Goodwill to some, not all18 December 2018
In what is possibly a nod to the season of good cheer, Ipsos Mori has published its annual veracity index. This poll by the market research company has the accolade of being the longest-running poll on trust in professions, having been taken consistently since 1983. The poll is simple; it asks respondents to say whether they trust different types of people to generally tell the truth.
Engineers rank among the top five professions (alongside nurses, doctors, teachers and professors) with 87% judging them as truthful.
It is important for the industry to reach out to the wider public and make its case, but opinion polls are often unreliable, and it is possible to go down a very deep rabbit hole trying to fathom the intent of the body politic. And this does not equate to public support for engineering itself.
Whenever public opinion on a construction project is discussed, I can’t help but think of the Swiss referendum in the 1980s, which saw voters indicate that they were in favour of a new crossing of Lake Geneva. This was followed up in the 1990s by a ballot that saw voters reject both a tunnel and a bridge option. A triumph of direct democracy.
Public opinion is flighty and often poorly-informed, so making the case for investment in infrastructure is all the more important. The underground environment requires this more than perhaps any other.
I have written before that tunnelling unnerves a lot of people. Whether it’s something about the thought of a large hole being dug beneath the foundations of their property, the disruption of a few years of construction work, or the general idea of infrastructure being driven through, and wrecking, a pleasant environment, it worries people.
But people still need to be informed, and this should be done by people with actual knowledge of the processes and risks involved. Industry professionals should capitalise on their favourable standing in society. If not, it will be down to politicians to make the case for infrastructure investment, and with politicians sitting far down the trust tables at 19%, can engineers really afford to leave it to them? Here in the UK, we have begun celebrating a National Tunnelling Day (this year on 6 December). This is a now-annual social media event which aims to generate interest in the great number of world class tunnelling projects currently being undertaken and to promote the industry to a wide audience.
Finally, in the interest of fairness, I should note the position of journalists in the veracity index. The profession is at a very respectable 26%. See you in the New Year!