IFME: An International Federation

Fostering technical and cultural exchange globally

Chris Champion, CPEng
President, International Federation of Municipal Engineering; Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia, Sydney, Australia; Member, APWA International Affairs Committee

The world is getting smaller
The advent of e-mail and the Internet is improving communications internationally. International travel is more accessible to many. And in municipal engineering and public works, the many issues we face in our day-to-day jobs are not that dissimilar across the globe.

My opportunity to attend the Triennial Congress of the International Federation of Municipal Engineering (IFME) in Cape Town in November 2003 reinforced to me just how common the many challenges are that we all face. It was also very comforting to be able to quickly make so many new friends from across the globe. It always seems that this is the case with our "brother and sister" public works colleagues no matter which country they come from. We obviously have many common interests!

Cape Town was my first real introduction to the International Federation of Municipal Engineering. IFME is a Federation of member organisations with similar objectives to APWA and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA). It comprises member countries that include the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Belgium, Italy, San Marino, Canada, Israel, South Africa and Australia. Hopefully the United States will someday join IFME.

IFME had its beginnings in 1960 when the inaugural Assembly of the Federation took place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. It is a Federation open to professional municipal engineers and public works professionals through their own national municipal engineering associations.

The inaugural event in Paris followed a two-year preparatory phase during which contacts were developed between the National Societies of Municipal Engineers of Belgium, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands. The idea of grouping municipal engineers from different countries was conceived by the French and the Belgian Associations of Municipal Engineers in 1957.

A key objective of the Federation is to foster technical and cultural exchange between municipal and public works engineers worldwide. International exchange of information, innovations, skills and experience is even more important in today's global world than when the Federation was first formed over 40 years ago.

Australians enjoy travelling the world to learn and experience other cultures and open their eyes to the rest of the world. An international exchange is an enriching experience on many levels. It affects both personal and professional development, stimulates creative ideas, enhances relationships, and strengthens multicultural understanding. The benefits of international exchange, learning and understanding cannot be underestimated.

IFME's mission is to connect municipal engineers and public works professionals, public agencies, organisations, institutions and businesses around the world in order that they share a global pool of knowledge and experience. The aim is to foster continued improvement in the quality of public works and wider community services.

IFME experiences the same problems as many voluntary professional member organizations: lack of resources. For an international organization this is significantly compounded by distance, but e-mail, the Internet and teleconferencing are opening up new opportunities.

Just as APWA and IPWEA provide valuable networking opportunities for our own members, there is also a need to increase opportunities for international networking (and understanding). As with our own professional associations, and membership, it is also not just what you can benefit from membership—but also what you can contribute.

A plan forward for IFME
As incoming President of IFME for a three-year term I have set out a number of goals. Generally I see the first 12 months as a period of consolidation (our website, finances and constitution).

Year 2 will be targeted at projects and initiatives that we have identified as adding value to the international municipal engineering community. Sustainable management of infrastructure, skills shortage and climate change are issues that are affecting us all in different ways. There is a real opportunity to pool our knowledge and share our experiences in these critical areas.

Year 3 will look to build up and work towards a highly successful World Congress in Melbourne, Australia in 2009. This triennial event is the IFME World Congress on Municipal Engineering. Our aim will be to encourage strong involvement from both member and nonmember countries all over the world. This will hopefully also be the introduction of some countries becoming new members of IFME and growing the international community of public works and municipal engineering.

This major event on the international public works calendar will be held in association with IPWEA's 15th International Public Works Conference from 6-10 September 2009—put it in your diary now and plan to attend!

In parallel with this, over the next three years IFME will be encouraging interchange and exchange between our member countries as much as possible. I certainly saw the benefits of new contacts made through IFME when I was able to take a study tour of 10 engineers to The Netherlands in September 2006. This builds on the valuable exchange of ideas and friendships IPWEA already enjoys with New Zealand, the USA and Canada through our annual study tour visits.

IFME will be establishing an up-to-date list on its website of when and where various national public works conferences are held around the world. This may lead to opportunities for our individual members to attend conferences if they are planning personal travel to one of our many member countries.

