Global challenges should be solved through megaprojects

Global challenges should be solved through megaprojects

Silo mentality does not solve the world’s problems. The global challenges facing the world community are complex and deeply interrelated. Finding workable solutions to these complex issues therefore requires that experts from different fields work together. That is the idea behind the megaprojects that Aalborg University will be launching across its five faculties

How can we take better care of our planet? How can we foster sustainable behaviour? In recent years, climate change and environment issues have risen to the top of the agenda − especially because of IPPC reports and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are on everyone’s lips these days. Some might ask: What does a computer scientist, a business economist and a techno-anthropologist have in common? If you ask Aalborg University, the answer is ‘a lot’. The university’s vision is that grand challenges must be addressed across disciplinary boundaries as well as across degree programmes and semesters.

Megaprojects to solve mega problems

As of this year, a large number of students at Aalborg University will have the opportunity of working together with other students from across the university in an effort to contribute to solving the world’s climate and environment issues.

In her work as pro-rector for education, Inger Askehave recognises that the students have much to contribute to this agenda. She says:

− At Aalborg University, we have a longstanding and unique tradition of working problem and project based. By addressing global challenges as part of our students’ project work, we’ve taken our approach to the next level. The global challenges can only be solved on a large scale and by a matrix of disciplines collaborating, and many of our students will be working towards that end in contributing to so-called megaprojects.

Collaboration skills in demand

All megaprojects at Aalborg University are based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The megaprojects will be broken down in subprojects which students will work on in teams. A megaproject will span across several semesters, and the subprojects will build on the findings from previous subprojects.  In their project work, the students will be developing their specific disciplinary expertise to meet the requirements of their degree programme, but they will also be developing a very unique set of skills that will be particularly in demand in the future − that is, the ability to collaborate with peers and even more importantly with people outside their own field as well as outside academia. Exactly these skills will be incredibly important in addressing the grand challenges according to Inger Askehave. An added bonus for the students working on megaprojects will be a heightened awareness of sustainability and how to achieve a sustainable development worldwide.

The world outside the university

The issues addressed in the megaprojects will be defined in collaboration with external business partners, such as a public authority, a private company or an NGO. They will most likely also involve collaboration partners from other universities.

Two of these megaprojects are already clearly defined, and the work will be initiated when the students return for the new academic year.  Both projects will be carried out in close collaboration with the City of Aalborg who has defined issues for the projects entitled ‘Simplifying Sustainable Living’ and ‘The Circular Region’.

Lasse P. N. Olsen, councilman for the Environment and Energy Administration at the City of Aalborg, says:

­− We have very high expectations for our collaboration with Aalborg University on the megaprojects. One of the strengths of the projects is that the students bring in different skills and expertise. I think the approach to sustainability is naturally quite different in the humanities than in engineering, but the fact is that we need both mindsets to solve the technical and behavioural challenges of a green transition. The students will learn a lot from the projects, and the City of Aalborg and the companies in the North Denmark Region will get input and ideas that otherwise would not have been possible.

simplifying Sustainable Living

In short, the City of Aalborg wants to make it easier for its citizens to live sustainably. Initiatives such as a social platform for sharing information on relevant products and services and one or more social forums for sharing opportunities and challenges are just some of the ideas.

More specifically, the municipality has broken the challenges down to three focus areas: waste, green consumption and transport.

­− We’d like to get ideas as to how we can encourage citizens to produce less waste and become better at sorting their waste, and how we can make sustainable transportation a more attractive choice. By bringing together young people with different academic skills and mindsets, we hope to find solutions and ideas that we never would have thought of ourselves, says Michael Damm, environment director at the City of Aalborg.

The final product, which will be delivered in 2021, may take different forms. It might include analyses, recommendations, prototypes, design suggestions or apps. The common denominator is that they must all help make green living easier in Aalborg.

The Circular Region

In this megaproject, the City of Aalborg has set the goal of making North Denmark the first circular region in the world. The students who contribute to this megaproject will work on finding new ways to promote circular economy in a regional context. The projects will be grouped under three headings: System change, knowledge sharing and circular economy in practice.

− We hope that students from different academic backgrounds can help promote the circular economy in North Denmark, presumably both by shaping thought patterns and actions. This might result in initiatives that will make it easier for companies to ensure a long product lifetime and that products can be repaired easily, says Michael Damm.

This megaproject will run until 2021 when the final results will be submitted to the City of Aalborg.

Fully in line with UN’s 17th goal of global partnerships, both Aalborg University and the City of Aalborg invite other stakeholders to contribute to defining and addressing the two overarching challenges. Anyone who is interested may contact associate professor Martin Lehmann (contact info below).



Inger Askehave, pro-rector for education, Aalborg University, phone number +45 2787 9829,

Uffe Kjærulff, associate professor, Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University, phone number +45 9940 7221, (Megaproject: Sustainable Living)

Martin Lehmann, associate professor, Department of Planning, Aalborg University, phone number +45 6169 3306, (Megaproject: The Circular Region)

Nelly Sander, press contact, Technical Faculty for IT and Design, Aalborg University, phone number +45 9940 2018,

Anders Du Mont-Thygesen, project manager, City of Aalborg, phone number +45 2520 2194,