Global Agenda Programme – Frequently Asked Questions

Global Agenda Programme – Frequently Asked Questions

Why IET as a Thought Leader?

With a membership of 150,000 professional engineers worldwide the IET is well placed to provide thought leadership to influence government policy and raise public awareness of issues with important engineering dimensions.

In order to focus our efforts we are addressing a number of key issues where there is an important engineering dimension.  We call this our Global Agenda programme. Under the umbrella concept of the “Impact of Engineering and Technology in Society”  we have so far established 4 strands that we want to focus on – Low Carbon Economy, Public Infrastructure, World Health & Wellbeing and, Security in the Modern World.

Our initial focus is on two themes - electric vehicle adoption and home energy revolution – which, of course overlap to some extent and both of which will have major impacts on public policy, national infrastructure and society at large. We are currently developing our thinking about the way forward for the other strands. 

We are interested in developing partnerships on these issues with key players and specialist groups both to improve our outreach and the impact of our work and also to get better public engagement to secure better understanding of the expectations, aspirations and concerns of key stakeholders and potential consumers.

We believe this is important, for example, to avoid the sort of problems recently encountered in California where there has been strongly adverse public reaction to the introduction of smart electricity meters which were demonised as an unwarranted intrusion into privacy and a health threat. This is not to say that proper information and debate is not warranted on such matters: the IET’s themes very much include addressing how best the challenges of introducing new technology into society can be addressed effectively.

What is the programme about?

People in the developed world live in a highly complex technically based environment, where their lives are increasingly relying upon machines and systems that they do not fully understand.  

People in the developing world are catching up fast and everyone on the planet is affected by the impact that this pace of change is having on the environment.  The concept springs from a recognition that the resolution to many of the major issues facing society, and indeed to mankind globally, lies in the successful, timely development and deployment of technological innovation.  

However, many technology systems are now deeply integrated and, as technology comes ever closer to each individual - even to the extent that we cannot undertaken even the simplest daily task without engaging with technology - the consequences of introducing new or changed technology are wide-ranging and affect people in many different and personal ways.  Similarly, the consequences of not getting it right can be dramatic and ‘right first time’ applies particularly when interfacing with the public and their representatives.  

We believe that implementing effective technology solutions can be facilitated more quickly and efficiently through a better common understanding of the societal issues, constraints, impacts and consequences, such that all parties can more easily work together to achieve success. Being effective in the topic areas is underpinned by engineers being good communicators – both as ‘senders’ and as ‘receivers’. It is also about designing and implementing new technologies in ways that wider society can appreciate and will welcome.

What is the IET actually doing?

The IET is keen to utilise its resources and the expertise of its members to help bridge the gap between technology and society.  A number of different approaches are being explored, and how these are implemented will largely depend upon the area of technology.  

At the core is the requirement to scope the societal impact of the topic, and to establish the levels of public awareness and willingness (or ability) to engage, including the extent to which they will change their behaviour.  This will enable us to develop new approaches to communication and to ensure that we provide the right level of factual, evidence-based information to the public the other stakeholders.  

In parallel, we will establish the information needs of relevant policy-makers and build relationships to share understanding and facilitate debate.  It will also enable the IET to offer a link back towards the engineers who are developing the technologies.  We recognise that this is more than ‘PR’ and that we need to explore also the changes needed from engineers and technologists.

Tools that we are considering for these activities include scenario planning and story telling, focus groups, debate events, impact mapping, and working with partners to demonstrate the complex yet holistic nature of the impacts.

Why is this relevant to the IET?

We believe we are uniquely placed to provide an independent and impartial interface between technology, society and policy-makers.  This must be a two-way interface; it is not simply about better messaging from our community. There is widespread recognition that public engagement will be key to the effective development, integration and acceptance of future solutions to societal issues, many of which are technology-based. 

We need to understand the views and concerns of the public and government more clearly and bring lessons back into the engineering community to be addressed.  We also see the importance of greater inter-professional cooperation – both in presenting a holistic, balanced view to all stakeholders and in interpreting societal responses.  

We therefore value our position as a non-commercial representative of the technology and engineering profession, and believe this presents us with a valuable opportunity.  We already have a strong relationship with the UK Government, which we hope these activities will strengthen further as we build a reputation for reliable, factual, evidence-based comment and influence in the global agenda topics.

How will this be taken forward?

Topics that are identified (see question below) will be managed by a steering group(s) who will plan a roadmap of activities for each topic.  Although these are likely to include some standard approaches, each set will be unique to the topic concerned.  Once a topic is established it should become part of the natural day-to-day business of the Institution, with volunteers and staff contributing together to developing the thread.  Activities will be planned and budgeted for through the normal channels, and realised through normal IET functional teams, supported by both staff and volunteers as appropriate.

What would be a good result?

Our ultimate aim is to understand and increase public awareness of, and attitudes to, the impact of technology developments on their lifestyles; and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of the engineering profession in their lives.  

We are also seeking to improve the understanding of engineers and technologists as to the societal impacts of their work.  In concrete terms this might result in new methods of communication with active ‘feedback’ capabilities (events, dialogue, social media, website); it might also result in new ways of informing and influencing engineering activities such as new guidelines, standards, training events and the recognition of new skills and active partnership across disciplines.

