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Systems Practice in Engineering: Reflections on Teaching Research Methods and Contribution to Methodological Development

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

  • M Yearworth
  • G Edwards
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication9th Annual Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER 2011). Redondo Beach, CA, USA
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2011


This paper reviews the development of research methods teaching on the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) in Systems programme at the University of Bristol. The programme is aimed at high-calibre Research Engineers working in a diversity of sectors including defence and aerospace, rail, transport, energy production, construction and the water industry. Projects concern real-world industrial problems in areas including safety, quality, sustainability and innovation: all are characterised by socio-technical complexity and require cross-disciplinary inquiry and knowledge. Current teaching is based on methods drawn from disciplines spanning systems engineering, management, problem structuring and systems thinking, and seeks to integrate methodologies from diverse research traditions. The programme fundamentally embraces the position that all hard systems are embedded in soft systems. Pedagogical developments emerge from a process of learning together: it is driven by the systemic inquiry of real-world problem situations and by the needs of industrial partners as established for each project. Results demonstrate that the programme is delivering value to industrial partners through enhanced performance, and has contributed understanding to the application of systems thinking. The generic body of knowledge being developed on this programme, though currently diffused amongst the application domains of each project, has the potential for much higher leverage. In this paper we therefore argue for a rigorous programme of research using the EngD projects themselves as the data source in order to integrate this systems thinking body of knowledge, to discover the generic issues currently inhibiting the wider implementation of systems thinking in industry, and to drive further pedagogical development. Such a programme has just been launched and will run for the next four years. This paper also makes the case that such research is best accomplished in integrative centres of excellence such as the IDC in Systems.

Additional information

Additional information: A paper submitted to the 9th Annual Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER 2011), Redondo Beach, CA, USA, April 15-16, 2011. Conference organised by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)'s LA Chapter. Sponsorship: This research was supported in part by the EPSRC Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) in Systems (EP/C537556/1 and EP/G037353/1).

Research areas

  • pedagogy, systems engineering, research methods, systems practice, systems thinking

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