International NGO Engineers Without Borders has called for more self-reflection on the ethical, social and environmental role that engineering plays.
In an open letter, the organisation praised recent updates made to the International Engineering Alliance’s Benchmark for Graduate Attributes and Professional Competencies. Those changes include awareness of diversity and inclusion as well as an acknowledgement of UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, Engineers Without Borders believes a more fundamental shift in the engineering mindset is required, one which looks more deeply at the role engineering plays in creating – as well as solving – problems.
“In the revision, engineering continues to be promoted as a process uninfluenced by societal values that leads to one correct solution,” the letter states, “when in fact it is a complex process embedded in society that necessarily involves navigating ethical issues and value tensions, making judgements with uncertain and ambiguous information, and adapting to context.
“In other words, the revision does not adequately guard against – and at points even perpetuates – a narrow view of engineering, one that doesn’t fully acknowledge that engineering itself has a serious impact on and consequences for people and the planet…While it has resulted in incredible advances to our comfort, health, and safety, it has also played a fundamental role in getting us to the unjust and unsustainable practices that dominate the world today.”
In light of this, Engineers Without Borders organisations from around the world are calling for three core competencies to be universally incorporated into the benchmark values. These are:
- Emphasis on critical thinking as a fundamental cornerstone of engineering competence – critically analysing and critiquing the role of engineering, its relationship with humanity, and its impact on our past and potential futures.
- Deeper comprehension of the ethical issues inherent in engineering due to the relationship between engineering, people and the planet, and greater focus on developing the skills necessary to navigate these complex issues.
- Broader appreciation for the knowledge needed to make effective engineering judgements, including explicitly acknowledging the value of the social sciences in helping engineers understand the implications of their work.
Engineers Without Borders said it is actively promoting these core competencies by helping students and professionals develop the skills to reflect on and think critically about engineering, and by building connections with social scientists, indigenous leaders, and other groups with valuable insights on the relationship between engineering and society.