UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Science and Engineering for Social Change BSc

An interdisciplinary BSc to equip next-generation social change leaders with practical knowledge from engineering and physical sciences and a thorough understanding of government and policymaking.

Science and engineering offer the answers to many of society’s challenges, while policy identifies and responds to these most complex global issues. Bringing these concepts together produces graduates fit to work in corporate, charity or government roles, who understand scientific and technical principles, and have the policy skills needed to create practical solutions to pressing problems.  

This degree is underpinned by the proven principle that better policies are created when a broad diversity of thought and experience feeds into them. Interdisciplinary by design, this programme will equip you with crucial technical knowledge along with the research, analytical and management skills you need to address global, local and individual challenges. You’ll study subjects ranging from policy design and project management, to innovation, engineering design and infrastructure development. Strong industry links will allow you to work on real world problems with industry and community partners, while a third-year industry placement or project module allows you to apply your knowledge and prepare you for your future career. The programme will be based at UCL East, giving you access to accessible, state-of-the-art facilities with shared labs and workshop spaces open to all. 

Now is a time when many local and global communities urgently require better solutions to their problems, and this degree will equip you with the skills to respond meaningfully. Taught by UCL STEaPP and UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, you will learn from world-leading academics and renowned industry experts. 

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With four unique strands running throughout each year of study, this degree brings together the key pillars of science and engineering for social change on a continuous basis. The Context strand looks at the social and technical infrastructures in society, while the Conversation strand tackles how engineers and policymakers think. The Culture strand introduces you to concepts of design in science and policymaking, and the Professional Practice strand incorporates practical, real-world projects. 

Below you can find further details of the core modules for Science and Engineering for Social Change BSc. Please note these modules are indicative and may be subject to change.

Year 1

Policy Co-design I

Policy Co-design will give you the opportunity to explore the process by which policies are designed via a process of active stakeholder engagement and structured integration of analytic and research skills. In this module, you will develop your understanding of how you can bring different types of experts (engineers, scientists, professional practitioners) and citizens who also hold a special kind of local knowledge to bear on the process of making effective choices about how a process for addressing an issue can be set up. This includes using concepts such as personas, citizen juries, action research, deliberative research and other approaches to ensure that all groups have a fair voice.   

You will gain an appreciation, understanding and aptitude in the execution of the policy co-design processes to enable a range of stakeholders to engage in the design process, and develop your understanding of how to manage and structure different forms of engagement in order to help steer communities towards effective outcomes that can be sustained and fair.  

Introduction to the Science Policy Interface 

Science and policy often rely on each other, whether the relevant actors recognize the dependency or not. Science informs policy through evidence-based decision-making, and policy makers can inform researchers about their evidentiary needs. These inherent interrelations have created the need for science-policy interfaces, to close the gap that often exists between science and policy.  

An optimal science-policy interface is one that negotiates between the varying values of stakeholders and fosters effective communication and co-production of information between science and policy actors. Boundary organizations often take on the role of mediators within the interfaces to foster this kind of communication and co-production and thus may be crucial for fostering a more integrated science-policy interface.  

Through the use of case studies, such as the UK Government’s use of Science during the COVID-19 pandemic, this module will explore three main questions: What is the science-policy interface? Why do such interfaces exist? How does, and how should, the science-policy interface operate?  

Society, Systems & Change  

This module addresses some of the major likely patterns of change over the next 50 years and how to think about the transformation of whole systems – energy, transport, healthcare, cities - during that period. The module provides a sound macro perspective into which to place the many other elements of the BSc in Science and Engineering for Social Change.   It starts with an overview of scenarios for 21st century – temperature, climate change., interconnections with other systems; patterns of inequality; political change; and ideas of a deep transition to a post-carbon economy.  

The module then provides an initial introduction to ideas about how systems change, including multi-level systems approaches and the interactions of technology, policy and regulation and social norms and behaviours. This will use one past example – the transformation of waste and recycling – and then look at a possible future example, the potential transformation of urban transport.  

Upon completing this module, you will gain an overall picture of the context for much of the rest of the programme and ways of thinking systemically, including the timescales and patterns of transformation. 

