EFI collaboration with Edinburgh partners empowers students to drive change

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Over the summer, more than 120 undergraduate and postgraduate students tackled complex challenges posed by public, private, third-sector and community organisations in the latest Students as Change Agents Programme (SaCHA).

University of Edinburgh students have been searching for answers to difficult questions, such as how to make tourism in Edinburgh greener and serve local communities better and how to reduce youth homelessness in Scotland.

This summer, more than 120 Edinburgh undergraduates and postgraduates tackled these challenges during the latest Students as Change Agents Programme. The challenge-led, experiential learning programme brings students together from different disciplines to address complex challenges posed by public, private, third-sector and community organisations.

Launched in 2019 and funded by the Data-Driven Innovation initiative, the Students as Change Agents Programme is part of the University of Edinburgh’s broader Challenge Programme, which also includes the health and wellbeing-focused Our Health Programme. The University of Edinburgh’s Career Service leads the programme, which plays a vital role in the University’s ultimate ambition to introduce challenge-led experiential learning to the curriculum for all students. EFI has worked alongside the Careers Service, Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s Institute for Academic Development, Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, the Bayes Centre, Colleges and the Students’ Association, to develop the Students as Change Agents Programme since its creation. The institute will launch a challenge-led credit-bearing elective course, based on the programme and open to all undergraduates, from the 2021/22 academic year.

For its fourth and first fully online iteration, the four-week programme split the students into 20 groups. It asked ten groups to answer a question set by EFI partners, Edinburgh Tourism in Action Group (ETAG): How might Edinburgh create an environmentally sustainable future in the revival of its tourism and festivals post-COVID-19? Meanwhile, the other ten groups worked on a challenge set by Scotland’s legal advice and advocacy service for children and young people, Clan Childlaw: How can Scotland change to reduce youth homelessness?

EFI trained students to use the Edinburgh Living Lab’s Data, Design and Society innovation process through a series of online workshops. The approach combines the analytical power of data to understand human behaviour with design thinking methods and understanding of social context to create human-centric and practical solutions to meet peoples’ needs. Students said the process ‘allowed a lot of creative thinking’ and helped them break their ideas down into actions they ‘wouldn’t have thought of otherwise’.

Sharing their solutions through online presentations, short videos and written reports, the students impressed their challenge hosts with innovative ideas such as installing energy monitors in hotel rooms to encourage guests to reduce their consumption. Other proposals included creating a network of youth hubs in socially-disadvantaged communities to provide valuable educational, social, financial and legal support to at-risk young people.

You can watch a selection of the students’ presentations here.

Cat Magill is the former EFI Portfolio Manager and Edinburgh Living Lab programme lead who delivered the Data, Design and Society workshops. Reflecting on the work she said:

‘The Students as Change Agents programme is a fantastic example of the powerful creativity we can generate by bringing together city region partners and students. By equipping these brilliant young minds with the right skills and methodologies, we can empower them to address real challenges with innovative and implementable ideas.’

Ruth Donnelly, Assistant Director of The University of Edinburgh Careers Service, said:

‘As part of The University of Edinburgh’s broader Challenge Programme, the Students as Change Agents Programme demonstrates the enormous potential there is to cut across disciplines and work in collaboration, rather than competition, to tackle the issues facing our communities and drive positive change.’

‘Adverse circumstances may have driven our decision to take this edition online. However, in doing so, we have seen how effective digital tools can be in removing barriers to interdisciplinary working, such as schedules, work and care responsibilities, to make the experience more accessible and inclusive. Starting with the launch of the EFI undergraduate elective next year, we will take this model forward as part of our ambition to embed challenge-led experiential learning in the curriculum for all Edinburgh students.’

You can find out more about the SaCHA programme on the Careers Service website or please email

More information about the Edinburgh Living Lab is on their website.

You can find further information about Clan Childlaw here.

More about Edinburgh Tourism in Action Group (ETAG) can be found on their website.

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