Making the Case for Engineering Study and Recommendations

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VI. Conclusions

The conclusions that can be drawn from these data indicate that: 1) the public support of engineering innovation is critical to advancing the U.S. engineering enterprise; 2) the public understanding of engineering is insufficient to support this outcome as fully as it could and should; 4) NSF/ENG can be of service to the engineering community by helping to research the messages that will best “make the case” and in helping to bring together the engineering community for broad-based efforts to improve the public understanding and awareness of the impact of engineering innovation.

VII. Recommendations and Action Plan
Making the case to the general public is long-term and complex challenge. It will require support from other organizations and collaboration with other directorates. ENG, however, has to understand its niche in this endeavor and pursue those activities where its added value will have the greatest impact.
This report addresses two objectives:

  • Developing Internal strategies to make the case – both within NSF and in the engineering community.

  • Developing External strategies that primarily address making the case through activities outside of the NSF that ENG can catalyze and help support.

Internally, ENG must communicate more effectively within NSF and make palpable cultural changes to foster and encourage the public understanding of engineering. There are four strategies -- with supporting tactics -- that are recommended.
Strategy 1: Develop Mechanism to Support Public Understanding of Engineering: The task force recommends that ENG support proposals that specifically address the public understanding of engineering. The task force does not advocate a particular mechanism to do this, but rather presents a spectrum of options for consideration. The political and budgetary climate of ENG and NSF would need to be weight against these options to determine the optimal approach. Timing: Medium- to long-term (2005-2006); Budget: To be determined, depending on level of commitment.

  1. Option 1: Informal Science Education Collaboration: ENG should co-fund proposals with the office of Informal Science Education (ISE). Each year, ISE funds numerous public outreach activities that have a strong engineering content. Many others are unfunded or under-funded due to limited resources. ENG can identify those worthy programs with strong engineering content that would benefit from co-funding. This collaboration could then be used as a steppingstone to add “engineering” to the title of the office.

  2. Option 2: Formal ENG Solicitation: ENG could announce a cross-directorate solicitation for public understanding proposals.

  3. Option 3: Formal Entity: Create either a Program or Office of Public Understanding of Engineering within ENG to both help coordinate the outreach components of all ENG-funded proposals, and to fund specific proposals that related to the public understanding of engineering.

Strategy 2: Set and Enforce the Lexicon: ENG should work to infuse key terms such as "engineering" and "innovation" more prominently into the vocabulary and culture of the NSF.

  1. Internal Education: Frequently terms such as “technology” and “applied science” replace the term “engineering” in both external and internal publications of the NSF. NSF publications, including press releases and publications such as the Facilities Plan and Annual Reports should be reviewed to ensure that “engineering” is used where “engineering” is meant. Regular attention to this fact will help the internal comprehension of ENG’s contributions and will ensure that the public more broadly recognizes the impact of engineering innovation. Timing: Immediate; Budget: Covered under existing operations.

  1. SRS Surveys: In their influential surveys and publication of Science and Engineering Indicators, SRS does not normally differential between science and engineering, and substitutes the term “technology” for “engineering.” ENG should work with SRS to include survey questions that provide quantitative and qualitative data on engineering. Timing: Immediate; Budget: Covered under existing operations.

  1. Distinguished Lecture Series: ENG should reinvigorate the ENG Distinguished Lecture Series to communicate within NSF the contributions of engineers and the latest research from the engineering profession. This will also foster the cross-fertilization of ideas. Timing: Short-term (2005); Budget: Covered under existing operations.

Strategy 3: Continue and Build on Strong Linkages with the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA): ENG has established directorate and division-wide media liaisons who provide timely information for press releases and web publication. The first step in this was to appoint a primary and deputy liaison for each division with active participation by all program directors. Next, OLPA provided media training to ensure that each person is comfortable performing these tasks. As a final step, currently in development, the liaisons will work with their grantees to ensure they are aware of our needs for information about ENG-sponsored research. This will allow for a two-way flow of information between OLPA and ENG. Additionally, ENG should support other OLPA activities, such as staffing booths at AAAS meetings and working on event-specific outreach activities as they materialize. Timing: Ongoing; Budget: Covered under existing operations.

