Multi-constraint Analysis in Action

Roof of Edinburgh Waverley Station
Looking through the roof of Edinburgh Waverley Station. I pass through Waverley each time I go to Edinburgh University to teach, and I am always drawn to the intricate lattice work of the roof

Today I was helping out in a design lecture at Edinburgh University in which lecturer Tim Stratford led a simple but effective demonstration of multi-constraint analysis (MCA). This is one of the basic tools that I have been referring to in recent workshops on teaching sustainability.

Tim used the example of making a purchasing decision between two bicycles to illustrate how MCA can work. He chose a series of criteria for consideration, assigned a weighting to each to criteria, marked each bicycle against all of the criteria, then summed the product of the marks and their respective weights.

This exercise was positioned half way through a four-week group design course, in which students have developed three options for a particular structure. Each team had to take on the role of client for another team and had to use MCA to help them decide which of the other team’s three design options they preferred.

MCA is a simple tool to introduce early in the teaching of sustainability because it helps in evaluate complex design options. The point I often make however is that these tools don’t have to be taught in the context of a course on ‘sustainability’ – here the concept is being taught in the context of design. And so it can be for many of the other basic building blocks for teaching sustainability.

Further Reading – The Department for Communities and Local Government published a manual on using multi-constraint analysis, which includes a detailed example of applying MCA to the purchase of a toaster. This is and other useful resources are referred to in the back of ‘Embedding Sustainability in the Undergraduate Civil Engineering Curriculum‘.