How will this effect what the IET does?

Topics are a way of focusing the work of the IET, giving it a new perspective and engaging with a broader audience.  It is not a fundamental change to what we do – we are still about sharing and disseminating knowledge – but we recognise that many global issues will only be fully and effectively resolved if everyone is aware, brought in, and working in the same direction – from public, to policy-maker, to technology provider.  Therefore, activities relating to the topics are not an additional stream of work; they are an extension of what we already do very well.

Is this a new direction for the IET?

Some aspects are new, but fundamentally we are building on the basic foundations of activity that we have always done, such as networking, events, engaging with policy-makers, publications, etc.  The main difference is that we are aiming to bridge the gap of technology understanding between the ‘people in the know’ and the general public and other key stakeholders.  We also have a strong track record of working in partnership with other engineering organisations and businesses, and we want to extend that reach to work with new partners who bring a different perspective to the topics on which we are focusing.

If this is about informing the public, is the IET just acting as a PR agency for technology developers?

No – this needs to be a two-way conversation that builds a bridge between technology users and technology developers.  Certainly we believe that helping the wider public to understand how technological developments are shaping their lives is one important element; but equally we recognise the increasing need to technologists to engage with the public at an early stage of development, to ensure solutions are ‘lifestyle aware’ and pay regard to the needs of users across society.

Who are the IET working with?

The IET already has strong links with UK Government and many engineering and technology bodies, such as Engineering the Future and the Royal Academy of Engineering.  We are now expanding our network of partners into non-technical areas – exploring links with consumer groups, other professional bodies, think-tanks and non-Government organisations.  In particular, we are seeking partners who share our aims but who have different yet complementary views, and those who can help us communicate with the wider public.

As activities come on line, we are also expecting to benefit from our existing links with academic and business partners, who we know are keen to join in.

What topics are being worked on now?

We are actively working on programmes of activity for two topics: Electric Vehicle Adoption and Home Energy Revolution.  Two more topics are in development.  

It is important to note that these are topic areas that are core to the IET’s Sector presence and membership base, and we therefore have a strong base of technology knowledge behind them.  The Global Agenda approach contributes another viewpoint to our traditional activities, exploring the impact these technologies have on society as a whole; and examining how people and policy need to adapt to make widespread adoption successful – including anticipating and questioning the consequences of adoption.

How will topics be selected and when will more come on-line?

The IET strategy identifies four Global Agenda headings:

  • Low carbon economy
  • Renewal and resilience of public infrastructure
  • World health and wellbeing
  • Security in the modern world

These are broad headings and need to be focussed into manageable topics.  Topics emerge from discussions with members and are qualified by criteria such as depth of public interest and impact, perceived issues with current policy formation, global relevance, and the societal consequences of ‘failure’.  Of course, they also need to be areas in which we have member engagement and alignment with our Sectors.

As there are inevitably more topics than we can manage at one time, they are currently prioritised by the staff and volunteers involved with the programme.  In future topics are expected to emerge from the Policy Panels and Sector Teams and be prioritised by the IET executive and board of trustees. 

Why these topics?

The topics covered by the Programme will have impacts in many, if not most areas of the world.  In many cases, the societal impacts will require different interpretation in other locations around the world, and will have correspondingly different priorities locally.  Therefore, activities will often need to be tailored and targeted according to the particular topic.  In the early stages activities will be trialled in the UK to build understanding and test methods, and then offered as a toolkit for use by members in other locations through the Regional Boards.

How will this be made more international?

The way in which each topic will be rolled out to new locations will depend on a number of variables including the relevance of the topic in that location, the local culture and the local policy-making processes. It will be influenced by the level of public interest, and the local partnerships and resources available.  Each topic will be considered separately with the assistance of local volunteers from our Advisory Group to establish a plan of forward activities.

What is the time line?

The first two topics come into implementation during 2011, with a further two scheduled for implementation during 2012.  These topics are already key areas of interest amongst the IET membership, so you may not notice a significant difference initially, but the activities will gradually broaden as we increase our engagement with new audiences and partners.

There will be no defined end point for each topic, as they will continue to be championed while The IET believes it can add value.  In most cases it is expected that topics and priorities will gradually evolve over time.

How can I contribute?

Utilise your expertise and join the debate!  Look out for events and activities on these topics and help us make them successful by joining in discussions and physical events – telling us what you think the impacts are on society and how we can support the public in understanding technology changes and adapt to it’s implementation.  

We need to identify those areas where technology and engineering could be improved to enable it to gain better societal acceptance. If you are part of a Local Network you can organise events in your area to help us understand public views and understanding of the issues, and feed this back into the growing debate.

Who is leading in IET; how is it managed; and who can I talk to?

Whilst the ideas are being shaped and approaches identified, the activities are being managed by a two small teams of staff and volunteers within the framework of a strategic programme, which is being led by one of our trustees.  These teams are working in collaboration with the Policy Panels and Sector Teams to ensure integration into business as usual will be smooth and effective when it happens.  

Consultation with the Regional Boards, Council and other groups of members is being channelled through a specifically appointed Advisory Panel.  

Queries and ideas can be sent to the Programme Manager, Sandra Godman, who will ensure they are channelled to the right person.

Email: globalagenda@theiet.org