A beginning for encouraging exchange is also that IFME Board meetings are held, where possible, in conjunction with the national conference or other of a member country. The Institute of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa (IMESA) Conference in Durban from 23-26 October 2007 will be our first opportunity to hold a regular IFME meeting in conjunction with a member conference.

It is also about cultural exchange and friendships
An awareness and understanding of differing cultures is also important in maximizing the benefits of international communication and exchange. Public works professionals need to look/see/assess and consider if what is working in one country will work in a different cultural environment. Culture, expectations and our local environment have a way of dictating the approaches we take to solving public works problems.

Despite advances and opportunities to develop and exchange ideas and technical knowledge, it still seems that we have a lot to learn and understand about the way of life, cultures and customs of other countries. The hope is that IFME can be successful and expand its membership so that it can also contribute to friendship amongst nations and a peaceful, progressive, sustainable world.

Chris Champion can be contacted at

Slovak and Czech Republics Fall 2007 Public Works Conference

Helena K. Allison
Design Manager
Sacramento, California
Chair, APWA/SPWA/CZPWA Task Force

It is that time of year and public works professionals from countries around the world are invited to attend the annual Public Works Conference in the Slovak and Czech Republics. This year's conference will take place in the Slovak Republic in a town called Nove Mesto nad Vahom on October 4 and 5, 2007.

Come and attend interesting presentations on recycling and solid waste, emergency response during natural disasters, floods, landscaping, and street beautification and maintenance.

In Prague during the 2006 Czech/Slovak Conference: Helena Allison, APWA/SPWA/CZPWA Task Force Chair; APWA Past President Dwayne Kalynchuk; and Jiri Neuzil of the Czech Republic Public Works Association

Visit and get acquainted with the latest equipment used in Europe. Talk with professionals from both the Slovak and Czech Republics to learn how they run their public works departments, how they privatize and outsource their services, and what innovative ideas they use to make their operations run efficiently with the focus on positive results.

This year's conference is held in the Slovak Republic and continues with excursions to the Czech Republic. The conference will feature meetings, technical presentations, debates and discussions. Most topics will focus on waste management, emergency operations and cleanup following natural disasters.

Nove Mesto nad Vahom, the host town in the Slovak Republic, is rich in history, architecture and geographical location. The town is located in western Slovakia, on the Vah River, and has a population of 25,000. It is an economic and cultural center with textile and clothing industry, building material manufacturing and food industry. One can admire a 15th century gothic church and baroque buildings from the 17th century, and visit a Jewish cemetery from the 16th century. It is the oldest Paleolithic habitation in Slovakia. The town, which began as a Slavic settlement, was granted town privileges at the middle of the 13th century and became a permanent center of trade and crafts. It is located about 150 km from Vienna, Austria, and about 100 km north of Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic.

Following the conference in Nove Mesto nad Vahom, the Czech Republic Public Works Association has organized a sightseeing program of several castles, recycling facilities and a bike tour throughout the countryside.

  The St. Venceslav Cathedral in Prague

The conference program will conclude with an exciting visit to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. You don't want to miss this great opportunity and see the most beautiful city in Europe. Prague is known for its history, architecture, culture and state-of-the-art flood protection system. These aluminum floodwater retaining wall systems proved extremely effective during the 2002 floods in Prague. You will be able to see the completed system and become familiar with how this system works should floods occur.

Bill Bruce, Commissioner with the Department of General Services, City of Albany, New York, and Paul Hindman, Manager of Design, Construction and Maintenance Program with Urban Drainage & Flood Control District, Denver, Colorado, are APWA members and the recipients of the 2007 Jennings Randolph Fellowship. Both will be attending the conference and will give technical presentations.

So don't delay! Plan to attend and visit Europe for these public works events in the Slovak and Czech Republics. Anyone interested in attending who would like additional information should contact the chair of the APWA/SPWA/CZPWA Task Force, Helena Allison, at, or Kaye Sullivan at for more details.