In April, the IMechE will publish a report on the challenges of collaborating across international boundaries.

It was conceived in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the extra obstacle of Covid-19 was added to the mix during production of the report. The launch was postponed owing to the pandemic but will go ahead as a physical event in Berlin, as initially planned.

Engineering collaboration takes many forms, but perhaps the most well-known are the ambitious projects that bring together scientists and engineers from across the world. Multi-billion-pound endeavours such as the Large Hadron Collider or the James Webb Space Telescope are beyond the capability of a single nation. Such projects often require participants to make long-haul flights for meetings. The pandemic has made such collaboration more complicated, but commitments to reducing emissions may constrain such travel anyway. How we work together will need to change.

Collaborating on policy research is not quite as complicated as building a particle accelerator, but it is not without its challenges. In the UK there are 39 professional engineering institutions licensed by the Engineering Council, and there is often a desire to “speak with one voice” to government. We are trying to do this more often and have had some success.

This year marks the third anniversary of the creation of the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC). An initiative led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, it draws upon the expertise of the whole engineering community to conduct policy research and publish reports on subjects of importance to wider society.

Topics covered so far have included late-stage R&D and a systems approach to climate change. Over the past two years much of the work has moved towards Covid-19. In early 2021, the UK’s chief scientific adviser tasked the NEPC with identifying interventions that would most effectively reduce virus transmission in buildings and transport systems. The first output of this research, Infection Resilient Environments, was published last July.

This is a core area of policy work for the IMechE and has been led by our Pandemic Infection Control Solutions group. We will continue to collaborate with our sister institutions through the NEPC, as well as engineering experts around the world, to inform key decision-makers.

An important part of the IMechE’s strategy over the coming years will be to increase the impact of our institution and our members to have a positive influence on the world. This will include building on the success of our COP26 activities to develop a programme of research on energy, climate change and sustainability.

In January 2020, I attended the annual lecture of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. Just before the pandemic, the keynote speaker was the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who was asked how our community can influence government. He answered: “Be there for them in a crisis.” As we hurtle towards a climate crisis, engineers should be ready to say to policymakers: “How can we help?”

Extract from IMechE - read more here

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