Explore international development issues and design a solution to a real world humanitarian problem

How to enrol

Course details

Available to 2nd Years
Mondays 16.00-18.00 
20 weeks (autumn and spring terms)

This course offers you the chance to explore international development with a detailed real-world case study analysis. You will focus on identifying the issues faced by the community, the key stakeholders and their varied perspectives on the problems.

You will then work in teams to design a practical solution to an issue that you have identified as being critical for the community. You will begin by producing multiple conceptual designs before voting to decide which are the strongest ideas to take forward to techincal specification and finally presentation to the community. 

You will have a large amount of freedom to focus on the aspects of international development that you are most interested in. In response to student feedback, all the Global Challenges second year courses will be taught collaboratively - meaning that you will be working along side other students who are studying the same community, but from different perspectives.

EWB Logo Following the completion of the course, your assignment will be submitted to the national Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK) competition, where you'll compete against students from other universities for an amazing prize.

We work closely with EWB-UK to ensure that the project work that you complete as part of Horizons meets all the requirements of the national competition. This means that you do one piece of work, and it is eligible both to be graded for Horizons and to be entered into the competition.

Information blocks

Learning objectives

On successful completion of the course you will :

  • Understand the complexity of trying to define development; and develop and justify the use of your own definition
  • Understand the specifics of the design brief provided, and use soft systems methodology to fully explore and analyse the problematical situation you will be designing for
  • Learn how to write a well-defined design question that will be answered during the project using SMART objectives
  • Design a series of potential solutions to the design question
  • Analyse the potential solutions using a binary dominance matrix to identify the solution that is most likely to be successful
  • Work up the final design into a fully specified solution and identify any further expertise that would be required to complete bring the design up to a standard for immediate implementation
  • Show consideration of the ‘global dimension’ (social, cultural, economic and sustainability perspectives) in the design solution
  • Create an implementation guide that introduces the design concept, addresses issues such as implementation, operation and maintenance and tackles the issue of local engagement with the concept
  • Plan, monitor and review their progress as an independent learner

Indicative core content

Common Core

  • Defining Poverty/International Development – look at different definitions of poverty and identify the perspectives to which they relate; look at how different definitions exclude different groups of people from being identified as experiencing poverty
  • Boundary Critique – use boundary critique to tackle complex real-world situations
  • Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) – use SSM techniques to analyse a case study of poverty, identify key stakeholders and world views, and spheres of power and influence

Project Focus

  • The Design Brief – develop a considered understanding of the brief, complemented by additional research into the local context of the brief; use soft systems methodology to generate a deeper analysis and understanding of the problems that need addressing
  • Develop a Design Question – using SMART objectives, develop a design question that will structure and direct the remainder of the project
  • Design Conceptual Solutions – generate a series of conceptual designs that could be applied to tackle the problems outlined in the brief and that could answer the design question
  • Evaluate Concepts Using BDM – identify criteria for evaluation and construct a weighted binary dominance matrix to evaluate the potential solutions, identifying the most likely to be successful
  • Produce a Full Technical Specification for the Chosen Concept – work up the selected design into a full technical specification (including highlighting areas where additional expertise might be required)
  • Create an Implementation Guide - introduce the design concept, and address issues such as implementation, operation and maintenance and tackles the issue of local engagement with the concept


  • Case Study Analysis – written report (20%)
  • Conceptual Designs (15%)
  • Final Concept Proposal – including full technical specification and pitch presentation (50%)
  • Implementation Guide (15%)

Key information

  • 6 ECTS points awarded on successful completion of the course.
  • You must be prepared to attend all classes and and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"I feel that I have to speak on behalf of the whole group when I say that we've learnt a lot about professional group work in this course and it has been a great experience overall."
"This experience has inspired me to learn more about international development, and led me considering how to be involved in this exciting and challenging industry."
"The course is well structured to guide us and stimulates a lot of thought."