A fact-finding trip to China has provided UK communities’ staff with a better understanding of what Chinese members need and want from the IET, reports Keri Allan.
Last November IET community development manager Alex Taylor spent two weeks travelling across China to support local IET staff and build stronger relationships with IET members across the country.
Working closely with Jenny Li, the community relationship manager based in the IET’s Beijing office, Alex’s aim was to meet with existing Local Networks (LNs) in China to learn more about the opportunities and challenges that they face as engineers, and about their experiences of being IET members. She also wanted to meet prospective LN volunteers, to find out what they wanted from the IET and how the institution could support them to create new communities in China.
“It was a chance to say thank you and pay our respects to our existing LN volunteers who have been delivering activities on behalf of the IET for a number of years now. The IET values their contribution, and it was great to have the chance to say thank you to so many of them personally for the work that they have done,” Alex explains. “The IET also needs the benefit of their experience, I wanted their advice about how we might encourage the number of LNs in China to grow, and how LNs could help the IET to raise its profile generally and engage with new members specifically.”
“China is a very unique country with a complex and sophisticated culture and heritage. I think in the past the IET may have been guilty of developing products and services that work in the UK and perhaps just assumed they would work elsewhere,” she continues. “I think the IET has changed, and now appreciates the need to get a much better understanding of other marketplaces so that we can tailor our products and services to suit them.”
During her time in China, Alex travelled across several provinces to give talks about the IET and meet with LN volunteers and members. The vastness of the country was something she also noted, and how this could affect the way LNs operate, as well as the need for a different LN model.
“I realise this sounds obvious, but compared to China the UK is a tiny island and yet it is served by 44 LNs, where China currently has three,” Alex says. “The challenges that face an LN in the UK are magnified exponentially in somewhere like China. For example, how do you decide where to hold your event, how do you decide where to promote it, how far will people be prepared to travel? These are things that LN volunteers are faced with every day, but in China it is compounded by the huge distances involved and the fact that awareness of the IET is very low.”
Alex’s travels also allowed her to discover and start to develop connections between specific regions and IET Sectors and Technical Networks (TNs).
“Some of the areas we visited and some of the universities in particular, were specialising in areas such as manufacturing, robotics, vision and imaging, and the built environment. Jenny and I were able to start thinking about the possibility of supporting new TNs to form as well as new LNs that would focus on the key sector topics that resonate in China, such as renewable energy and future intelligent cities. We were also able to make better connections between existing communities.”
From talking with the members, Alex also took on board that there are different motivating factors for members and volunteers in China.
For example, students and academics in China face huge pressure to publish papers. If the IET is able to provide opportunities for them to do this then this will help to raise the profile and popularity of the IET with this group of people. One of the ways that the IET can help is by supporting communities, Local and Technical Networks, to deliver call for paper events.
“The challenge for the IET is in ensuring that we maintain high standards of quality within a community delivery model that is led by volunteers,” explains Alex. “Just because a paper is submitted does not necessarily mean it will automatically be published or indexed. We need to work with our volunteers to ensure that they understand the importance of the quality assurance mechanisms that we have in place, and what their responsibilities are to ensure we maintain the highest standards. Ultimately this will benefit the reputation of the authors as well as the IET.”
Another way the IET can support members in China is to provide a way for them to develop their international connections, something important to both universities and businesses across the country.
“Many universities have targets around making links outside of the country,” notes Alex. “This is an area where the IET can really shine. One of the things the IET can offer is its international membership base. We have LNs based around the world, TNs that attract interest from a worldwide audience, and sector-related activities that are helping to give the IET global relevance. In addition, the IET has a growing network of Academic and Corporate Partners and Affiliates around the world that Chinese members can connect with if they become engaged with the IET.”
The events members would like to host also have an international feel. “In China the LNs tend to want to put on fewer events, but focus instead on giving them a high profile to attract international speakers and delegates,” Alex adds.
Alex’s visit has given her a great insight into what the IET’s Chinese members want and need from the organisation, but it’s not just about creating communities and putting on events. These people are IET ambassadors, representing the IET brand, and the Institution wants to make sure they have what they need to help grow the IET’s membership across the country.
“It’s important that we make sure they are equipped and empowered to be our ambassadors, to talk to their audiences about the benefits of IET membership and to highlight to their students and co-workers the benefits of becoming an active IET member. The IET can provide a lot of opportunities for active members to develop their skills, contribute to the governance and development of the IET, and make strong connections outside of China,” says Alex.
“I’ve learnt a lot from this trip – that one size definitely does not fit all, and that building strong relationships is essential. Right now we’re focusing on making sure we get the LN offering right for China, but we also need feedback and advice to help us to do this well,” she continues.
“We need our volunteers to help us raise awareness of the IET across China, to help us attract new members, and even more importantly, ensure that the IET continues to engage with members. Through communities we can develop long and lasting relationships with members so that the IET becoming their ‘Professional Home for Life’ turns from a concept to a reality. After all, we have a lot of ground to cover in China, how else will the IET be able to achieve its goals without the help of our local experts?” she concludes.
Members interested in sharing their thoughts or becoming more actively involved in community development in China can email Jenny Li for further information (email@example.com).
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