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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Using the Cynefin Model to develop built environment student capabilities in complex problem-solving for the 21st Century

With increasing interest by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in student retention, particularly in engineering and built environment studies, universities have identified that students want ‘to make a difference’. However, most universities are out of touch in curriculum renewal and are facing a time lag dilemma. UNSDGs provide immediate goals for making a difference – challenge in embedding in curriculum due to the complexity of the goals, their interconnectedness and the context of local action for global impact. Within this context, this paper introduces the potential for Cynefin theory to provide a foundation to connect student knowledge of their technical discipline with the UNSDGs, through considering the differences between simple, complicated, complex and chaotic problems and their solutions.

The paper draws on the lived experiences of the authors in the geospatial industry, and piloting coursework and student engagement with a collaborating research partner in Nagoya, Japan. Specifically, the authors present findings from two years of enquiry into transforming student perspectives on their discipline and career opportunities, through an international collaboration between an Australian and Japanese University. The authors present the model as a narrative for framing their appreciation of professional practice and career planning. The research approach to sensemaking consists of surveys, focus groups and mind-map comparisons at the commencement and conclusion of the studies. The findings provide rich insights on student experience on this transformative ‘look to the horizon’ experience, through a focus on one of the most densely populated regions of the world, on the central East Coast of Japan. Through a ten-day field trip to Nagoya and Tokyo, students visit sites including manufacturing, transportation, energy, retail, residential and academic facilities, considering each through the lens of the CDIO process (i.e. Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate) and lessons learned regarding future optimisation.

The research findings provide evidence of this learning experience transforming the thinking of early program students as they were able to immerse in real world examples are engineering solutions related to disaster management, resilience and adaptation. The findings also provide a reference point for embedding sustainability into engineering education enabling other academic institutions to be inspired by our innovation journey. The paper will build on the first author’s previous publications in this field, including a text book on rapid curriculum renewal for sustainable development in higher education. The authors hope that the presented approach and steps for undertaking this program, will assist colleagues globally in preparing the future workforce with the ability to look at global problems and develop context-specific, technically sound engineering solutions using their the ‘hands-on’, ‘on-the-job’ business skills. The study has immediate implications for embedding the UNSDGs within coursework across built environment programs, wherein the authors propose the criticality of enabling students with an appreciation of complexity theory, providing a scaffold to connect their discipline skills with addressing critical global problems.

Cheryl Desha
Cities Research Institute, Griffith University

Helessage Tharanga Savindi Caldera
Cities Research Institute, Griffith University

Deanna Hutchinson
Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA)


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