Engineering Design 

Engineering Design will give you the opportunity to explore the process by which technical knowledge is used for the purpose of responding to societal needs. The understanding of the process of design starts with an analysis of the societal context that defines the need. An exploration of all variables, technical and non-technical, follows this contextualized approach.  

As awareness and knowledge of these variables develops, so too does the understanding of the role and responsibilities of the engineer as a designer. Once the engineer as a designer is explicitly defined, each variable can be explored by means of specific projects and activities that highlight a particular aspect of study. Further activities emphasize sustainability, safety and wellbeing as unavoidable responsibilities in design.  

Social and economic variables defining the context of design will also be explored. You will identify problem types, quantify problems, and deploy appropriate strategies to design solutions. There will be opportunities to forensically examine engineering failures and to work with limited data.  

You will encounter issues important to engineering designers which will support the development of your own design skills, such as decision making, organizing a design team, idea generation, concept testing, prioritization, material selection, engineering judgement, critical thinking, etc. Communication skills are emphasized throughout.   

Engineering Impacts and Context 

Making the world a better place means engaging with society. All technology-driven activities take place in the context of society at large. They are driven by society’s needs - for clean water, sanitation, health, transport, buildings, waste disposal, tools, energy etc. - and they have an impact on society when they are implemented. Not all these interactions are positive, and we need to understand how to try to make sure that our activities work for the best in society, both now and for future generations.  

This course explores these interactions and brings you to participate in live issues as well as to understand the impacts of technological decisions and the role and responsibility of those holding the technical knowledge to manage those impacts. Emphasis will be given to complexity and the intricate links between different aspects, technical and non-technical, of complex problems.  

This module will help you understand that technology-driven decisions must be made with the needs of society and the planet at their core, and to understand the potential impact of those decisions on health and wellbeing.  You will explore the concept of leadership as a key element of managing impact, from the perspective of driving the decision-making process, but also emphasise how adequate subordination can many times be an even more relevant trait for leaders.  

Engineering Thinking I 

This module will give you an opportunity to explore and identify why engineering is essential to the modern world. You will come to know how engineers draw on scientific knowledge, research techniques, technical know-how, skills and collective experiences as well as societal facts and values to solve problems of any size or complexity. Within the interplay of these factors, many life-changing decisions and engineering solutions cannot be made using only calculations but require sound thinking and justifications based on often incomplete information.   

With the global challenges of the world becoming more complex, engineers should be prepared to become solvers of “wicked problems”, which are not well-structured and cannot be solved with a single correct answer. Engineering design is the process you will explore and engage with throughout this module to provide you with the opportunities to better understand the thought processes and techniques that underpin the engineering practice of problem-solving and creating solutions. Sustainability, social responsibility and ethics, as well as entrepreneurial thinking are central themes that are aligned with the core engineering thinking concepts introduced in this module.  

This module provides an “active” learning experience for you to work collaboratively with other students each week in tutorials set out to guide you through solving a real-world socio-technical problem/project. Alongside the project tutorials, is a seminar series that explores key concepts aligned with how engineers think and are successful in their professional practice, which will form the basis for your reflective practice in this module.  

Engineering in Society Project 1: Introduction to Human Centred Design 

In this practical module you will work together with Industry and Community partners on a project directly related to some of the most relevant and cutting-edge socio-technical problems from local and global perspectives.  

The projects will give you the opportunity to learn how to identify real-world problems, develop understanding and application of systems thinking approaches and design processes. It will also enable you to develop your awareness of cultural, ethical and social needs in the socio-technical context.  

You will work primarily in teams to carry out different activities and tasks associated with a themed project. Delivered using Project-Based Learning (PBL), this module aims to mimic the workplace, giving you an enhanced understanding of what it is to work on these types of projects, to promote a positive work ethic, to promote self-reliance, and to increase employability skills. 

Year 2

Policy Design II: Inclusion by Co-Design

This module will give you the opportunity to build on the skills and approaches you have learned in Policy Co-Design I, but specifically focus on the engagement of marginalized communities in the context of policy design.  

Using approaches to build trust and respect with marginalised communities, you will be part of a team engaged in working on a real policy problem to deliver a co-design workshop that aims to address their concerns in ways that they find effective for their needs. You will look at how the workshop operates and have a chance to collect the views of the stakeholders on the process in order to assess what could be improved and ensure the voices of communities are heard.  

