Contextual engineering assessment using an influence-identification tool

Ann-Perry Witmer (Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA)

Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology

ISSN: 1726-0531

Publication date: 4 December 2018



This paper aims to introduce a new thought process and associated predictive tool to assist designers of infrastructure for unfamiliar rural societies in understanding the specific non-engineering influences that can lead to greater effectiveness of engineered infrastructure.


Using sociological principles, a simple checklist tool has been designed to assess specific societal conditions that may influence intervention outcomes. The tool, when weighted by regional predispositions, allows the designer to incorporate five non-engineering influences into technical design of engineered infrastructure.


Early deployment of the tool indicates that the predictive process helps to adapt technical designs to societal contexts. It also enhances consultant understanding of the client’s values and needs to achieve a collaborative technical solution.

Research limitations/implications

Long-term outcomes have not been assessed, so additional time is needed to confirm the value of context in design performance. Further evaluations will refine the technical guideline process as well.

Practical implications

Merging sociological understanding with technical design allows engineers to assimilate client values and indigenous beliefs into an infrastructure, preventing rejection due to incompatibility with local context.


The concept of contextual engineering, which melds technical approach with societal influences, is the original contribution of the author, as is the predictive tool.



Witmer, A. (2018), "Contextual engineering assessment using an influence-identification tool", Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 889-909.

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