Embedding Systems Thinking into EWB Project Planning and Development: Assessing the Utility of a Group Model Building Approach

  • Kimberly Pugel University of Colorado Boulder
  • Jeffrey P Walters Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
Keywords: group model building, project planning, sustainability, system dynamics modelling, systems thinking


Amongst growing sociotechnical efforts, engineering students and professionals both in the international development sector and industry are challenged to approach projects more holistically to achieve project goals.  Engineering service learning organizations must similarly adapt their technological projects to consider varying cultural and economic structures, ensuring more resilient social progress within development efforts.  In practice, systems thinking approaches can be utilized to model the social, economic, political, and technological implications that influence the sustainability of an engineering project. This research assesses the utility of integrating systems thinking into Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project planning and development, thereby improving project impact and more effectively engaging members.  At a workshop held at an EWB-USA 2016 Regional Conference, the authors presented a planning and evaluation framework that applies group model building with system dynamics to foster systems thinking through factor diagramming and analysis. To assess the added value of the framework for EWB project planning and development, extensive participant feedback was gathered and evaluated during the workshop and through an optional post-workshop survey.  Supported by thoughtful observations and feedback provided by the EWB members, the model building workshop appeared to help participants reveal and consider project complexities by both visually and quantitatively identifying key non-technical and technical factors that influence project sustainability.  Therefore, system dynamics applied in a group model building workshop offers a powerful supplement to traditional EWB project planning and assessment activities, providing a systems-based tool for EWB teams and partner communities to build capacity and create lasting change.

Author Biographies

Kimberly Pugel, University of Colorado Boulder

Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

Jeffrey P Walters, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
Department of Civil Engineering, Professor


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