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Unit information: Civil Engineering Systems 4 in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Civil Engineering Systems 4
Unit code CENGM1800
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Carhart
Open unit status Not open

Normally the successful completion of appropriate Level 2 Engineering units



School/department Department of Civil Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


This unit aims to develop a systems perspective towards Civil Engineering practice. There are four key themes covered by the unit

  1. Leading and managing change
  2. Identifying the needs and issues arising from using systems modelling
  3. Developing and using tools for measuring and managing performance
  4. Identifying and dealing with risk

These, when considered in the messy problem context of projects that have a high impact on society, will prepare Civil Engineering graduates to innovate and lead change in their industry. We start the unit by building an appreciation of the issues and dilemmas facing the Civil Engineering profession (e.g. losses to national economies due to aging infrastructure and investment failure, and waste generated by construction and demolition operations, to name only a couple) and introducing the need for, and the main concepts of, systems thinking. This need is situated by our awareness that change is constant. We thus introduce students to some of the key ideas to leading business transitions in organisations. The ability to build systems models is essential to comprehending messy problem situations and we introduce students to the basic techniques, as well as how to choose specific approaches to match the problem situation and appreciating the need to accommodate differing worldviews. This follows on to the need for understanding evidence and meaningful measurements as a crucial underpinning to managing the on-going performance of organisations. No approach to understanding complex issues in Civil Engineering is complete without the ability to identify and deal with risk. The systems-based approach to risk in this unit focuses on issues of building resilient as opposed to anticipatory capability, dealing with epistemic as well as aleatory risk, and understanding the upsides of risk as a trade-off. We conclude the unit by drawing together the need for systems thinking with the four key themes into an approach to taming complex and messy problems in Civil Engineering based on Problem Structuring Methods (PSMs). Crosscutting topics that link the separate thematic areas illustrate where synergies need to be achieved for successful practice. We will demonstrate the practical application of the learning from this unit by a running case study drawn from a contemporary large-scale Civil Engineering project.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit successful students will be able to;

1. describe and apply a systems approach to technical and managerial thinking,

2. identify modelling issues,

3. describe and begin to use tools for the measurement of the performance of processes,

4. begin to lead change,

5. identify various forms of uncertainty, risk, hazard, vulnerability, turbulence and surprise, and their impact on decision making,

6. identify the ethical dilemmas of international business.

Teaching details

20 hours Lectures

Assessment Details

100% Two hour written exam (open book)

Reading and References

1. Blanchard K, Carew D, Parisi-Carew E (1994), The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams, HarperCollins, London. 2. Blockley D I, Godfrey P S (2000), Doing It Differently, Thomas Telford. 3. *Covey S R (1992), The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, London. 4. Handy C B (1985), Understanding Organisations, Penguin Business, London. 5. *Magee B (1973), Popper, Fontana Modern Masters. 6. McDermot I, O’Connor J, The Art of Systems Thinking, Harper Collins 1997. 7. *Senge P (1990), The Fifth Discipline, Century Business Books. 8. Seddon, J. (2008) Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, Triarchy Press.

  • required reading