Methods to facilitate community participation in humanitarian engineering projects: Laying the foundation for a learning platform
Humanitarian engineering (HE) is a new interdisciplinary field that is rapidly emerging worldwide. Many not-for-profit organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, Practical Action, and International Development Enterprise have been flourishing with the goal of providing technological solutions to those who need them the most. In engineering programs across the U.S., HE, service-learning, community engagement, and similar programs are gaining popularity because they offer an efficient way to meet ABET accreditation criteria, while also teaching valuable technical and professional skills to engineering students. However, the cultural, social, and political differences among communities and engineers often add degrees of difficulty that cannot be properly addressed using typical engineering problem solving approaches. 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. Historically, engineers have borrowed methods from other disciplines, including design and anthropology, as the HE field still lacks a well-established and coherent repertoire of field-tested methods that are readily accessible by less-experienced humanitarian engineers. To address these gaps, this dissertation utilizes a Scholarship of Integration approach to: (1) collect and classify methods that have been used in (or proposed for) humanitarian engineering projects, and (2) investigate the conditions (e.g., philosophical commitments, culture of the community, engineers’ skills, and others) under which the use of specific methods is appropriate and community participation is best facilitated. In the first phase of this research, I used a systematized qualitative review to gather 64 methods from relevant engineering and related fields publications. Then I iteratively analyzed and compared the methods to generate a use-inspired framework classifying the 64 methods based on two main dimensions: the level of community participation and the purpose of the methods. In the second phase, I interviewed 14 practitioners who have participated in several humanitarian engineering projects. The thematic analysis of the practitioners’ personal experiences revealed benefits and challenges associated with the methods, as well as broader emergent themes such as the importance of building trusted relationships with project partners and taking an asset-based rather than a needs-based approach to design. This dissertation contributes to research engineering thinking and knowing in the context of engineering and community engagement by providing a framework that can guide both engineering students and professional in designing culturally sustainable solutions with underserved communities locally and internationally.
Jesiek, Purdue University.
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