28th September 2018

Course details

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Organized by UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), with Imperial College London’s Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation, and Bristol University’s Systems Centre, with input from University of Twente.

Hosted at Imperial College London


This continuing professional development (CPD) course is aimed at built infrastructure professionals. Using examples from water and rail, it will brings together stakeholders from across the infrastructure sector to consider what systems engineering has to offer. This is not about applying old methods; but about identifying and applying tools and methods for systems engineering in infrastructure, across policy development, project delivery and the operation of infrastructure systems. It will involve the opportunity to learn hands-on with the application of problem structuring methods; and to situate particular tools within the broader toolkit for systems engineering in infrastructure.

The current approach to infrastructure planning and delivery has been described as “fragmented and reactive”[1].  The Armitt Review[2] of Infrastructure reported that “when long term decisions are made, they can be taken in silos with little acknowledgement of the interdependencies between sectors”.  This is in contradiction to the widely held view of infrastructure as an interdependent network of smaller networks[3] (or a system-of-systems). The Royal Academy of Engineering[4] declared that to overcome this, a “systems approach to infrastructure planning will be essential”.  The fragmented and reactive approach may pose particular challenges in light of devolved infrastructure decision making, which must ensure infrastructure systems work collectively as in integrated whole to meet the region’s needs.

This CPD is organized through the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC), the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation at Imperial College London and the Systems Centre at the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the University of Twente.

[1] HM Treasury & Infrastructure UK, 2011. National Infrastructure Plan 2011,

[2] Armitt, J., 2013. The Armitt Review: An Independent Review of Long Term Infrastructure Planning Commissioned for Labour’s Policy Review

[3] Council for Science and Technology, 2009. A National Infrastructure for the 21st Century

[4] The Royal Academy of Engineering, 2013. Independent Armitt Review of Infrastructure - Submitted by the Royal Academy of Engineering to Sir John Armitt, Available at:

More information

Course Aims

The aim of this course is to enable participants to use the potential for systems approaches and systems engineering in infrastructure. Systems approaches have developed to address the complexity and uncertainty in both technical and social systems, as well as the interfaces between them.  They largely developed in reaction to problems that were not suited to classical methods of analysis that require the interaction between parts to be negligible[1].  The alternative to the systems approach is either to view the whole as a homogenous black-box or rely on a piecemeal understanding of the components in isolation from one another and from their operational context[2].  These classical approaches, which favour reducing the system to its component parts, are based on an assumption that the optimisation of the components in isolation will lead to an optimal system when they are combined.  This is not always the case, particularly in the dynamic, complex systems of infrastructures.  Systems engineering is a set of methods that use a systems approaches in structured processes to better address interdisciplinary engineering problems.

[1] Von Bertalanffy, L., 1968. General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. George Braziller.

[2] Ackoff, R.L., 1979. The Future of Operational Research is Past. J. Oper. Res. Soc. 30, 93–104.


Delivery Partners

The UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) aims to address the insufficient and unsustainable value extracted by services using national infrastructure. UKCRIC is creating and operating a national and international multidisciplinary research programme that addresses the issues of unaffordable and unsustainable infrastructure development, in a partnership between Industry, Government and Academia.

The Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation at Imperial College London was founded in 2010 and is developing the next generation of methods and tools for systems engineering and innovation in built infrastructure.  

The Systems Centre at the University of Bristol is committed to excellence in Systems Thinking, having explored and advanced its application across a wide number of engineering and policy areas over the past 10 years.  In collaboration, the two Centres have developed a course to help infrastructure practitioners learn about and develop their Systems Thinking and Systems Engineering skills in order to manage the challenges of infrastructure planning, delivery and operation, and maximise the opportunities. 

Who Should Attend?

There is a significant market demand in the UK for courses that can help professionals to better consider systemic impacts in the delivery of infrastructure. This both relates to systems thinking – for example in problem structuring; and also to systems engineering techniques for understanding requirements, and testing before infrastructure is commissioned and handed over to operations.  The Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation members and partners are intending to send some of their employees on this course.

Benefits of Attending

By end of the course, delegates will be able to:

  • Gain fluency in the general ideas of systems thinking and systems engineering

  • Use practical tools to support systems thinking and systems engineering

  • Analyse the systemic issues in a problem

  • Acquire knowledge of the characteristics of Wicked Problems and an ability to differentiate them from Tame Problems.

  • Apply Problem Structuring Methods to own Wicked Problems.

Course Methods

The course will be interactive and involve both talks and participant activities. The draft programme includes an ice-breaker activity; and overview: What is Systems Engineering?  Mentoring and coaching; presentation on Systems Engineering in Practice in the Netherlands; Invited presentation from industrial SE thought-leaders; the toolkit for systems engineering in infrastructure and group exercises.