Starting a new conversation about place

Nick Roberts, President of SNC-Lavalin’s Engineering, Design and Project Management sector, on how the Vibrant Economy Index is changing the conversation about place.

SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is a global organisation, but it’s deeply important to us that we take an extremely local perspective. That’s because our work is all about improving the environments where people live and work every day.

As engineers, scientists and planners, whether we’re designing railways, roads, water networks, cities or buildings, our work is fundamentally about understanding people and how they interact with the places they live and work in. We want to make these places more economically sustainable and successful. Creating opportunities for people to do things more efficiently and effectively is key to developing vibrant, local economies. The index provides us with a framework to think about how we can help improve the places we touch as a business.

Speaking to the soul

So there’s a very real connection with place in engineering, but there's also a deep sense of philanthropy. The index takes into account the wider issues of social inclusion, health and the environment that matter to a place and that tie in with the way we are thinking. This sounds slightly odd for a highly commercial, Toronto Stock Exchange-listed company like SNC-Lavalin. But what actually speaks to the soul of our people is that they make a difference to their local area. They want to show their family, their friends, their kids the projects they’ve been involved in that have made a difference. That's what gets them out of bed in the morning. So engineering becomes personal quite quickly. It’s why people go into it.

The pulse of a place

In measuring a breadth of indicators for a place, the Vibrant Economy Index touches on the idea that every place has a pulse. Nobody wants the places where they live or work not to have a positive pulse, whether in terms of vibrancy as a whole or in one of the index’s individual categories, such as health and wellbeing. Understanding and making a difference to that pulse is a really important thing for us. It influences a lot of the decisions our people make about the projects they want to win and deliver.

Taking the lead

Increasingly, we’re taking ideas to our clients that might make a difference to them, rather than waiting for them to release projects to the market. It might be about how to use data in a particular way to make a difference or to develop a piece of infrastructure that will improve the economic sustainability of a place.

Shifting the conversation

Understanding an area across the breadth of indicators measured by the Vibrant Economy Index will stimulate a different conversation with our clients. It encourages our people to ask, how do we help improve this place? How can we respond in a way that makes a difference in the categories where an area is scoring badly? How do we think more broadly across the different components of an area?

More than just physical infrastructure

The Vibrant Economy app that runs alongside the index is exciting because it gives us something very current and accessible. If I'm going to Leeds, for example, I can see what is going on in Leeds right now. This is of particular interest because, increasingly, our conversations with clients are not just about physical infrastructure, but about the outcome of delivering that infrastructure. The index helps us shift the conversation so we can talk about the wider impact of fixing a bridge, for example, and what it will mean to the economy and businesses in that area.

Informed conversations

Looking ahead, I’m intrigued to see how a broader, more comprehensive view of place will influence the decisions we make as a business. How will we balance what clients want with commercial decisions? How will our better understanding of place play out in day-to-day business? Certainly, the Vibrant Economy Index will help us have more sophisticated and informed conversations with clients. I think that is a huge benefit and one that works not just for us but for other businesses and organisations too.

Thought leadership
Vibrant Economy Index: A new way to measure success Find out more about advancing the vibrant economy debate
Case studies Read how these councils are making their areas more vibrant Find out more

Contact us

To find out more, or to discuss the Vibrant Economy Index report in more detail, please contact Rob Turner or Paul Dossett.