Abstract for: Using Group Model Building to teach student teams systems thinking for more sustainable Engineers Without Borders USA projects

EWB-USA developed the Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (PMEL) as an approach to the complex challenges inherent in international community development projects. At its core is the planning and evaluation of positive “pathways” to community change, a series of actions that lead to a series of positive outcomes for the community. The study presented in this paper investigates the added value of using Group Model Building (GMB) as a way to improve the outcome of brainstorming sessions which are part of the PMEL framework. In order to assess the value proposition of GMB in project decision making, a two-session GMB workshop was held with an EWB-USA student team working on a rural water project in Peru. A mixed-methods approach was used to extract and analyze participant mental models before and after the workshop. The results of the study indicate compelling shifts in participant’s mental models towards those of systems thinkers. Marked changes in project planning action items were also observed along with an alignment of their perceived change pathways. Overall, shifts in mental models towards those of systems thinkers were related to a more complete understanding and appreciation of project complexity and of the factors that contribute to project success.