EC.719 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

D-Lab: Water, Climate Change, and Health



The tutorial is an opportunity to pick a topic of your choice from the universe of topics pertaining to the subjects of water, climate change, and health and share that with the class. The tutorial will be undertaken either with one teammate, or individually. It can be done in any format of your choice, with creative, non-traditional pedagogies (eg. demos, games, workshops, other activites) most welcome. 

There will be roughly one tutorial per week.


Browse the Drawdown solutions and pick one that interests you. Come prepared to class to present that solution, either informally (sitting at your seat and just talking) or formally (preparing some slides for class presentation, and/or some related material you have dug up on that solution). Your presentation might take 5 minutes or so.

Dream Project Exercise

Take an index card, and prepare a short summary.

Step 1 (on side 1 of the index card): Describe your dream project (drawing from any combo of disciplines, any scale, however far-fetched or down-to-earth).

  • Dream project name/title
  • Dream project summary (50 words maximum)
  • What else do you need to make this dream a reality?

If you don’t have a dream project yet, describe a sector or geographical area in which you would like to be focused.

Step 2 (on side 2 of the index card): Get yourself recruited into a Dream Team! What are your special gifts?

  • Reason a team should want to recruit you—ie., your special skills and capabilities (50 words maximum)
  • Types of project sought
  • Does your dream project fit in the Drawdown and/or 2020 framework?

Dream Project / Term Project Proposal

The proposal describes your dream project. The proposal is your opportunity to detail the scope of your project, its context, what you need to make this happen, your timeline and milestones, who are your teammates if you have teammates, or if you are planning to proceed individually.

In the first deliverable, it does not need to be a fully formed proposal but a rough first draft. There’s no specific page requirement, but 4 to 8 pages of text total, or perhaps 10+ PowerPoint slides might be a good length.

Below is a generic outline, which you may use to structure your proposal:

1. Abstract

Provide an overview/abstract that concisely summarizes your idea.

2. The Problem

Background/Context/Framing: Lay out the need/opportunity for your idea. What is the problem you’re addressing? What is the extent of the problem? What community will you assist? Why is it important that this need be filled?

3. “Prior Art”

Prior attempts to solve this problem: What is the prior art currently in use? What are the benefits and drawbacks of prior attempts to solve the problem? Why were prior solutions inadequate or not as successful as intended?

4. Your Solution/Innovation

The technology, process, idea, policy/plan, public health initiative, business model, financial instrument, etc. explained in detail: Is your dream project something new altogether, or is it a modification and/or a new location to apply an existing system?

Explain exactly why you believe it is ‘innovative.’ Why this innovation is an improvement on previous approaches: How does it address the problem? How is your idea better than existing solutions for your target community, audience, location? If this question were to be framed from a business standpoint, we’d ask: who is your competition or what are the other competitive products or systems that are out there? Or, from the point of view of cooperation with other partners and social networks, how does this approach lend itself to imitation and spreading widely?

5. Project Description/Feasibility

The proposal is your plan for implementing your dream project so that it has a real positive impact on a group or community. The best projects often involve co-design with users and beneficiaries. Describe what your project will entail in terms of working with a team or community on the development, design, and user feedback. In some instances, your project may need approval for use on human subjects. If that’s the case, Susan and/or Julie can advise you accordingly.

  • What the project entails: Provide an overview of your project. What are the key factors contributing to the design of your project?
  • Where you are working: Will the project take place in one specific location or multiple locations? How much time will you be spending with the community/ies where you’re launching the project?
  • Community partnerships: This may be an important part of the proposal, as it helps demonstrate that your project will have traction in the community or location where you intend to work. Ideally, you should have a community partner (organization, individual, company, etc.) who will collaborate with you in the design, implementation, or support. Who is that? What is their relationship with the community? What is their role in your project?
  • Additional stakeholders: Who else are you working with in the community you intend to serve? What relationships will be necessary to build in the next months to one year as you implement your project? Work to date: What research have you done to support your project? Do you intend to have a prototype, public health initiative, policy, or other plans? How long have you been working on this?
  • Challenges to implementation: Acknowledge some of the potential challenges for implementing your project. How might you plan in advance for potential setbacks? What steps can be taken to lessen risks?
  • Sustainability considerations: Please outline how you are thinking about the sustainability of your project. Some projects are intended to address short-term community needs; others address long-term issues. However, we’d like all teams to seriously consider how their projects affect the communities they work with. What steps will you take to ensure that the project is meaningfully impactful and not negatively disruptive? Will community members be trained to carry the project forward in your absence? If so, address any extra burdens being placed on the community.

6. Impact

What are the expected benefits of your dream project?

  • For whom: Who will be affected by your project? How will it affect the people for whom it is intended? What additional effects and benefits do you anticipate from your project?
  • Magnitude: Your project could affect the lives of just a few people in a profoundly meaningful way, or it could change quality of life for thousands in a small or big way. How many people do you anticipate your project might affect and to what extent?
  • Immediate impact and long-term vision: What would the impact be at different stages of the project? How do you intend to achieve these?

