Former Deputy Mayor reveals top ten tips for engineers looking to get involved in politics

Speaking at an Inspiring Engineers event, Isabel Dedring said that engineers need to stop treating politics as a problem and must start getting involved.

Isabel Dedring, Arup’s Global Transport Leader and former Deputy Mayor.
Isabel Dedring, Arup’s Global Transport Leader and former Deputy Mayor.

As former Deputy Mayor of transport in London, Isabel Dedring was at the heart of a number of big infrastructure decisions facing the Capital.

Now, in an Inspiring Engineers talk, she's revealed her top ten tips for civil engineers looking to get involved in politics and has called on members of the industry to get 'stuck in' to the political process.

She claimed that for engineers used to logical and evidence based working methods, politics can be seen as irrational or frustrating. Often, this means engineers shy away from political engagement.

Instead, engineers should be taking a bigger role, using their expertise and logical thinking to add something new to policy making.

Isabel's ten tips for civil engineers are:

  1. Start with outcomes: Focus on the benefits of the project, such as jobs, housing or skills as these are the things that people and politicians want.
  2. Make infrastructure affordable: Be aware that funding may be limited so reducing costs may be the difference between a project that gets the go-ahead and one that doesn't.
  3. Small is beautiful: Small infrastructure projects can be more effective than 'grand projets'. Small interventions can also help trial ideas and build support amongst the public.
  4. Complexity is a fact of life: Politics is a complicated process, with several layers of government and several layers of policy making within those layers. Get to grips with it and don't be put off.
  5. It's not true that 'politicians just want to cut ribbons': With infrastructure projects, it is very often the case that a successor politician will benefit more than the politician that signed it off. For example, the planning process for Crossrail began under Mayor Ken Livingstone and there have been two mayors since then.
  6. Surf the wave: Political decisions can be unpredictable and infrastructure ideas might be popular one week, but not the next. Learn to make the most of a good public mood, but also to keep ideas alive when they might be out of favour.
  7. We need dealmakers and integrators: Infrastructure investment is costly and will continue to require private investment. More people with the skills to connect governments and politicians to private organisations will help increase infrastructure delivery.
  8. Political 'enemies' can be your best friend: Working with campaigners can help to get things moving. Public pressure gives politicians the impetus to act and change.
  9. A new approach to working with the public is needed: Public support can make or break a project so engineers need to be better at communicating. Giving information in a jargon-free, uncomplicated way and genuinely taking public concerns into consideration are vital to a project's success.
  10. Take delight in what you do: Infrastructure is incredible and we should treat it that way. Showing the public why a project is so fascinating will gain their support. For example, millions of Londoners were engaged in Crossrail when they voted to name the tunnel boring machines.

Inspiring Engineers

Come along to one of the Inspiring Engineers' sessions, where senior industry leaders speak about how they made it in their career. Given in an informal setting, the events will encourage attendees to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask and share their own experiences of the industry.

On 2 June 2017, former ICE President and National Infrastructure Commission Deputy Chair Sir John Armitt will speak on 'how to become a President of the ICE'

Book your place here

And on 7 July Senior Engineer Colin Glen will speak on 'How to engineer one of London's most iconic sites'.

Book your place here

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