Explore sustainable development issues within a specific community and design a solution for a real-world humanitarian problem

Module details

  • Offered to 2nd Years
  • Mondays 16.00-18.00
  • 2-term module worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

On this module you will explore international sustainable development through a real-world case study. 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.

EWB Logo

Following the completion of the module, the best designs 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 that you complete 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 and to be entered into the competition.

In response to student feedback, this module will be taught collaboratively - meaning that you will be working alongside other students who are studying the same community but from different perspectives, thereby facilitating a cross-pollination of ideas. Specifically, you will work with students studying the module Global Village: Visual Arts Challenge.

This module will be delivered online making full use of our virtual classroom. Each session will be highly interactive including activities, discussion and close interaction with your peers and teachers. To understand more about how we teach online interactively, visit the Change Makers Online Learning page.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module you will be better able to:

  • 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 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.

Indicative core content

  • Defining Poverty/Development – look at different definitions and identify the perspectives to which they relate.
  • Soft Systems Methodology – use team-based methods to analyse a case study, identify key stakeholders and world views, and spheres of power and influence.
  • 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.
  • 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, maintenance and tackle the issue of local engagement with the concept.


  • Practical: Rich Pictures with Team Video Summary (20%)
  • Practical: Presentation of Conceptual Designs (15%)
  • Coursework: Final Concept Proposal (50%)
  • Practical: Oral Presentation of Implementation Package (15%)


Key information

  • You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes preparation for classes and assignments, wider reading and guided research relevant to the module. 
  • Sufficient time will be set aside for all assessments to be completed in-class.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]

My Journey

Each year the case study community is situated in a different part of the world.  Communities have previously been based in East Timor, Vietnam, Cameroon, Peru, Kenya and India. 

Global Village Map

You will be given the freedom to explore the case study and focus on the aspects that interest you the most. Past projects have included designs such as (i) domestic lighting utilising bioluminescence from algae; (ii) permeable concrete roads to collect water and defend against flooding; (iii) bricks made out of plastic bags; and (iv) a bicycle powered train.

We have had teams selected to represent Imperial College at the national EWB competition every year since 2013 – this represents a fantastic opportunity to network with other students and professionals from across the UK. Students have established lasting connections and even arranged internships based on these contacts.

"I’ve loved gaining experience with designing a project from scratch with sustainability in mind, thinking about the challenges and being creative with solutions, as well as working within a team and meeting people from different courses."
"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."
"it was extremely interesting, looking into a culture very different to my own and thinking about ways to overcome differences in background to find an effective real-life solution. "
"I very much enjoyed this module. In particular, the final project allowed me to have a hands-on experience of the development of an innovative and sustainable project."