Project Overview

Food and Sustainability in the University

The theme of the course this year is Food and Sustainability — how can we make the production, consumption and disposal of food within the University more sustainable?

The University of Edinburgh is currently in the process of drafting its first sustainable food policy. In this course, your main objective is to work in a small team to develop a project that engages with this policy goal, by designing, building and measuring experimental innovations.

In order to narrow down the scope of what you do, we ask you focus your project on one of the following sub-themes:

Reducing wastage of food served in Pollock Halls Dining Hall
Reducing packaging waste at any point in the production and consumption of food on campus.
Increasing the rate at which students select healthy / sustainable food options, either on campus, or off campus; and with either prepared food or raw ingredients.

Your project work will be divided into five phases over the course of the semester. Descriptions of the phases can be found by following the links below:

  1. Preparation
  2. Fast Hack
  3. Digging Deeper
  4. Slow Hack
  5. Reporting

Design and Design Methods

The core of a DDS project is closely related to how we think about design. Here, design is about the processes of identifying and solving problems, often with input from other people affected by those problems, and often by trial and error. We adopt the broad definition of design by Herbert Simon, namely “devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.

Design methods are a form of exploring the world, often via trial and error: considering options—even options that sound strange, uncomfortable or impossible—and then developing “interventions” as experiments to see how we can change the current situation. In DDS, we will use participatory design; this is a design process which aims at involving all stakeholders (e.g., students, teaching staff, catering staff) in defining problems, helping focus on solutions, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions.

Design, as a discipline and a collection of processes, has no requirement to use technology. There is also no requirement to build physical or digital artifacts. Design may be mostly about ideas, and imagining how something could potentially work very differently than it does now. Many designs may involve technology, or make physical objects, but only where this seems appropriate for the problem at hand.


Data plays an important role in our approach to design. First, we need to understand “the existing situation”, and we use data as an essential tool to reach this understanding. Second, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention, we need to collect data that will helps us measure this.

What is Data? gives a quick overview of different kinds of data that we will use in the course. One important distinction is between subjective and objective data. Although it’s hard to give a completely watertight definition, subjective data will involve people’s thoughts, emotions and values, while objective data is based on observations of physical phenomena.

Two kinds of data

As part of your DDS project, you are required to use both subjective and objective data. In addition, you are required to use some existing data and also to collect some new data. So your project should involve at least one of the data scenarios shown in these diagrams: