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Sustainability Challenge (MSc GofS)


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the master’s programme Governance of Sustainability. The course is not open for guest students. To participate in the Sustainability Challenge, students need to have completed at least 48 EC of the first year MSc courses.


In this course, students work in teams on a real-world sustainability problem by applying and combining knowledge acquired from thematic courses and the transdisciplinary skills course. The project is commissioned by an external party (i.e., the commissioner) and supervised by an assigned supervisor. In this setting, students are trained to cooperate in an interdisciplinary team and to come up with real-life practical solutions to fulfill the commissioner’s deliverables.

Course Load

  • Lecture (17 hours)

  • Tutorial (5 hours)

  • Self-tuition (290 hours)

  • Others (24 hours)

Course objectives

By the end of the sustainability challenge, students will be able to:

  • Integrate perspectives from both environmental science and governance disciplines to solve a sustainability problem

  • Translate a problem or question of a commissioner to a ‘researchable’ or ‘actionable’ question

  • Analyze and develop a strategy to tackle a real-world problem

  • Develop sustainability strategies that can be implemented in their specific societal or organisational context

  • Manage both internal (e.g., team members) and external (e.g., commissioner) stakeholders

  • Evaluate and reflect on collaborative skills of self and peers

  • Manage time effectively


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

The format consists of problem-oriented teamwork in groups of four-five students, two plenary presentations where students present research plan and methodology (and preliminary results), and a poster presentation where students showcase the findings and recommendations of their project. In addition, several lectures and trainings are provided:

  • The introductory lecture in which the coordinator provides information on the structure, requirements, and objectives of the course.

  • A consulting skills training in which students will get valuable insights from professional consultants on various aspects, including transforming problems into consulting proposals, tackling sustainability issues, implementing solutions, managing stakeholders effectively, and fostering teamwork.

  • Two lectures and short tutorials on multi-criteria decision analysis methodologies in which students will learn about problem framing and structuring strategies, such as decision hierarchies and decision generation tables. They will also be introduced to theories that help develop decision recommendations.

Assessment method

The final grade is determined based on the consulting proposal, the final report, two oral and one poster presentations, group-work process, and transdisciplinary skills utilization.

The consulting proposal is a written document on which the group works during the first three week of the course. The consulting proposal details the agreements made between the commissioner and the team, detailing a realistic number of deliverables and an appropriate timeline. The proposal is due after about 3 weeks from the start of the course and is graded according to the rubric.

The final report describes thoroughly and succinctly the strategy to tackle the commissioned problem. As such, the main body of the final report should focus on contextualizing the proposed strategies (with regards to the literature and the boundary conditions of the problem) and detail the approach used by the team to reach such findings. The report should always be scientifically sound and defensible, and professionally presented. The final report is submitted at the end of the course and is graded according to the rubric.

There will be two oral presentations of the work of each group, namely a presentation about the research plan and one about the methodology (and preliminary results). In each presentation session, each group will be given 10 minutes for presenting their work followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. The presentations are graded according to the rubric.

There will be one final poster presentation in which students showcase the findings and recommendations for the commissioner. Poster sessions will take place during the annual symposium. Each poster session will consist of 45 min in which students will present their poster and interact with the public (including academics, industrial practitioners, policy officers and others). The poster session is graded according to the rubric.

Team cohesion, collaboration, proactivity and time management as well as communication with supervisor are assessed through the rubric.
Transdisciplinary skills utilization (communication with external stakeholders and integration of multiple perspectives) are assessed through the rubric.
Specific guidelines for the structure, contents and word limits of the various components are provided in the course manual. All assessments will follow the rubric provided on Brightspace.

Students receive written feedback through Brightspace after each presentation, submission of consulting proposal and final report. Feedback on draft versions of the proposal and report is also provided informally by the group supervisor at least in two moments throughout the duration of the course. Oral feedback from the supervisor is also provided during biweekly meetings.

According to the rubric, the various parts of the course will be graded as follows:

  • Consulting proposal: 15%

  • Final report: 40%

  • Presentation quality: 15%

  • Group-work process: 15%

  • Transdisciplinary skills: 15%

The supervisor of the group advices the course coordinator on a grade for the consulting proposal and a grade for each presentation according to the rubric criteria. All partial grades are submitted to Brightspace and are reported in the final rubric. The supervisor of the group, in consultation with the commissioner (where necessary), advices the course coordinator on the grade of the final report and group work process. The coordinator of the course operates as the final examiner and warrants the equality of the evaluations among the groups.

An overall sufficient grade of 5.5 is required to pass this course.

In case of an insufficient grade, then the group is given two months to submit an additional assignment related to the project and reach therefore a sufficient grade. The maximum final overall grade that can be scored by the group (including the resit) assignment is then a 5.5. The assignment is established by the course coordinator in consultation with the supervisor.

If throughout the process, and at an early stage there are signs of uneven contribution of the group members, the course coordinator has the right to establish and adjust the grade, provided this will be discussed with and approved by all group members and supervisor. The self and peer evaluation form will be used to inform (but not establish) the contribution evaluation (based on the performance of individual members reported by the form). Depending on the circumstances, students might be asked to submit a new peer evaluation to establish the grade differentiation.

Reading list

Brightspace will be used for communications and distributing study material.


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinator: Dr. Valerio Barbarossa and Dr. Gerard Breeman


Students should be available for at least two days a week to work on the project and reserve at least one day a week for team meetings.