D-Lab Toolkit — Teaching Feasibility Studies

Description - Teaching Feasibility Studies

Would small-scale spirulina farms be an effective way for an NGO to combat malnutrition in Djibouti? What's the most sustainable way for the UC Davis Student Farm to power a greenhouse? How could a storage shed be designed so that it preserves potatoes in Georgia's cold winter climate? These are the sorts of questions student teams spend 10 weeks answering in a D-Lab Feasibility Studies class. 

In Feasibility Studies, students are evaluating whether a proposed project or solution is a good idea, and if so, how best to implement it. At the end of the class, they will provide their client with the information they need to move forward — or a well-researched, informed reason not to. The deliverables and accompanying lessons will guide students through holistically analyzing their client’s situation, doing their own background research, and applying relevant analytical tools to the situation.

Diagram illustrating the organization of the feasibility studies deliverables

A visual depiction of the sequencing of D-Lab Feasibility course deliverables, with objectives in bold.


What to expect

On this page, instructors can access the facilitator guide, powerpoints, handouts, and other resources to download and incorporate into their own curriculum and lesson plans. Before exploring this page, we recommend reviewing "Course Setup" if you have not done so already. The resources here should be supplemented by your own experience and whatever information you feel will be most relevant to your students. We also recommend incorporating guest speakers, site visits, and interactive labs wherever possible.

  • Instructor guide: How to organize the course structure, form student teams, manage group dynamics, and more.
  • Student Feasibility Workbook: a comprehensive document for students explaining each deliverable
  • 4-Lens Lesson Plans: Downloadable presentations instructors can modify and use to present fundamental concepts (includes facilitator guide)
  • Analytical tools: Downloadable interactive presentations to teach students about analytical tools they can apply to their projects

4-Lens Lessons

1. Course Introduction 

  • Content: course objectives + outline; introduction to the design process; four lenses of sustainability; active listening exercise 
  • Objectives: students know what to expect from the class, get to know each other, and practice synthesis and articulation skills 
  • OPTIONAL: "The Wallet Exercise," also included in this module, is an activity adapted from the Stanford D-School. It walks students through the process of user-centered design from start to finish and creates a space for students to feel comfortable taking risks and being creative. If you have the time (1.5 hours minimum) and resources (a big space, and random craft materials) we recommend including this. 

2. Project Selection 

  • Content: Presentation of projects briefs, brainstorming & ranking, decision matrix, Deliverable 1 
  • Objectives: Students learn a decision-making tool and apply it to choose their top three projects. The instructor uses the resulting deliverable to form project teams. 
  • GOOD TO KNOW: If you do not include the Wallet Exercise during the first class and have sufficient time, you can combine module 1 and module 2. 

3. Problem Framing A: Project Scope & Goal Statement 

  • Content: Announce teams, group work protocol, 4-lens problem framing, elevator pitch, Deliverable 2
  • Objectives: Establish communication with client, articulate client’s situation using 4 lenses
  • GOOD TO KNOW: This is the first time students will give an "elevator pitch." From this point on, we have the students practice their elevator pitch at the beginning or end of every class. 

4. Project Framing B: Research Considerations 

  • Content: Project consideration examples, sector research, group work time
  • Objectives: Brainstorm 4-lens project considerations, identify research directions for sector paper 
  • GOOD TO KNOW: This presentation contains a placeholder slide at the beginning for the instructor to present a case study they are familiar with. 


Analytical Tools 

1. Stakeholder Analysis

This tool is used to make relevant connections to both current and potential stakeholders.  This tool should be taught early in the course to encourage the students to increase their knowledge of both the client and the project.  Students can include a stakeholder analysis as part of their final report, making recommendations to their client regarding important connections to maintain, monitor, and/or create.

2. SWOT Analysis 

SWOT Analysis is crucial for understanding the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of the focus project or business as well as a competitor.  This tool can be used in a business plan/model to identify how the positive aspects of the focus project or business highlight the negative aspects of a competitor as well as address how the client is aware of and working to protect/remediate any weaknesses or threats.  This tool is also important to show clients where any flaws may be in their project and allow students to formulate any recommendations to address them.

3. Life-Cycle Assessment 

Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) encourages students to think about the complete environmental impact of a product or service. It is useful to compare between different manufacturing processes or alternative products.

4. Policy ID

Policies that are helpful for clients should be known and understood to ensure the client takes full advantage of the benefits. Alternatively, policies that are harmful to clients must be analyzed to ensure that the client is aware and takes the appropriate measures to be protected.  This tool is also useful to identify gaps in existing policy so the client may consider working towards creating and/or supporting beneficial policies for their project. 


Project-based teaching philosophy 

In a project-based course, the projects themselves are effectively the curriculum — students must take the initiative to seek out and learn information as it is relevant to their client and project. Nonetheless, you should be prepared for students to have varying levels of experience with project management, sector-specific knowledge (for example, of agricultural techniques or energy technologies), and hands-on skills. For that reason, it’s important to provide students with a roadmap and the resources they need to complete their project.

We have developed a curriculum that is designed to guide students through the process of framing the problem, gathering information, evaluating alternatives and finally producing a deliverable that will be useful to their client. The course is structured around deliverables, starting with project selection, moving through project scoping and background research, and finally, a report they will turn into the professor and submit to their client. We also incorporate midterm and final presentations, where students receive feedback on their progress and suggestions for how to improve.

Each deliverable is explained in the feasibility workbook, along with guiding questions. As you may notice, nearly half the course is devoted to problem framing — performing background research, communicating with the client about their situation, and investigating prior art — rather than immediately jumping to a “solution” phase. We strongly recommend following this outline.