Innovation in Civil Engineering

Module aims

This module provides a set of theories, examples and tools to help you make sense of innovation in civil engineering and the associated changes in the behaviours in the production and operation of infrastructure. The industry is being transformed by new digital technologies, advanced manufacturing approaches, and new approaches to sustainability and use of resources. The module aims to provide some introductory hands-on experience of building information modelling, to show how technological choices are important and consequential and to inform your decision-making about new technologies as civil engineers.

Learning outcomes

Three main learning objectives will be provided for each class. On successfully completing this course unit, students will be able to:

  • Define innovation.
  • Appreciate different models and theories of innovation
  • Use these models to provide insights on dynamics within civil engineering
  • Appreciate the role of the infrastructure owner and their investment in maintenance and capital projects
  • Understand the production system, with owner and supply chain involved in delivery of complex infrastructure
  • Explore new technologies and their potential impacts on civil engineering practice
  • Know the main characteristics of BIM and its uses and potential uses in this production system
  • Develop skills to use BIM and other new technologies productively in a collaborative practice
  • Understand the relationships between innovation and risk, and thus where novelty is useful, and conversely where standard processes are important

Module syllabus





What is innovation?

This class gives an overview of the rest of the course and discusses - What is innovation? Definitions, readiness levels, innovation funnel. What is the difference between invention and innovation? Innovation and teams. Introduction to firm-level innovation strategy and portfolio management.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Innovation, industry context and risk

Models and theories of innovation (Dodgson, Gann, Salter, 2008); creative destruction; waves of innovation; types and extent of innovation (in firms and industries). The relationship between innovation and risk and the responsibilities of the engineer.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Innovation in infrastructure operations: Infrastructure and the changing role of the infrastructure owner (in the public and private sector). The construction sector and owner innovation strategies. Maintenance and operation of infrastructure, implications for design and project delivery. Digital asset information, as well as physical assets, as a deliverable to owners and operators. New delivery models. The delivery client role and its relationship with long-term owners.

JW / visiting speaker


Innovation in complex projects

Projects as interventions in infrastructure systems, Delivery of new infrastructure; Digital delivery of complex infrastructure projects; and Managing innovation in infrastructure delivery. This class will refer to the work on digital information use in major infrastructure projects (Whyte and Levitt, 2011);

JW / visiting speaker(s)


Addressing systemic innovation challenges: sustainability and transforming construction

Process systems engineering; disruptive innovation, systemic innovation, modularity, mirroring, Lean production Construction as a manufacturing process. Innovation in the construction sector. Sustainability and innovation. Classroom exercise to understand production systems.

JW / visiting speaker(s)


Information modelling and the digital twin

What is BIM? (Eastman et al 2011) What is City GML? What is the digital twin? Digital information use through the infrastructure life-cycle (the evolving categories of technologies used and their uses). Class exercise on using digital technologies (BIM, City GML, Jupyter notebooks, etc) in a collaborative practice.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Understanding digital innovation

Theories and approaches to digital innovation; information modelling for design and construction; and for operations. Class exercise.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Corporate innovation strategy and intellectual property / Group project work

Firm-level innovation strategy, intellectual property (trade secrets, trademarks, copyright and patents), and commercializing intellectual property, complementary assets. Novelty and standard processes.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Entrepreneurship – innovation in small firms / Group project work

Visit to or talk from a start-up incubator and/or Imperial Enterprise Lab.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Final Presentations

Presentations of group project work; feedback; visualisation and recap on the course and discussion of innovation in civil engineering.

JW/graduate teaching assistants


Co-Requisites: CIVE97019 Microeconomic Theory, CIVE97021 Project Management, CIVE97023 Business Environments and Construction Law

Teaching methods

The material will be delivered over 10 weeks, and include embedded academic tutorials; group project work and facilitated workshops.  Learning will be measured via weekly online quizzes delivered within the VLE in weeks 1-6 and through project work clinics in weeks 7-9.  Students will be signposted to appropriate Graduate School Masterclasses to support their learning and help develop their skillsets.


The formative evaluation will be measured by the use of multiple choice quizzes on classes 1-5. This coupled with peer assessment for formative feedback on the group-work will also help with self-evaluation.

The summative assessment will have four components:

1) Completion of the multiple choice quiz on each class (5%) Weeks 1-5

2) Class exercise on using technologies in a collaborative practice (5%) Week 7

3) Group report and presentation proposing application of a novel technology in a civil engineering practice (40%) Week 10

4) Short individual essay on innovation in civil engineering and the challenges and opportunities that this presents. (50%) [Friday, Week 15]

Module leaders

Professor Jennifer Whyte