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Humanitarian Engineering: Ethics, Theory, Practice (ES99A-15)


This module is the first module for all students, it is an introduction to humanitarian engineering looking from ethical, cultural, and practical perspectives. The module will allow students to reflect upon the history and meaning of Humanitarianism and Humanitarian Engineering. Through this module, students will collectively develop a set of humanitarian engineering ethics criteria and critically apply these to specific examples of humanitarian case-studies. Students will consider what humanitarianism involves in terms of human rights and human needs, spanning from ecological to cultural and anthropological. There will also be a day focused on the humanitarian crises and how to build resilience against humanitarian challenges. The final day will be practical, with students exploring their journey towards a career as a Humanitarian Engineer.

Module Aims

Through this module, students will collectively develop and refine a set of humanitarian engineering ethics criteria (constraints). Students will then critically apply these criteria to specific examples of humanitarian technologies (case-studies in workshops). Students will also interpret multiple career pathways in humanitarian-related organisations and practices and consider potential careers as humanitarian scientists and engineers.This is a five-day intensive module; including lectures, seminars, and workshops.

Outline syllabus

The module will consist of 5 one-days sessions.

The core design is that each day the module leader and subject specialists will choose how they wish to deliver a combination of discipline or application grounded material, with activities that will allow the students (in conjunction with the module leader) to develop their learning in an interdisciplinary style and will help them to explore and deepen their knowledge of that day’s theories and set texts/materials. Active learning methods (i.e. Team Based Learning; Open Space Learning) will be implemented in order to heighten student engagement and understanding of the week’s topic.

Daily topics
Detailed below are the topics of the daily lectures delivered by the module leader and other invited experts. The second part of each day's session will always be a workshop led by the module leader for facilitating the learning experience of the students.

Day 1: History of Humanitarian Engineering

On the day we will look at the historical context of Humanitarian Engineering and the principles/standards of Humanitarian Engineering. After reflecting on the meanings of engineering and humanitarianism we will seek to imagine what we, along with others, call humanitarian engineering.

Day 2: Humanitarian Engineering ethics criteria
We will look at how humanitarianism can benefit from appreciating what engineers do and the traditions of engineering ethics. We will reflect on the idea that professional engineering ethics can be enhanced by appreciating the role of humanitarianism in a globalised world, increasingly dependent on advances in science and technology. Despite its popular appeal and international importance, humanitarian ethics is underdeveloped in relation to ethics in general and to professional engineering in particular. On the day we will discuss about humanitarian technology and how humanitarian engineers can build community change and development.

Case studies to be discussed may relate to the “motivation of a humanitarian engineer”, “who benefits and who pays” and “accountability”.

Day 3: Human needs and human rights
On the day we will consider aspects of the international legal framework regulating the protection of people and the conduct of hostilities in armed conflict. Human rights and human needs, spanning from ecological to cultural and anthropological. Humanitarianism typically involves an effort to alleviate human suffering by responding to human needs, but not necessarily on the basis of respect for individual human rights. In this lecture we are going to debate on whether active response to human needs out of compassion for human suffering is seen as more important.

Key questions on the topic will be co-created among students and lecturers. Students will be provoked, questioned and challenged to express arguments on questions such as: What is humanitarianism? Is it limited to the provision of relief to victims of conflict, or does it include broader objectives such as human rights, democracy promotion, development, and peacebuilding?

Day 4: Humanitarian crises. Humanitarianism & sustainable development
This session will focus on the humanitarian crises and how to build resilience against humanitarian challenges. Discussion will unfold on the UN dialogues (i.e. the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030). Building resilience against humanitarian challenges is central to effective global action. UN dialogues highlight the urgency to build resilience to disasters and to ensure it is embedded within education, training, development plans, policies and procedures at all scales – this will complement, not hinder, sustainable development.

Day 5: Practice: working as a Humanitarian Engineer
In this session, the journey towards the career path of the Humanitarian Engineer will be discussed. Key critical figures from NGOs, Industry, and Organisations will deliver seminars sharing their experience and views on available career pathways. In a theoretical context this session will cover the kind of roles that a Humanitarian Engineer can play in real life, drawing out the moral dimensions of humanitarian work.

Building on the content of this day, students will be asked to prepare a reflective report with the title ‘My career path’ demonstrating that they have engaged in the multi-disciplinary nature of Humanitarian Engineering and seriously thought about their future professional career.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate comprehensive understanding of the concepts and critically interpret the history of humanitarianism and humanitarian action;
  • Interpret how humanitarianism is related to engineering history, education, and practice;
  • Evaluate and critique how humanitarian constraints and ideals engage with multiple engineering practices and standards of professional conduct;
  • Systematically interpret the principles governing the international human needs and rights, including their origins, assumptions, contents, limits and potential;
  • Contemplate multiple pathways (industry, NGO, governmental organisations) of professional practice that would benefit from humanitarian engineering knowledge and skills.
  • Develop research skills of evidence synthesis and critical appraisal.


Week 2

Commencing 10/10/2022


R2.41 (Ramphal)

Professor Georgia Kremmyda

"Problem-solving and tackling real-life problems are the key skills of the Humanitarian Engineer. The Humanitarian Engineer of the 21st Century should work with anybody anywhere, imagine and make the imagination reality."

Lecturer and Programme Director
Professor Georgia Kremmyda

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