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Guest Speaker Series: Changing Complex Technical Systems

April 19, 2021
UBC MEL MHLP - Guest Speaker 2021 - Tom

Recently, Tom Berkhout, a Building Electrification Project Manager at BC Hydro, hosted a seminar for UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) Students. His presentation focused on the high-level processes of making policy changes and explored the mechanisms for creating change in complex, technical systems.

A transformative leader across government, corporation, and non-profits

Tom Berkhout has more than ten years of experience identifying and finding solutions to address climate and energy-related issues in the built environment. He has worked with all levels of government, utilities, corporations, and non-profits.

Throughout his years of experience, Berkhout has worked directly on a range of innovative topics, including energy performance codes and standards, low-carbon building programs, provincial-level strategic climate plans, building energy labelling and benchmarking, and workforce capacity building and training.

At BC Hydro, Berkhout regularly works with key stakeholders to implement key aspects of building electrification. Before assuming his role at BC Hydro, he was an Associate with Integral Group, where he led work on BC’s Building Electrification Road Map (BERM) as well as numerous building decarbonization projects in BC and across Canada.

Having completed a Ph.D. on transformative change in the built environment, Berkhout is an expert in his field; he has led research projects on social change, urban sustainability, and market transformation.

Implementing change on a large-scale

In his presentation, Berkhout outlined the key concepts to consider when attempting to implement large change. First, that significant change will not occur without an accompanying change in social and political systems. And second, that push-back from key players can be expected, especially from those who are impacted by that change.

He then shared the key factors that influence change so that our MEL students might recognize when to pursue transformative change in their future roles as industry leaders.

One must understand the role that the relationship between ideas, resources, and rules play in facilitating or hindering change and the numerous levels on which interactions between ideas, resources, and rules occur.

The most powerful influencers of change are access to resources, including materials, funding, labour, etc., and proximity to the opportunity to implement and modify rules to facilitate change. Is there an opportunity for you to change and update the rules?

Ideas are also fundamental in creating change; however, you must connect ideas to resources and rules for change to be successful. When ideas, resources, and rules link together, implementing change becomes much easier.

Berkhout asked the students in attendance: can an individual make or influence change?

He posited that, while individuals often struggle to enact change by themselves, individuals can be influential when they connect themselves to various levels of their organization to leverage resources, ideas, and rules to enable change. Therefore, individuals can be influential when they can spread their ideas, access resources, and impact rules.

At the close of the presentation, Berkhout shared five core strategies that MEL students might utilize to ensure that their efforts to implement change are successful.

  1. Create a market demand for new technology
  2. Improve the cost competitiveness of technology
  3. Address or remove any policy misalignments
  4. Expand industry capacity
  5. Increase available technologies

He emphasized that the above strategies are most effective when there are coordination and collaboration amongst stakeholders.

This presentation enabled the MEL cohort to gain insight on how to effectively implement transformative change. These insights were valuable, as they came from the dual— engineering and business—perspective of an industry leader.

As our students prepare to step into new roles as changemakers upon graduation, guest speaker seminars offer MEL students valuable teachings they might leverage in the future.

Are you passionate about driving change in your industry? Explore UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership and Master of Health Leadership & Policy degrees, designed to help you accelerate your career and step into roles of increased responsibility.

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