Engineers usually manage public infrastructure development projects like construction of roads, bridges, dams and weirs. All these projects need community involvement at least during planning, construction, and maintenance stages of the project (Akbar & Rasul, 2011). A career path of engineering graduates will see them working operating as project managers in the mentioned stages. Therefore, an Engineer is a development professional who must understand the community's role in the project development as well as the principles and the procedures of community involvement (Atman, et al., 2010). Engineers must acquire adequate skills to prepare them for community engagement. Engineering education equips engineering students with knowledge and skills to work as project managers in diversified fields (Butin, 2010).
The skills acquired to enable the graduates to work on engineering projects such as mine development, airport and tunnel construction, gas pipeline installation, development of power station, railway installation, and construction of roads, dams, bridges and weirs. All engineering projects of this nature must pass through a voluntary or a compulsory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before implementing them (Cascetta & Pagliara, 2013). The role of an EIA is to examine the scope of a project and its impact before its execution. It is worth noting that most public projects seek to benefit the community; therefore, engaging the community is essential as it promotes understanding between the stakeholders.
Community involvement entails interacting with a group of people and facilitating responses to empower the interest of the community members. The benefit of community engagement is that it creates a conducive working environment during project execution (Case & Light, 2011). Its goal is to enable project executors to make appropriate decisions that reflect a representative view concerning public and social benefits. The primary message of community involvement is generating communication between the stakeholders (Ebner, et al., 2009). These communications cut across various approaches including consultation and contribution in decision-making processes. In other words, community involvement in the project ensures that the needs of the stakeholders are considered and protected. Some project managers have reported that community engagement improves the outcome of the final project.
Functions of community in Project Development
As stated, the community plays significant roles in the project development. Some of the tasks identified by Ebner, Leimeister, & Krcmar (2009) include the following: Building capacity and awareness; Understanding ethics and concerns; building long-term relationships; gaining local knowledge; Seeking solutions and alternatives; and Informing about project development.
Principles of Community Engagement
The first principle of community engagement is goal setting. Before starting a community engagement plan, one must clearly state the engagement goals and the communities or the population he or she wants to engage (Epstein, et al., 2011). They must also tell the community why its participation is vital.
The second principle is knowledge. Individuals wishing to involve the community in the development projects must fully understand this community starting from its culture, social networks, norms and values, economic conditions, history, political structure, demographic trends and demographic trends (Falchikov, 2013).
The third principle is trust. An individual can build confidence by first establishing a strong relationship with the members of the community (Falchikov, 2013). Also, it is imperative to work with the community leaders who can efficiently mobilise the community to cooperate.
Another principle is self-determination. This principle requires the person to acknowledge that every person in the community has the responsibility and right of collective-self-determination. It can influence the community members to collaborate at will (Green & Alejandro, 2009).
Community Engagement Plan
The principles above guide the engineer in preparing a community Engagement Plan (CEP). A community development plan defines the engagement activities. According to the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), engineers need to follow six significant steps while creating a CEP (Grusec & Hastings, 2014). The first step is the identification of the community affected by the project. The second step is the identification of the expectations and the attitudes of the society. This step helps the project executors and the community to understand each other. The third step is the evaluation of impact level C(Jesiek, et al., 2009). Evaluating the impact of the project activities on the community helps in building strategy on how to involve the community. The fourth step is deciding on the community to be engaged. The fifth step is determining the engagement level. The last step is implementing engagement techniques.
Community Engagement in Project Planning and Decision-making
Civil engineers need to make appropriate planning and decisions when assigned a particular task in the community. Engineers in charge of infrastructure development in the community must be organised to meet the interest of the community (Johri & Olds, 2011). For same assignment of tasks, they should be grouped into four significant typologies based on space and temporal criteria. According to Lee Downey (2008), strategic planning involves long-term decisions, acquisition of vehicles and technologies as well as identification of new infrastructure.
