forum for groups to meet and discuss.
IET Fellow and IET Shanghai’s chairman Professor Wanggen Wan led the team involved in organising the conference, helping arrange the call for papers, building the conference’s website and reviewing submissions. There was a lot of work involved, including finding funding and organising the venue, food, agenda, events, equipment and transportation. Sponsorship by Shanghai University helped make this possible.
IET staff also supported the LN by recommending keynote speakers for the conference as well as Dr Andy Watson, acting head of IET China, giving a short talk.
The event was a great opportunity for the IET to showcase itself and was so successful that it has been decided that it will become a biennial event held in Shanghai, next taking place in 2013.

The Olympics
The IET is the official Sustainable Utilities Knowledge Dissemination partner of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and alongside its partners has been arranging a number of events to highlight the contributions of engineers and technicians to the Games as well as document best-practice examples and innovations for the benefit of future projects.
On 18 January a showcase event showing how the ODA went about delivering the systems integration requirements of the Olympic venues village took place. This was delivered as a cross-IET partnership between Local Networks, Technical and Professional Networks and the IET Sectors. Each community had a role to play from finding and financing the venues and contacting and managing speakers through to publicising the event and coordinating post-event output such as IET.tv. Together their contacts, skills and experience made it a great success, and this collaboration is set to continue for future events.
“This event, among other joint initiatives, is building up a framework for future events,” says Bruce McLelland, head of sector - Built Environment. “The Local Networks often have venues and provision of a programme for the IET wider contacts in their area. The Sectors and Technical & Professional Networks feed into this requirement by having access to potential speakers. In addition all parts of the IET in these collaborative ventures are now working to provide online content post-event for wider knowledge dissemination initiatives.”

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