Responsible Engineers – an abstract

As I am so bad at uploading slidesets and finishing papers (I’m working on it – honest), I thought I could at least upload abstracts in case anyone wants to start a conversation…….

Here is the abstract that I’ve had accepted for the 6th International Symposium in Engineering Education (ISEE2016) at the Sheffield Diamond in July.


Distributing Responsibility in Engineering Education: from individual to collective

Beverley Gibbs, University of Sheffield & Rider Foley, University of Virginia


If engineers are to be charged with ‘…turning dreams to reality’, then with that comes enormous responsibility, not only in the competent execution of the turning, but in defining the reality they help manifest. Although the idea of professional responsibility now receives mainstream attention in UK engineering education, even the most competent series of engineering decisions can result in an overall effect that unevenly distributes risk or benefit, an outcome previously termed ‘the problem of many hands’ (Van de Poel & Royakkers 2011). This is a particularly challenging idea to educational environments that encourage individualistic understandings of responsibility.

Receiving less attention is the idea of collective responsibility and how engineers can work amongst a wider range of stakeholders in helping engineer more equitable and sustainable systems, and be accountable for the decisions they shape. Under the banner of Responsible Research and Innovation, this idea is gaining momentum not only in scholarly literature (e.g. Hartley, Pearce & Taylor 2015 or Stilgoe, Owen & Macnaghten 2013) but in research policy amongst, for example, the EU, the EPSRC and Innovate UK.

This paper develops a mandate for the teaching of collective responsibility to help engineers play their role in developing systems and innovations that are socially responsible. It draws on professional practice and two collaborative educational research projects to critically reflect on different pedagogical approaches used in the US and UK and ask how students can best be equipped with the tools and insights needed to be part of a responsible collective.