The main aim of this module is to foster your appreciation, understanding and aptitude in the execution of the policy co-design processes, to enable stakeholders from marginalized communities to engage in the design process. It provides the opportunities and framework within which students can develop their understanding of how to manage and structure different forms of engagement to help steer communities towards effective outcomes.  

Engineering for Policy & Policy for Engineering

This module gives you a framework for understanding how engineering and engineers operate in policy arenas (engineering for policy) and how government can influence what engineering is (policy for engineering).  

We first look at examples from the other modules that you have encountered and real-world cases to explore engineering for policy. This focuses on how engineers advise on policy choices, advocate for certain technologies or approaches, design and lead on the development of major infrastructure.  

We then look at what we know about policy for engineering in different countries and jurisdictions, providing you with the chance to map in detail an example of engineering policy in a context of relevance to you. Policy for engineering includes understanding how the standards of engineering practice are set and the nature of engineering organisations (public or private) and funding for engineering.  

Innovation: from Technological to Social and Public

This module invites you to consider the multiple forms that innovation now takes. We often think of innovation as being about new hardware: mobile phones, driverless cars etc.  But innovation in how societies are organized is just as important to our lives. These include kindergartens and hospices; carbon trading markets and microcredit; or new kinds of education. 

In this module we will look at the range of approaches to innovation.  Science based innovation continues to be significant in fields such as pharmaceuticals.  But we will also look at the place of service innovation, design-based innovation, data-based innovation, public sector innovation and user-led innovation.  

We will then focus on social innovation, looking at the history of social innovations – where they come from (whether social movements, social entrepreneurs, academics or political parties); how they spread and grow; and some of the barriers they face.  We’ll touch on some of the deeper ideas about how societies can reinvent themselves bottom-up rather than top-down.  

We’ll also look at how, over the last 20 years, the field has gained new prominence, with the rise of a big social impact investment field globally and public policy moving to support it, and at the role social innovation is playing in responding to climate change.  

Engineering Thinking II

Success in today's organisational environment requires new ways of thinking. To cope with increasingly ambiguous and complex problems associated with global challenges, individuals need to be able to generate many solutions, adapt, and critically analyse and assess alternatives. Additionally, with the increasing complexity of problems needing solutions to sustain our planet and our livelihood, systematic thinking, conceptualising problems, seeing issues inter-relationally, and balancing dynamics of systems that underly many of such challenges are all now considered highly desirable skillsets for leaders of our future workforce. This course is designed to help you develop these skills by presenting you with a variety of challenging activities and tasks.   

This module aims to have you explore in further depth ways of thinking associated with the engineering profession and the complex global challenges that professionals take on to make a positive impact on the world we live in. You will develop a good overall understanding of the thinking processes, strategies and tools employed by professional engineers to solve complex socio-technical problems.  

Designing Urban Developments

Project-based learning is at the core of modern engineering education. The ‘urban development’ is among the most comprehensive projects that exemplifies policy driven engineering design. Urban developments require multi-disciplinary technical innovation but are strongly driven by policy. They are unique in that technical knowledge informs policy in as much as policy informs the technological solution.  

The breadth of technical knowledge covered in urban developments crosses all boundaries of engineering, but policy decisions define the viability of any potential technical solution. Through an ‘urban development’ project, you will explore the intricate interactions between policy and technological solutions. The ‘urban development’ project will provide you with the opportunity to explore your individual technical interest while being challenged by overall policy drivers. 

This module is to enable you to isolate the key elements from a complex problem that define a design brief, which is a fundamental matter of policy. This will allow you to explore the multiple definitions of a brief as well as to carry out a deep exploration of policy-driven constraints. 

Philosophy of Culture for Scientists and Engineers

Many of those in key public decision-making positions need the philosophical and cultural sensitivities to cope with complex and interdisciplinary issues. This module provides an introduction for you to address the philosophical and cultural dimensions of dealing with pressing social and technical challenges facing the world and developing solutions.  

Philosophy seeks to understand, and critically to question, ideas concerning the nature of reality, value and experience that play a pervasive role in understanding the world and ourselves. In this module, you are invited to address central questions regarding the necessary philosophical grounding to be able to characterise the various domains in culture –especially the domains of science, engineering, and politics.  

