Globally important Grand Challenges such as sustainability, environmental limits, social inclusion and wellbeing are not merely technical problems. These challenges place engineering in contact with a far wider range of non-engineering disciplines, other stakeholders, and concerns that exist now and in the future. Systems thinking is about viewing problems such as these in a more holistic way. It is about enabling engineers to develop new perspectives, to cope with complexity, and achieve highly novel solutions that balance the needs and requirements of different stakeholders in effective, equitable ways.
Systems thinking is taking engineering beyond isolated technical specialisms and is at the forefront of the Civil Engineering discipline. As such, it is a cornerstone of the Institute itself. It is embedded in the mix of academic staff, who cover the full spectrum from engineering through to human sciences, and it is embedded in the inter-disciplinary nature of research topics such as infrastructure resilience, carbon accounting, sustainability assessment, risk analysis, efficient use of renewable and non-renewable resources, and human factors. The success of systems level solutions developed by the Institute include the delivery of sustainable urban environments, developing policy for carbon accounting in the energy and water industries and the impact of automation on the lives of vulnerable sections of society such as the elderly.