Feasibility research on transport project is based on programming by plans depending on the execution of a reference scheme recognising the related relationships and the subsequent assessment of the projects based on the individual network to evaluate their economic convenience, feasibility, realisation mode, and priority level (Lucena, et al., 2010). They entail decisions on short-term or long-term and also address the issue of infrastructure. The short or medium-term tactical planning depends on the project decisions that need limited resources with the assumption that there are no changes in the infrastructure.
Lastly, short-term operations management program often describe certain features of an individual. These features may include mode operation and optimal use of the available resources from the viewpoint of a company (Mason O'Connor, et al., 2011). Some of the examples of these programs include the design of transit timetables, and mode operations, and organisation of the necessary factors that aid in the production of transport services.
Engineers must focus on the issue of infrastructure particularly transport system and make adequate decisions since decision-making in this sector plays a central role in the future of society. O'Meara (2008) asserts that good decision making does not pass through a simple process. He analysed that the decision-making process depends on a particular situation. Well experienced supervisors, teams and managers know when, where and house to make decisions depending on the set principles.
Graduate Education and Community Engagement
Graduate education needs to be envisioned in community engagement for several reasons. The first reason is to succeed the individuals who have retired or are about to retire in their career (Mason O'Connor, et al., 2011). Therefore, graduate education prepares young talented youths in the career field to accomplish what their predecessors had started. This is to ensure that the fresh graduates occupy the space left by the retired professionals continue with the task. The second reason is to safeguard career of the graduates by providing that they actively participate in the community projects.
Participation in community projects enables the graduates to strengthen their knowledge and skills and to acquire additional expertise through teamwork. By doing so, graduate education becomes more relevant to the future career of the individuals. The third reason is that envisioning graduate education in community engagement enables graduate students to be prepared for tasks that link their intellectual desires with societal needs (Watson, 2007). The third reason is that community engagement provides the graduate student with experience in the career field. According to Strayhorn (2012), assigning students some work related to their area of study boosts their perfection and confidence. Therefore, one can safely state that linking graduate education with community involvement is a convenient approach for both the graduate and undergraduate students.
Graduate Education and Socialization Theory
Socialisation theory states that graduate education influences the student's understanding of work. In other words, this theory helps the students to determine the most essential and desirable task that needs immediate attention and how an individual can approach it in a professional manner (Strayhorn, 2012). Since graduate education often takes place within the departments, adequate socialisation for community engagement should be implanted within the programs of study. Socialisation theory further posits that gradient student undergoes three stages of development namely: - The formal stage, the informal stage and the anticipatory stage (Ebner, et al., 2009). These stages are accompanied by three fundamental components of socialisation: - investment, knowledge acquisition and involvement with measure the level of commitment to a professional role (O'Meara, 2008). According to Cascetta & Pagliara (2013), the elements of socialisation give postgraduate students the opportunity to be mentored to strengthen their skills, knowledge and professional values.
Challenges and Benefits of Community Engagement in Engineering Project Management
A significant problem is that the community may be a threat to the project initiators particularly the members of the population appears to be untrustworthy. This may discourage the perpetrators from sharing a lot of ideas with the community (Mason O'Connor, et al., 2011). Public participation also raises issues such as the difference between formal leaders and informal leaders. Risks such as overcommitting limited resources may also occur when community engagement is embraced.
One significant benefit of community engagement in engineering project management is that it promotes an understanding of dealing with host communities and primary stakeholders especially those who appear to be a threat to the project (Falchikov, 2013). Having a person who represents a perceived threat to the project raise dilemma for a project manager and failure to address it may be costly since it may lead to public controversy, and delayed or abandoned projects. Failure to involve communities in engineering project development can have long-lasting adverse effects on the economic, environmental, and social outcomes of the community.
Community Engagement Contents in Engineering Curriculum
Studies conducted by Butin (2010) indicated that engineering students exp...
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