We will explore answers to questions such as: What are the values that underpin our diverse cultural practices? How universal are these values? How can ‘diplomacy’ be organised between societies that have cultures emphasising different values? How can the social sciences contribute to the study of cultural differences between societies? What are the implications of these differences for ensuring appropriate contributions of science, technology and engineering to social change?  

By the end of the module, you will be able to understand and critically assess ideas from philosophy of culture, which includes philosophy of science, philosophy of engineering, and political philosophy, enabling you to reflexively cope with complex and interdisciplinary issues such as climate change, pandemics or complex financial crises in a way that is appropriate and effective. 

Engineering in Society 2: Think Global, Act Local

This practical module will give you an opportunity to work together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Accelerator Labs across the year on two projects directly related to some of the most relevant and cutting-edge socio-technical problems from local and global perspectives.  

The projects will give you the opportunity to develop real solutions to problems identified by communities in East London in Project 1 and, in Project 2 with communities located in one of the UNDP Accelerator Labs 91 locations worldwide, to look at how we can reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 in a manner which ensures that a variety of knowledge and voices are heard. 

Year 3

Collective Intelligence

Almost every aspect of life is being affected by new tools for intelligence: data, analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning of all kinds. Collective intelligence (CI) is a term used to describe ways of organising thought at large scale, often using digital networks.  Today there are thousands of examples of collective intelligence at work in fields like citizen science, healthcare, and development.  

In this module we will look at how these examples work, and how collective intelligence methods are being used to address big global challenges. This is happening partly through mobilizing citizens online, to help observe things like weather patterns, floods, pandemics, or refugee movements.   It is also happening as governments and businesses open up to creative ideas from many more sources. We will also look at how collective intelligence methods are being used to reinvent democracy in ways that tap the intelligence of millions of citizens to shape decisions, and not just elected politicians and civil servants.  

There has been a huge amount of attention given to artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years.  But CI methods are beginning to have as much impact, with some of the most exciting projects now combining the two, for example in combatting fake news or monitoring landmines. Upon completing the module, you will understand how to mobilise different types of intelligence to address complex problems and develop a specialist understanding of collective intelligence in a range of fields.

Innovation: Engineering & the Art of the Possible

The application of scientific advances through the use of engineering is a vehicle for innovation. Innovation enables society to respond to needs in a better way. Through centuries we have seen innovations in all matters of life, that cover a broad range of fundamental activities such as medicine, communications, construction, transportation, energy, computing, electronics, etc. While these innovations introduce new science, they generally enter society using engineering. While society aims to foster innovation, innovation and the engineering that catalyzes it, cannot be left unrestrained. There are many examples where innovation has created a wake of unintended negative consequences. These consequences have led to major failures, many of them resulting in disasters.   

In this module you will build understanding in how innovation and novelty both are borne of, and encourage, greater freedom and flexibility from existing practices and frameworks – and in doing so, foster ambiguities that may drive society in a direction towards negative consequences and crises of competency. You will study the relationship of innovation and novelty to ambiguity and competency within the context of complex systems structured by policy and regulatory frameworks and will consider engineering driven innovation from the perspective of its positive and negative impact on society. You will explore how society uses mechanisms such as regulation, certification, and accreditation to amplify the positive impact but also to mitigate the wake of unintended negative consequences. You will study the concept of “Design by Disaster” that is the mechanism by which forensic engineering analysis extracts lessons from failures to alter policy to better harness science and engineering. You will also have the opportunity to explore your own examples of how engineering is thus modulated by policy but also how policy is transformed by engineering.  

Science and Engineering as Cultures

Many of those in key public decision-making positions need the philosophical and cultural sensitivities to cope with complex and interdisciplinary issues. Following on from the Year 2 module, Philosophy of Culture for Scientists and Engineers, you will transfer your learning and develop tools to critically evaluate science and engineering as cultures. The term ‘culture’ here denotes the field of resources that practitioners in a practice draw on, with ‘practice’ being the act of making (and unmaking) that they perform in that field. Similarities between science cultures can be found in the fact that scientific practices, through networks and using technology scientific laboratory practice, institute constants through transformation. Similarities between engineering cultures revolve around the fact that they all, through detours dealing with obstacles, produce technological set-ups.   

