Humanitarian Engineering (HE) is an interdisciplinary field that is rapidly emerging worldwide. Many higher education institutions are including HE and similar courses in the engineering curriculum, while Engineers Without Borders (EWB) counts more than 40 national chapters across the globe. In the U.S., HE, service-learning, community engagement, and similar programs are gaining popularity because they can enable development of both technical and professional skills among engineering students while potentially addressing multiple ABET accreditation criteria
However, the cultural, social, and political differences among communities and engineers often add degrees of difficulty that the typical engineering problem solving approach often cannot properly address. Consequently, engineers must utilize problem framing and solving methods that meet the twofold requirements of involving community members at each stage of a project and integrating communities’ needs, desires, assets, cultures, social norms, and politics in the proposed solutions. Engineers have historically borrowed methods from other disciplines, including design and anthropology, as the HE field lacks a well-established and coherent repertoire of field-tested methods that are readily accessible by less-experienced humanitarian engineers.
This research paper reports on the study design for a research project that had the goal of laying the foundations of a learning platform for humanitarian engineering. The research questions that guided this research project were: 1) What are the key characteristics of specific design methods that have been used/proposed in the HE and related literature?, and 2) What are other conditions (e.g., philosophical commitments, culture of the community, engineers’ skills, and others) that are not specific to any design stage, but may facilitate meaningful community participation?
In this paper, we focus especially on the methodological approach used to conduct this studty. First discuss the Scholarship of Integration (SoI) and how it was applied in this study to serve as the theoretical framework. We then discuss the two sequential but integrated phases of the research project. The first phase focused on reviewing the existing literature, generating a theoretical framework to classify methods, and creating an elicitation prompt that was used in the interview prompt. The second phase leveraged Radically Transparent Interviews (RTI) with experienced humanitarians to gather cases and insights related to the practice of humanitarian engineering. Finally, we discuss how we integrated findings from the two phases and present sample “information sheets” for two design methods to illustrate how findings from both phases of the study were integrated and presented in an accessible manner for students and other HE practitioners.
The methodological approach described in this study is not limited to humanitarian engineering design, but also extends to other research projects that aim to produce readily useful resources. For instance, researchers investigating experiences of traditional engineering faculty transitioning to engineering education research could use our approach to produce vignettes or narratives from the interviews for training purposes. Consequently, the audience for this paper includes researchers interested in humanitarian engineering, as well as those interested in strategies to translate research findings into practice.
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