Who ya gonna call?

Earlier in October, I listened with interest a story about the financial troubles plaguing a Toronto condominium corporation. Some of you know of my research in knowledge transmission and its importance in cultivating public awareness; I want to use this story as a springboard to talk about engineers’ legal obligation and social responsibility vis-à-vis condominium boards. They are a huge source of revenue for any engineering firm but through educational elitism, poor communication skills, general indifference and aversion to legal repercussions of saying or doing too much, condo boards regard the engineering industry with equal helpings of mistrust and fearfulness.

It is true that there are Board of Directors (“BoD”) with hidden agendas and as a group, or as individuals, may have motives beyond an engineer’s responsibility, e.g., interior amenities  renovation vs. exterior building restoration, ground keeping vs. building envelope upkeep vs. politics. However in many cases, my believe is that more can be done to educate and dissuade misconceptions. This type of service should be provided as part of the scope for engineering professionals when interacting with the general public, which many of the BoD members generally are. Here the differences between an engineer who deals only in facts & concrete conclusions and one who makes assumptions and trusts their intuition are chasmic.

I would argue that engineers are reluctant to provide opinions because they don’t understand the reason behind the line of questioning. I can tell you, as a member of a BoD, that the only one constant reason for the line of questioning is cost – now and down the road. Period. For an engineer, to overthink it is to let your own insecurities rule what you already know, stuff breaks and fixing them now costs less than the alternative. Your job is to sell the probability that the exterior building elements will break with more frequency than the interior building elements will need replacement; as engineers we know this to be true, we just have to translate this into a language that laypeople understands.

We can achieve that by being effective communicators. By writing articles, making presentations and various public knowledge disseminations, we can build client relationships and lay the groundwork for those educational discussions. Elder statesmen may not be well suited for these roles as it involves late nights and a lot of grinding but they have an abundance of information and a sense of dos and don’ts to keep the junior team members on track. My personal experience has been that board members are often ill-equipped to handle the challenges managing a building involve. Our assistance and the questions that we answer makes them into smarter board members and their likelihood to engage our industry grow accordingly.

As always, I would love to hear any of your comments on this and previous articles.

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About eatonkwan

Engineer by profession, interests lie in environmental development, LEED and sustainable development.
This entry was posted in Building Code/LEED, Positivity, Sustainable Neighbourhoods, Technologies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who ya gonna call?

  1. Jean says:

    Do you have a non-work related blog? Just wondering…

    I am not on a condo board and never have been but do live in a condo.

    My partner by training was a civil engineer but gave up his iron ring when he move into business analyst and later manager roles. He feels very strongly those who don’t practice real engineering should give up their ring but sees such senior executive folks wear it. (But probably couldn’t remember their calculations, materials science principles, etc.).

    Engineers are to me an interesting breed because for several years I was librarian in engineering organizations for over 14 yrs. of my career. Then intermixed were stints in law libraries.

    I have my degree in English Literature and MA in library science. Believe me, the world needs all of us diverse thinking folks. Engineers particularily in the world of cycling infrastructure have become smarter and think seriously about the human factors instead of precise lane measurement widths.

    Engineers have to cultivate broader human and societal vision where/how different groups of people interact with one another in public and private spaces. I have seen acutely profound need by engineers to be precise, correct (for liability reasons) and analytical. However people respond emotionally …even to infrastructure. They find danger and comfort zones..instinctively. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    • eatonkwan says:

      I do not have a non-work related blog, I just feel that much of the published material has relevance to society as a whole. Even as a non-work related interest, I would find this interesting.

      Giving up the Ring is not required when someone moves into business analyst, it’s recommended they give up their P.Eng. designation and stamp but the Ring is something else entirely and has nothing to do with their professional obligations.

      I agree with you on using Maslow’s pyramid as a foundation to design infrastructure where costs take a backseat to design. Many municipal projects do follow this type of ideology and I believe as more engineers with better study in anthropology take design into their hands this will continue to happen.

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