This module will provide you with a systematic understanding of the concepts of science and engineering cultures.   By examining the critical and theoretical debates between science and engineering cultures, and the different ways in which these cultures are realised in different contexts and geographies, you will marry critical and theoretical debates to concrete implications in a variety of public policy settings across the world.  

Science, Religion and Public Policy

This module is the final in a series of three interconnected modules (the first two are the Philosophy of Culture for Scientists and Engineers and Science and Engineering as Cultures modules) in the Science and Engineering for Social Change BSc, in which you are invited to address the philosophical and cultural dimensions of dealing with pressing social and technical challenges facing the world and developing solutions.  

By the end of the series, you will have learned how policy advisors can ease the alleged tensions between global vs. local, universal vs. particular, and facts vs. values, by drawing on methods based on a philosophy of culture.  

This module will prepare you to reflexively engage with pressing social issues that require an integration of science, technology and engineering with a plurality of cultural or religious worldviews – to arrive at a sound public policy approach.   

The operating assumption here is that science (taken broadly, that is, including engineering and technology) and religion (again taken broadly, that is, beliefs and practices that reflect what is taken to be of ultimate value) can be productively ‘yoked’ together to produce effective guidance for public policies that enhance human and environmental prosperity and resilience.   

Engineering Thinking in Government

This module draws together threads developed in Engineering Thinking I and II, Policy Co-Design I and Policy Design II: Inclusion by Co-design and Engineering for Policy and Policy for Engineering, by introducing you to advanced ideas about how forms of engineering thinking and analysis can be effectively brought into government analysis processes, with a focus on defining problems and appraising options, but will also provide a basis for more interdisciplinary approaches to policy evaluation.  

The ideas here are not widely deployed in practice so these ideas and approaches are meant to arm you, as a future graduate, with skills and approaches you can use to innovate organisations you go into; a process you can practice in the placement you will carry out alongside. 

The module aims to develop practice-oriented skills for engineering-inspired policy appraisal that make sense of the concepts learnt in context (including forms of systems thinking, interdisciplinary options appraisal, forms of life cycle analysis) and identify approaches for effective change in organisations for deploying these new kinds of practice and reflect on what personal skills you need to influence change.   

Designing Infrastructure

Designing Infrastructure looks at the problem of complex system design with long-term implications. You will understand the historic and social evolution of infrastructure as a function of societal needs but also of technological innovation. Complex infrastructure will be treated as a system that constantly evolves through policy decisions that have long term implications. In contrast, technological innovations will be introduced as short term/large impact alterations to the evolution of infrastructure. Through these concepts, the idea of timescales in the interaction between policy and technology will be explored. Furthermore, the role of the citizen as a driver for policy, but also as a beneficiary or a victim of both policy and technological inputs, will be explored. 

This module will enable you to use a brief that includes long-term policy-driven requirements and constraints as well as technical and functionality requirements, and to convert them into a design solution. Infrastructure developments are complex engineering problems where the brief includes fundamental aspects of policy. Such developments represent a very good example of a project that allows for multiple design solutions as well as a deep exploration of policy-driven constraints. You will learn to communicate the elements of the design in written, graphic and verbal manner. This module will enable you to distil a series of technical aspects that both support policy and respond to policy needs. 

Engineering in Society Project 3: Professional Practice Placement

Through this module which includes a placement/project, you will develop a systematic understanding and critical awareness of the latest careers and employability theories, current research around the future of work, the nature and meaning of work and diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  

You will be able to put you learning into practice by completing a placement and evaluating how these topical issues relate to your placement organisation as well as your own personal development. You will enhance your experience whilst also reflecting on what the experience means for decisions about your future. Many postgraduate students embark on further study with career progression and development in mind as a key driver, but few have engaged in in-depth career exploration. Research tells us that those with career plans and significant work experience are more likely to find graduate level work than those without.   

Employer/industry-informed design of reflective learning will enable you to capitalise on this work-related learning and build upon it for future progression by supporting informed career decision making and self-presentation in job selection and progression scenarios.  By undertaking this module you will develop your knowledge of issues at the forefront of professional life, enhance your academic, employability and professional skills, whilst also contributing to an organisation, ideally in the East London community.