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Open Source Civil Engineering

Can design by committee work for infrastructure projects?

The article quoted in my previous post on Integrated Sewerage Systems has critics claiming that with an extension granted by the Province for completion of the sewer upgrade project in Victoria, BC, the Capital Regional District should seek a wide base of input and comment on the viability of integration options for the proposed sewerage treatment system.

This puts the engaged consultants in a difficult position. Outside interest and comment on design ideas is often welcomed, but should changes be made to the design or a shift in the project priorities occur, who defines the change in scope and the appropriate compensation for the work undertaken.
[ad#200-left]The consultant team, CH2M HILL and Associated Engineering, are both qualified engineering and planning consultancies with experience in and knowledge of best practice projects. Should the CRD seek further advice on options?

In the software industry there is a model that works in this way, it’s called open source, and essentially everyone who cares enough to spend some time working on the project can chip away at the structure, fix bugs, make improvements, and work toward the common goal of having a software that does everything that is deemed important enough to include.

For Civil Engineering, this process does not work. The design and construction of major infrastructure requires much higher levels of accountability, and the risk of failure cannot be overcome with an End Users Agreement. Design by committee is the camel that was meant to be a horse.Bringing more experts in nullifies many of the benefits of hiring one expert in the first place – focused critical thinking turns into a competition as to who has the biggest, (or perhaps who knows the most!).

Victoria, and the Capital Regional District have many hurdles with their sewer treatment plan…

Goals of Wastewater Treatment, CRD

Currently, the CRD employs a variety of wastewater treatments, some of which simply filter, and some of which provide secondary and even tertiary treatment before wastewater arrives by outfall to the ocean.

With an eye towards a sustainable wastewater model, major departures from traditional technologies and strategies are being proposed, with decentralized treatment and opportunities for reuse embedded in the plan.

Check out the Wastewater Treatment Made Clear website, which by the way is some pretty smooth marketing.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

One thought to “Open Source Civil Engineering”

  1. >For Civil Engineering, this process does not work. The design and construction of major >infrastructure requires much higher levels of accountability, and the risk of failure cannot >be overcome with an End Users Agreement.

    That is, assuming Civil Engineering consisted of only design and construction, which it does not. There is a lot that goes on in the civil eng. industry before design is fully underway. Could it be that the open source methodology might be applicable to these earlier stages of engineering?

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