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POL8070 : Problem Solving for Defence (H4MoD)

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Megan Armstrong
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Katharine A. M. Wright
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 8 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Problem Solving for Defence is an interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial module that provides students the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) to better address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. The module is an applied one that sees students form groups of teams that engage directly with complex, real world problems proposed by UK government sponsors. The module covers policy, economics, technology, national security, and any area needed to address the problem sponsor’s challenge.

In the module, students will be assigned a team and a problem, and then be provided with a range of relevant methodological tools and techniques. As the module progresses, student teams will be required to validate the problem through a process of beneficiary discovery (interviewing stakeholders), a core methodological pillar on the programme, and creating and testing minimum viable products (MVPs). Teams take a hands-on approach requiring close engagement with actual military, Ministry of Defence, and other government agency end-users, using their real-world challenges. This might include reflection on ethical issues raised.

The goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give the students a framework to test solution hypotheses using a start-up model while creating all the pressures and demands of the real world in an early-stage start-up. The class is designed to give the experience of working as a team and turn an idea into a solution for real-world problems facing the Ministry of Defence and Intelligence Community.

It is important to bear in mind that this module aims to simulate what start-ups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: the need to take conceptually-sound decisions amidst uncertainty, challenging deadlines, and often conflicting input.

The module is based on the Hacking for Defense™ (H4D) programme initially developed at Stanford University ( and is an education initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Accelerator, the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) in the US. In the UK, Hacking for Ministry of Defence (H4MoD) is funded by the Ministry of Defence.

The module aims:

- To provide students with a deep knowledge and understanding of some of the most pressing security challenges facing UK government

- To equip students with key entrepreneurial and transferable skills to take forwards into their future careers

- To provide students with insights into some of the constraints and opportunities facing government as it seeks to address these challenges

- To equip students with a range of methodological tools focused around Lean Start-up principles that can be applied to real-world security problems

- To provide high quality experiential learning by working on a real-world problem

- To provide students with the means to critically assess the value and relevance of methodological tools as they relate to specific problems

- To help students develop a repeatable model for problem-solving that can be used in a range of other contexts

Outline Of Syllabus

1. Introductory Session: Lean Startup, Mission Model Canvas, Beneficiary Discovery, and Minimum-Viable Products
2. Interview training      
3. Concept 1 - Beneficiaries and Stakeholders
4. Concept 2 - Value Proposition and Value Proposition Canvas
5. Concept 3 - Dual Use & Product Mission Fit
6. Concept 4 - Mission Achievement
7. Concept 5 - Buy In & Support
8. Concept 6 - Deployment
9. Concept 7 - Activities, Resources & Partners
10.Concept 8 - Mission Budget & Operating Plan
11.Lessons Learned and Final Presentations

** Note for students considering taking this module: **

Because of the nature of this module, which requires working with the government sponsor of an assigned problem and gathering primary data on it, this module involves a significant time commitment. In addition to classroom time, the module’s demands include engagement with the flipped lecture and other on-line resources, course reading and an average of 10 hours of interviews per week per student team.

It is important to remember that the aims and learning objectives of this module are focussed on developing a set of skills that students will be able to apply in a variety of professions, not on the development of substantive knowledge in a particular area. All the problems assigned to students are curated by Hacking for MoD and by the module convenors to ensure that they provide the scope needed for the module.

If students have questions about what the module will require and the necessary time commitment, they should contact the PGT Director before listing this module on the module preference form. Note that the number of students on the module is limited. Once students have listed the module on their preference form, they are making a commitment to the government agencies that are sponsoring problems for the module as well as to their fellow team members.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading101:0010:00Recorded lectures, including on concepts
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical12:002:00Group based presentations to key stakeholders.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching102:0020:00Seminars/classes - group presentations/updates and feedback. Educator(s) introduce the concepts weekly to the students in class, after their presentations.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00Interview training
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity102:0020:00Interviews conducted by the student team approx 10 per week. Not timetabled.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1146:00146:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module is based on a flipped classroom model which aims to maximise student engagement during class time.

Students are required to watch and to prepare for each class by reading/viewing the recommended resources. The information in the weekly lectures and readings will allow students to complete their interviews and present the insights the teaching team will expect in presentations. Recognising the workload for the class, we have selected short items for this reading/viewing list and have added ‘further resources’ for those who are interested in looking into some areas in more depth.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio2M60Group Based Portfolio. Total 3,000 words
Oral Presentation2M40Group Based Presentation to key stakeholders based on the Group Based Portfolio. 15 minutes.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The Group Based Portfolio will consist of:

1. Demonstrating 10 interviews a week by providing a “map” of everyone they interviewed and their organisations
2. Each week’s iteration of the Mission Model Canvas, including their final Mission Model Canvas
3. A short paper on their journey using the Lean Start-up model to chart how they first approached their problem and how their understanding of the problem changed, including why they made the decisions they did, what data validated their problem, how they developed and tested their solution with beneficiaries, their final understanding of the problem, and any MVPs.
4. A 15 minute presentation to key stakeholders on the above elements of the Group Based Portfolio, including key findings and recommendations.

To support the Portfolio, students will spend time conducting interviews related to their project. Every week the student team will conduct a minimum of ten interviews focused on a specific part of the “Mission Model Canvas”; a visual tool and framework Hacking for Defense developed to rapidly test hypotheses against solutions for government issues. It is important to bear in mind that this module aims to simulate what start-ups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: the need to take conceptually-sound decisions amidst uncertainty, challenging deadlines, and often conflicting input.

Reading Lists