Published: March 31st 2020

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Engineering

Part 1: Engineering for the SDGs Toolkit - A Guide to Creative Problem Solving

Published: March 31st 2020

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Introduction

In March 2020 the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and Bobab teamed up to deliver an exciting unconference event focused on education, innovation and the role of engineering in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We brought together a diverse group of entrepreneurs, educators, engineers and innovators from across Africa and around the world, to identify and explore the barriers faced by the global engineering and education communities as they strive to tackle the defining issues of our time. 

Over the course of the day, we explored challenges, defined a variety of solutions and identified the first steps to implementing them. 

But as well as our outcomes from the day, we also wanted to share the techniques and processes we employed so that any individual or group can use them to help find creative solutions to problems and challenges they face - this is our Engineering for the SDGs Toolkit.

This article consists of two parts. Part 1 provides an overview of the outcomes from the RAEng x Bobab UnConference, outlining the methods we employed. Part 2 provides practical step-by-step instructions to assist with the design and delivery of your own creative problem solving session.



The RAEng x Bobab UnConference

...Before the event:

We selected a range of common themes and challenges faced by the engineering community and asked our participants to vote for the ones they’d like to focus on based on their relevance to them. They chose:

Challenge 1: Embedding STEM within education systems

Challenge 2: Finding reliable partners/collaborators/suppliers to support product and/or service development and/or organisational growth

Challenge 3: Increasing adoption of user-centric approaches to innovation and product and/or service development

Each challenge went on to form the focus of one of three workshops that happened simultaneously throughout the day, with different groups tackling different challenges over three sessions. 

...During the event:

We kicked things off with a panel of expert speakers who presented on a range of themes, challenges and innovations. During the presentations, we asked participants to use the ‘How Might We’ (HMW) technique to help reframe problem statements that they heard.  

For example, a challenge or problem might be: “It’s difficult for entrepreneurs to access finance”. Reframed as a HMW, this would be: “How might we increase access to finance for entrepreneurs?” Participants wrote down their HMWs on post-it notes and grouped these under the relevant challenge, before choosing which of the three workshops they wanted to participate in.

Session 1: The first session was dedicated to a deep-dive into the challenge, grouping the different HMWs together and discussing how these might help address the issues and navigate the barriers. At the end of the session, participants voted for their favourite HMW that would go on to form the focus of the second workshop session.

Outcomes

Challenge 1: HMW - give teachers the right tools and training to teach STEM?

Challenge 2: HMW - accelerate awareness amongst the engineering ecosystem of the SDGs agenda?

Challenge 3: HMW - increase appetite, interest and awareness of technology to solve societal problems?

Session 2: The second workshop session was dedicated to finding solutions to the challenges. Here we used the ‘Crazy Eight’ technique to help participants quickly develop a variety of potential solutions, with participants selecting their favourite and presenting this to the group Participants then worked individually to refine their solutions before presenting back to the group for a final time. The group then voted for their favourite, which became their ‘Most Viable Solution’ (MVS) and the focus of the third and final workshop session.

Outcomes

Challenge 1: MVS - Crowdsourced online / offline platform for STEM teaching content

Challenge 2: MVS - Embed SDG-knowledge within primary school and increase access to online resources for rural communities

Challenge 3: MVS - A digital marketing campaign with engaging content and incentivised innovation prizes targeting high-school leavers

Session 3: The third and final workshop focused on the steps required to implement or prototype the groups chosen MVS. This included asking a series of structured questions, such as ‘Will we need experts?’; ‘Do we need case studies?’; ‘Do we need buy-in from other stakeholders?’; ‘If so, how do we get that buy-in?’; etc. The session culminated with the groups designing step by step processes to deliver their MVSs and then presenting their work back to the other participants.

Outcomes

You can view the final outcomes of the day on the Bobab platform here.

...After the event:

We uploaded the three groups MVSs and accompanying implementation processes as ‘Projects’ on the Bobab platform, which participants are able to join and follow. You can view the projects online here.