Top 4 Humanitarian Engineering Conference take outs

Each year some of our greatest young engineers gather at the Humanitarian Engineering Conference to focus on people-centred and sustainable engineering projects that engage local communities.

Our people who attended this year’s conference were blown away by the content, this is what they took away:

1. Community engagement is out, embracement is in

Community engagement vs. community embracement was a major theme at this year’s conference.

Conventionally, community engagement is used as successful communication and metric method to measure brand reputation, project priorities and stakeholder responsiveness.

During community engagement project teams will communicate with influential stakeholders; presenting access to project information and opportunity to voice ideas, recommendations and concerns during major stages of a project’s developments.

Historically, this has been an effective and critical element in the wider project lifecycle. However, the model is ageing. Now, we are realising that the adaption of ‘change’ requires ‘embracement’ – and what’s a better way of achieving this than involving communities further into the development of a project via active participation?

“Instead of doing for the community, we should do with the community. That way, people not only own the final product but also gain skills and feel valuable.” - Tram Dinh, Graduate Structural Engineer (Hamilton)

“An awesome quote that struck home was ‘I hear, and I forget, I see, and I remember, I do, and I understand’.” - Brittany Hill, Graduate Water and Wastewater Engineer Water (Hamilton)

There were many great presentations that demonstrate the success of community embracement. In particular, the Living Building Challenge Tūhoe buildings.

The challenge called on engineers and community members for the creation of several small building projects. The challenge? Each project must operate to seven performance areas water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.

Living Future

Click to learn more. 

2. Word of the day: Hope

The word ‘Hope’ was used a lot. But it wasn’t just a buzzword - actions were being discussed, initiated and planned to ensure that hope is high in the industry.

“After an event like this one can’t help but feel inspired, our hearts lifted, our hopes for the future high. Projects like the Living Building in Taneatua, the implementation of new technology to capture and treat stormwater in Kiribati or empowering communities through engineering and social enterprises re-energised why I wanted to be an engineer in the first place.”  Jorge Munoz, SantamariaThree Waters Hydraulic Engineer (Christchurch)

“The work that Engineers do is (generally) inherently good. We should make sure we step back and look at the positive impact our projects have in communities and the environment.  - Shanyn Curry, Graduate Engineer Environmental (Auckland)

3. Sustainability is the minimum that we should be achieving

Today’s state of design is neither making the existing environment worse or better.

Human development has already had a significant negative impact on the environments we depend on. Although sustainable projects are a great start, we need to transition more to regenerative projects which improve on the existing situation.

In order to reduce our impact (or reverse it) we need to think beyond making our existing processes more efficient, but completely change our paradigms and the systems we use (ie. create a new way of doing the same thing which has a positive impact); we are already seeing this in the utilisation of technology to improve the resilience of our vulnerable communities.

Jerome Partington (Jasmax) and Samantha McGavock (Done Ltd) pointed out when presenting on the new Tūhoe headquarters success in the Living Building Challenge, that we should be aiming for regenerative designs, that improve our environment for the generations that will follow us.

4. Dated opinions around western ideas… 

Engineering can be biased towards western ideas, and the industry needs to be aware of this. Frances Teinakore-Curtis (Tapuaekura Rakeiao Marae) demonstrated this when presenting on the engagement with Māori and local iwi to ensure culturally appropriate practices are put in place in the wastewater treatment system of Rotoiti and Rotomā, as the movement of untreated waste goes against cultural views of local iwi on the management of human waste.