Strategy 4: Change Proposal Criteria: ENG should make outreach (public and K-12) a stronger element of the "Broader Impacts" of larger proposals ($1 million or more), and use that as a criterion for funding. ENG also should insist that PIs inform ENG of technical presentations of their sponsored research. This would multiply the effectiveness of our funding, ensuring that those who received government funding better communicate the value of that work to the public who ultimately support them. Note, these criteria are similar in scope to those already imposed by NASA. Timing: Short-term (2005); Budget: Covered under existing operations.
Externally, ENG should build an engineering community-wide effort to ‘make the case’ under a unified message. This requires researching messages and then catalyzing community-wide outreach efforts.
Strategy 1: Define the Message: ENG should fund the basic research to understand which messages and outreach activities will most effectively "make the case" to the public. As stated in a draft White Paper by the National Academy of Engineering "the words engineers use to describe what they do are not easily understood by most members of the public. In addition, the contribution of engineering to the betterment of society is not self-evident to many people. Despite these challenges, … effective messages for PUE [public understanding of engineering should] be developed and the engineering community [should] be encouraged to adopt them." Additionally, the messages used to encourage women and minority high school students to consider engineering as a career are not going to be the same as those used to convince the public and decision makers that engineering innovation is vital to the continued leadership of the United States. Beyond this, the specific programs (commercial or public television programs, museum exhibits, hands-on school demonstrations, revised text books, etc.) have different impact and are more effective on different audiences. Understanding the interrelationships among message, audience, and program will vastly improve the effectiveness of any effort to make the case for engineering.
This research would be done by professional public opinion polling institutions. A first step in the research – currently underway by the NAE – is to convene a meeting of professional marketing experts to evaluate the current suite of messages that are being used in engineering and propose more focused and compelling messages. This preliminary study would be the foundation of the more comprehensive research. Timing: Short-term (2005); Budget: $350,000
Strategy 2: Build the Community: ENG should help unify the engineering community, help it speak with one voice, and adopted the messages that research shows will truly improve public understanding.
a. Conferences and Workshops: Just as ENG-sponsored workshops help to build community around certain topics, such as bioinformatics, and ADVANCE (Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers), ENG should sponsor workshops and conferences that endeavor to build unity in the engineering community for making the case. NSF-sponsored conferences such as “Communicating Astronomy to the Public” helped to galvanize specific and impactful programs around which community-wide support could be mustered. Timing: Short-to-mid term (late 2005, early 2006); Budget: $40,000
b. Spreading the Word: The results from the Message and Program Survey will be of little or no value if the engineering community does not have access to these data and does not understand their importance. ENG should help enable the dissemination of the results of this research, with the ultimate goal of building a unified voice for engineering. This could be done at a specific conference or workshop. Timing: Short-to-mid term (late 2005, early 2006); Budget: $25,000
Strategy 3: Unified Actions: After the messages are researched, and the community of engineers are more closely united in outreach, ENG also should stimulate and help lead engineering-community wide outreach activities. No one institution can sustain the broad-based efforts needed to communicate the impact of engineering to the public. ENG can fill an important role by helping to unite the engineering community in making the case, and by undertaking specific projects that highlight ENG's and engineering's contributions to the national economy, security, health, and standard of living. Additionally, the engineering community can work to identify and cultivate a nationally recognized, young, and telegenic spokesperson for engineering. Timing: Mid-to-long term: Budget: Dependent on program and co-funding. (This may be best achieved through long-term support of a consortium or similar organization.) Potential activities of such as group may include:

  1. Formal Education Collaboration: Work with the engineering community and educators to integrate engineering and technology into the pre-college curriculum and textbooks. Specifically, encourage textbook publishers and editors to correctly identify engineering and its impact where it has a major bearing on existing studies (history, science, social studies, etc.)

  2. Grand Challenges for the Public: Build on successful models (such as Great Achievements and the Lemelson/MIT Innovations) to undertake a community-wide effort to identify and communicate the grand challenges of engineering that would resonate most with the public (this is meant as an outreach effort, not to replace any priority-setting activities of ENG). ENG could partner with other institutions, such as the NAE, and media outlets such as Discover Magazine.

  3. Engineering Series: Develop a major PBS or commercial television program on engineering and innovation that would communicate the core messages developed from the messaging research or through the proposed Grand Challenges activity. This program could also be a mechanism to spotlight and publicize a national “voice” for engineering.

Strategy 4: Greater Society Support: ENG should work with the engineering societies to advance engineering with a collective voice. ENG should become a more active participant in Engineers Week, supporting specific programs in addition to merely sponsoring the activity. Also, ENG could become one of the rotating lead organizations or sponsors for Engineers Week. (This is a one-year commitment.) Timing: Current and Long-term (ENG currently is a contributor to E-Week); Budget: $50,000 annually plus $15,000 annual membership dues to Engineers Week, lead society sponsorship would be higher.

Strategy 5: Champion a Common Cause: Work with the NAE and the Council and Competitiveness, and through engineering societies, colleges of engineering, and industry leaders to communicate messages on a local level, and promote the recommendations found in the 3 key reports (Engineer of 2020, Innovate America, and Assessing the Capacity). Timing: Current and ongoing; Budget: Included under current operations.
Strategy 6: Help to Catalyze Nobel Prize: ENG should catalyze an effort to explore the addition of “engineering” as the category of the Nobel Prize. The Bank of Sweden (Sveriges Riksbanks) Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was instituted in 1968, at the tercentenary of the bank. The awarding ceremony takes place on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. The laureates in economics are announced and published on the Academy’s and the Nobel Foundation web sites every year in mid-October immediately after they have been chosen. It has since been judged and administered by the Nobel Foundation. It was suggested the NSF together with the NAE and the engineering society, along with support from industries could explore with the Nobel Foundation the possibility of the Engineering Nobel Prize. Timing: Short- through long-term; Budget: Included under current operations.

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