7. Timeline/Milestones

Sketch out the main steps in a timeline or Gantt chart. What will you do in the next 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 12 months and beyond? Who is responsible for each role?

Consider breaking the timeline into two parts:

  • Part 1 Spring Term: The first part details Spring Term milestones. In simplest form, it should break Spring Term into your deliverables.
    • 1st deliverable (Week 5)
    • 2nd deliverable (Week 7)
    • 3rd deliverable (Week 11)
    • Final project (Week 14)
  • Part 2: If you anticipate that your Dream Project may continue beyond the Spring Term, please provide milestones for the next 6 to 12 months.

8. Your Team & Mentors

Who is on your team? How do your skills and experience align with the skills needed to implement the idea? Do the team members bring any transferrable skills/experience from previous work to this project? 

  • Team members: Provide brief bios (3–5 sentences) for each of your team members.
  • Mentors/advisors: Describe the mentors and advisors who will assist you with your project development. What roles will they serve in developing the project? What additional human resources or expertise might you need over the spring term and over the next 12 months (assuming you continue with this project beyond the spring term?)

9. Community Partners

Describe any potential partners with whom you would be working on your dream project, for example, a community partner in a developing country.

10. The Budget

A draft budget should be included as part of your proposal.

The draft budget should present a realistic and detailed overview of what the project will cost. Your budget should be based on what funding you think you could obtain from entering and winning a competition or grant award, such as IDEAS Global Challenge, the PKG fellowship, D-Lab funding etc. If your budget is > $2,500, you should indicate where other sources of funding may come from.

Assuming you did have full funding for this project, how would you allocate the funding? Describe how funding fits into your overall implementation plan.

Term Project

Household to global scale term projects on water, climate change and health solutions will be developed in teams or individually. You and your team decide on the format—a model, a video, a website, an app, a proposal, an artistic expression, a research paper, a competition entry. This can take any form. Each person or team will receive close mentoring as projects evolve. Every class project will have three deliverables, one per month of the term. There will be opportunities to present your term projects and get feedback from the class and/or mentors in varying stages of project evolution. Examples of student projects from this semester are available.

Students were required to complete a term project on water, climate change, and health solutions in teams or individually. Students decided on the format—a model, a video, a website, an app, a proposal, an artistic expression, a research paper, a competition entry. This can take any form. Each person or team received close mentoring as projects evolved. Every class project had three deliverables, one per month of the term.

At the end of the course, the D-Lab Showcase featured all the spring term D-Lab class projects. This was an opportunity to present the “final” version of the term projects. Course instructors and peers provided feedback on student work.

This page contains a sampling of some of the student projects completed during the Spring 2019 version of this course. Past student projects are also available. 

1001 Stories

Devi Lockwood spent four years before coming to MIT recording audio stories about water and climate change. Her goal is to collect 1,001 total stories; currently, she has 850+ stories recorded from six of the seven continents. As a current student in the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, she took D-Lab: Water, Climate Change, and Health as an elective credit.

Although this work began before she came to MIT, she says that only at MIT was she “able to launch” the project with a website, since she didn’t have the technical skills necessary to create the site. This is where her classmate, Jeff DelViscio, came in. A Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, he has extensive experience in digital storytelling. Along with digital media designer Anna Chung and Boston-based multimedia storyteller Samia Bouzid, they launched their site on Earth Day 2019.

View the project at 1001 Stories.

Pop-Up Green Infrastructure  

This rainwater simulator demonstrates the effect of impervious surfaces versus green space in the water cycle. Water rains down from the top of the demonstration. On the right is a display of asphalt landscape and on the left is a display of a park. As water falls, it collects on the right side until it is able to escape through the single hole representing a sewer system. On the left, however, water falls quicker through multiple holes and becomes groundwater instead of entering the sewage system.

The simulator was designed for pop-up exhibits for an organization designing green spaces for underserved communities in the greater Boston area. 

Demonstration of the simulator presented at the D-Lab Showcase (left) and accompanying poster (right).

Seabin in New England

Jeff Tedmori is a graduate student in the MIT Sloan School of Management. He has long been interested the problem of ocean pollution, so for his D-Lab project, he thought of the Seabin Project with whom he had previous worked. Seabins are devices designed to remove microplastics and other microfibers from ocean water. Microplastics are fragments measuring less than 5 mm in diameter.

He worked with an organization that educates youth about ocean plastics to build a curriculum around Seabins that builds an understanding of microplastics. Because microplastics are so small, it can be hard to raise awareness about them as you cannot see them easily. Although the organization has many topics organized around ocean health, this curriculum was specifically designed to help youth realize the impact of microplastics through the use of Seabins.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Projects with Examples
Lecture Notes
Instructor Insights