On a recent episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS (appearing in the US on CNN), Dr Susan Rice the former National Security Advisor for the Obama Administration made a profound comment about the topic of ‘process’. When asked about the current US administration she lamented ‘there’s no process to current national security decision making’. While one could obviously agree or disagree with her based on partisan lines, her commentary got me thinking that process is certainly one thing engineers (and engineering) are pretty good at being governed by; developing it, laying it out, improving it and so on.
At the root of engineering is a consensus to base decision making on sound data and previously laid out processes. Doing this ensures that there’s no point of view or slant on the information at hand; it is what it is and actions are taken accordingly. It highlights how the sometimes messy business of politics could seemingly benefit (at times) from a more objective and analytical approach.
So an obvious question to pose is ‘why care about the process?’ My response to this is that our lives in the modern world are governed by it and it provides a means by which things are made understandable (and in most cases equitable) to the general populace. Take a simple example that most will be familiar with; traffic lights. The world over, the process that governs traffic lights is that Red means stop and Green means go. Imagine what would happen if there was no process; nature abhors a vacuum as the saying goes and hence people would essentially have to make up their own mind as they pleased. Not only would this result in accidents, but there would continue to be so because every time more than 2 cars appeared at the lights, there would be potential for catastrophe. And so too with our governance; a lack of process enables an ongoing potential for repeat disasters.
I addressed the topic of scientific literacy of those serving in the federal government in my book ‘The View From Here’. An interesting point of note is at the time I wrote the book, most members of the Chinese leadership had engineering degrees and India’s leader was an engineer but in the US, very few (if any) of the leadership possess any scientific background.
Recognizing this challenge, the IEEE Congressional Fellows program was developed for two reasons; to educate politicians about engineering and science and providing guidance from that standpoint and bring a greater level of awareness of the political process and how decisions are made to engineers. I was a previous applicant to the program and thought that the opportunity to provide engineering and scientific guidance to our nation’s leaders was a great way to further promote engineering while at the same time gain greater insight as to how the levers of government move. Outside the US, there are other bodies connected to the United Nations that help advise governments on various issues, one in particular I’m familiar with being the Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) which as the name suggests, provides recommendations on the best ways to continue peaceful and harmonious utilization of space for the betterment of mankind.
In the past, I penned two articles that touched on the issue of the cross-connects and utility of engineering in other domains – ‘Engineering and the Law’ and ‘The Political Engineer’. Some engineers have made a great living by translating technical/scientific aspects into plain speak for politicians (one example being the power industry). So the next time you hear someone comment that politicians ‘don’t know what they are doing’ you should comment back that they may well be right and that you as an engineer may be in a position to help them.
Article Contributed by Reece Lumsden
(Reece Lumsden over 20 years of experience in the Aerospace and Defense industries. His latest book ‘The View From Here’ is an action-oriented guide for recent graduates and graduates to be in navigating the engineering career landscape. Kindle, softcover and audiobook versions can be found on Amazon.com at http://amzn.com/B07CKXS55C )