IET expertise

12 March 2013
By Kate Parker
London Bridge

The IET is very well positioned to offer engineering policy advice to government departments.

A recent review of the IET's public policy work by IET Policy Trustee Professor Jeremy Watson, seeks to define how the IET formulates its position on public policy issues, reports Member News.

The IET is able to make use of the expertise of its members and its position within the engineering community to influence the direction of engineering-related public policy for the benefit of wider society.
It aims to provide unbiased, independent, evidence-based advice and comment that is without political bias and is free from commercial self-interest, for the good of society. “Policy provision benefits the IET by raising the Institution’s reputation and visibility, and that of engineering in general,” explains IET Policy Trustee Professor Jeremy Watson FIET.
“It allows the IET to play an important role in civil society by delivering advice on engineering matters as a public service.”


The IET Policy department achieves this by drawing on the expertise of its members by maintaining committees known as Policy Panels. These are groups of volunteers providing advice and direction to the IET’s policy work, making public policy decisions on the IET’s behalf. Their main role is in creating and maintaining a stable, trustworthy platform where policy issues can be discussed and debated by knowledgeable experts, through which the IET can take a lead on public policy.
“The IET is very well positioned to offer engineering policy advice to government departments. Few, if any, other professional bodies have a comparable number of members engaged in activities of such economic importance,” says Prof Watson.
This bank of knowledge and expertise allows policymakers in government and Parliament to engage with confidence with the IET on policy-related issues. It enables the IET itself to be able to assess objectively any contributions from IET members on public policy issues, providing a backdrop of skill and capability from which staff and members can draw on for advice or comment.
The Policy Panels also assist in developing factfiles, reports and IET media statements. Through this work, the IET also plays an important role in engaging with the Engineering the Future alliance of engineering institutions and organisations, working together on joint policy work and uniting their activities into one, strengthened voice.


The IET aims to influence the UK government, regulators and Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and government, the Northern Ireland Assembly and government and, where relevant, the European Commission.
At present, the IET is not working with governments outside of the UK, although it aspires in the future to have an influence on public policy in countries that are strategically important to the IET, such as India.
The IET provides guidance within its areas of strength, where science, engineering and technology have a significant impact, on which the IET has the breadth and depth of expertise to comment. It does this by drawing from a pool of volunteers who are experts in their given fields. The core areas of public policy of interest are:

• transportation
• manufacturing
• education and skills
• energy
• information technology
• communications technology
• health and safety
• research, innovation and technology
• development
• the built environment.

The IET also undertakes policy positions on electromagnetic compatibility and functional safety, as well as the possible health effects of low-level electromagnetic fields.


“The Institution delivers policy impact through staff members and 12 Policy Panels, which represent our span of sectors and disciplines,” says Prof Watson. “In 2012 it was felt appropriate to take stock of how public policy engagement is working, including performance, governance and methods.”
This led to Prof Watson’s recent review of the IET’s public policy work in which he sought to define how the IET formulates its position on public policy issues. As part of this work he produced a framework by which the IET Policy Panels could operate.
“Advising policy-makers is a demanding and responsible task. Government policies must be based on the best available evidence, and producing this requires research and careful validation,” explains Prof Watson.
The direction of the IET’s policy work is guided in a number of ways: by direct request from government ministers, officials, Parliamentary committee, or from other organisations seeking jointworking on a given topic of mutual interest.
In addition, Panel activities are informed from within the IET on topics identified by the IET’s Board of Trustees, Policy Panel members or IET members as important. Likewise, hot topics may arise around major events or incidents.
Panel chairmen have the final say on the direction of work, in discussion with IET Policy staff, and taking into consideration the current IET agenda and priorities.


“Being aware of the reputational importance of ‘being right’, the IET takes great care with the recruitment of its Policy Panels and chairs, and the recently-conducted review enabled me and senior IET staff members to be confident that the constitution and governance of those Panels was fit for purpose,” explains Prof Watson.
“The Review did reveal some gaps,” he explains. “We felt that the Built Environment was not adequately covered, but on the other hand the active panels were delivering strongly, with great examples from Manufacturing and Innovation & Emerging Technologies.” (See boxouts, below.)


So, do you think you have what it takes to be an IET Policy Panel member?
Panel members are people working at a senior level, knowledgeable in their field, and with a high-level understanding of their topic area.
Policy Panel members act as IET spokespeople, contributing their own professional view on a topic or issue, and representing the IET’s policy positions to policy makers and the media. As a whole, the Panel needs to be aware of current and possible future policy issues and have a full understanding of the policymaking process.
To this end, panel members aim to be flexible and quick to respond to the fastchanging nature of the political and media environment, and have access to all the relevant engineering knowledge; all this, and they need to be constantly mindful of the context of the IET’s vision and mission!
As Prof Watson concludes: “It is possible for any IET member to contribute to work on policy. Those interested should consult the Policy Panel pages of the IET website and make contact with the relevant chairs or IET staff member. Alternatively, register for Policy Keys, which can give access to themes the IET is currently working on.”


The manufacturing year in 2012 was dominated by talk of the need for an industrial strategy. The IET produced a report outlining the four key pillars which form a successful industrial strategy: ‘Engineering an industrial strategy’.
The debate started in March when the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), Vince Cable, found a copy of his letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister leaked to the Press. This letter suggested there was something missing, ‘a compelling vision of where the country is heading beyond sorting out the fiscal mess’. A view supported by the IET.
Between Budget 2012 and the party conference season, several organisations published their version of how an industrial strategy should look. The IET sets out four key pillars:

• A comprehensive and defined strategic vision of the challenges the government is seeking to resolve, along with a set of strategic objectives or themes which will help to develop solutions. A strategy should be developed before industrial policy decisions are taken.
• This strategic vision should be backed up by sound and accessible analysis, so that all actors can take decisions based on the facts.
• A long-term approach should be taken, with milestones to serve as review points. At these points industry and government can assess next steps.
• The strategy should be embedded across all of government with clear accountability for review and delivery provided.

The IET report was launched in Parliament at an IET Breakfast Roundtable. The roundtable discussed the challenges of creating an industrial strategy and allowed MPs to come to an understanding of the challenge. In a House of Commons debate the next day, themes from the IET report were mentioned by several MPs who attended the roundtable. Copies of the report were then circulated more widely to MPs and Peers interested in the subject with positive responses received, presenting opportunities for the IET to continue engaging on this subject.


Vince Cable, the Cabinet Minister responsible for the UK Catapult programme, provided a keynote address for an international event held at the IET on 22 October 2012 – ‘What does success look like for innovation and technology centres?’
Dr Cable argued that the UK could transform its capacity for innovation by following the example of countries such as Germany, the US, Taiwan and South Korea, which all have a network of these centres. “Much of the inspiration behind what we’re doing has come from looking at international best practice,” Dr Cable said. “We are an open country – open to foreign investment, open to foreign ideas, and I think that is one of the great strengths of this country.”
The event was jointly organised and sponsored by the IET’s Innovation & Emerging Technologies Policy Panel, the Technology Strategy Board, which has been tasked by the UK government with establishing the network, and BIG (Big Innovation Centre).

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