Become part of the Capstone!

People network The Capstone is the final phase of the CHARM-EU Master’s programme Global Challenges for Sustainability. Starting in September 2022, for a period of 6 months, student teams collaborate with academics and external stakeholders to identify, analyse and address sustainability challenges. In doing so, they creatively devise robust, adaptable, ethical and sustainable solutions for these challenges.

The ca. 70 students of the Master’s will be divided in 15 teams, of 4-6 of students per team, located across the five CHARM-EU partner universities.

For whom and why?

External stakeholders and academics

Both external stakeholders and academics can submit a challenge that they would like to collaborate on with students. The Capstone can generate knowledge, fresh insights and other useful outputs related to a challenge that actors address in their work field. Outputs from the Capstone can include scientific analyses; business models; policy briefs or recommendations; media campaigns; communication materials; and software, methods, tools or prototypes. Capstone student teams typically engage with a variety of external stakeholders, but there is one main stakeholder with a special interest in addressing the sustainability challenge, the so-called client. Clients can include (inter)governmental agencies, civil society organisations, think tanks, grassroots, social movements and businesses.

What you can gain from the Capstone

These are some of the ways in which you can benefit from being involved in the Capstone:

  • Identify ways to address sustainability challenges together with students and academics. 
  • Receive useful outputs in the form of a final Capstone product, e.g. reports, policy briefs, infographics, business models, prototypes, etc. The Capstone product will be co-defined by extra-academic actors, students and academic supervisors.  
  • Test or use certain technologies, software, tools, methods or equipment. 
  • Build competences, knowledge and skills, e.g. through mixed classrooms and workshops whereby students and professionals learn together. 
  • Networking with other extra-academic actors, academics and students, and establish long-term collaborations with CHARM-EU and its five partner universities. 
  • Recruit CHARM-EU students for internships/traineeships and jobs and/or help to develop knowledge and skills among (potential) future employees. 
  • Academics can also propose challenges, for example by linking challenges to their own research projects and thereby advance their own (transdisciplinary) research.

For students, the Capstone is designed to build on knowledge and skills gained during the previous phases of the Master’s programme, and serves as the final test of students’ achievement of all the Programme Learning Outcomes. During the Capstone, students synthesize prior learning, refine their skills, develop their personal attributes as well as their academic and extra-academic networks, and prepare for their future careers. Students are guided by academic supervisors, mentors, peers and teachers during (hybrid and offline) skill development workshops, field work, supervision meetings, meetings with external stakeholders and symposia. If relevant, external stakeholders can join these activities to build knowledge and skills.

Download the students' capstone leaflet and timeline here.

What students learn in the Capstone

The Capstone Module Learning Outcomes are as follows:  

  1. Further develop communication skills and demonstrate those skills sensitively and professionally in teamwork, presentation, pitching, negotiation and coordination.
  2. Develop and demonstrate self-awareness of personal leadership style in the collaboration within an inter/transdisciplinary team.
  3. Demonstrate a creative mindset by designing new concepts / solutions for sustainability challenges.
  4. Demonstrate expertise in the identification and application of the latest technological tools to source, analyse, handle, use and communicate complex bodies of data ethically.
  5. Reflect on how the challenge can have a personal impact on the student.
  6. Analyse individual, societal and ecological needs and explore opportunities for solutions within a societal, scientific, economic context.
  7. Describe and critically appraise a real-world sustainability challenge from various disciplinary perspectives to determine and frame the challenge.
  8. Outline different disciplinary approaches, intercultural perspectives, and their interrelationships to identify (e.g. social, cultural, political, economic) actors involved in and affected by the challenge.
  9. Identify and execute methodologies, analyse data and synthesize information to understand the challenge and areas for innovation, relevant for addressing the challenge.
  10. Articulate and develop sustainable and ethical solution prototypes to a complex societal challenge, as part of a transdisciplinary team, while considering the needs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders and disciplines.
  11. Implement and monitor sustainable and ethical solution prototypes and validate in collaboration with extra-academic actors the solution based on its value for the planet and different groups of people.
  12. Critically reflect on one solution from the validated prototypes and design it.
  13. Formulate a systematic and holistic implementation plan for the sustainable and ethical solution within the environment of the extra-academic actors.  
  14. Implement, monitor and critically evaluate the solution for the identified challenge, using appropriate (technological) tools and combining various disciplinary perspectives.
  15. Effectively communicate the inter- and transdisciplinary research results and developed solution to a diverse (academic and non-academic) audience through identification and use of the most appropriate media/technological tools/resources.
  16. Critically reflect on the individual and collaborative learning process, personal and professional developments and results of implementation.

Capstone challenges

Capstone challenges meet criteria related to interdisciplinarity, feasibility (incl. in terms of ethical procedures), scope, inclusivity, research focus of CHARM-EU partners and societal relevance. Capstone challenges are typically related to one or more themes of phase 2 of the Master’s programme (Water, Food, Life & Health). Most challenges focus on the countries where the five universities are based (Spain, The Netherlands, France, Ireland or Hungary), but can also be global in nature and/or focus on other EU or non-EU countries. In the latter case, field work can be conducted online or at students’ own expense.

Criteria for Capstone challenges

The sustainability challenges that are addressed during the Capstone can be identified by academics and/or external stakeholders (government agencies, international organisations, civil society, social movements, businesses, etc.). To be suitable for the Capstone, sustainability challenges need to meet the following criteria:  

  • The Capstone needs to be carried out in collaboration with extra-academic (societal) actors, such as (inter)governmental agencies, civil society, grassroots organisations, social movements, businesses, etc.
  • There should be one main actor—the so-called client—with a special interest in the challenge, who has (some) time and commitment to work with the student team and academic supervisor(s). The client who submits a challenge is expected to at least meet student teams once a month and provide one round of feedback on the proposal, the Capstone output and the students' presentation thereof.
  • The challenge needs to be authentic, complex, and addressed from multiple disciplines. 
  • The challenge needs to have a clear focus on sustainability (economic, social and/or environmental) and the themes covered in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 
  • The challenge needs to include a focus on, and take account of perspectives from, marginalised groups of society.      
  • The challenge needs to have a link with research conducted by at least one of the five universities. This will ensure availability of academic supervisors. Most challenges will be linked to one university which provides the academic supervisor and is the main location for the student team.
  • Students need to conduct field work as part of the Capstone.  Field work ideally takes place in the countries where the five universities are based (Spain, The Netherlands, France, Ireland or Hungary), but challenges can be global in nature and/or relate to EU or non-EU countries. In the latter case, field work can be conducted online, with actors active in the chosen field/region that are based in one of the five countries, or at students’ own expenses. 
  • The challenge should be large enough for students to be able to divide the work, but specific enough for the student team to analyse and address in a 19 weeks time frame.  
  • The challenge needs to relate in some way or the other to one or more themes of phase 2 (Water, Food, Life & Health) in order for students to draw on the knowledge gained during that phase.  
  • While the Capstone challenge can be co-defined by one extra-academic actor, there should be multiple stakeholders that have a stake in the sustainability challenge. In other words, the challenge needs to link to a societal problem rather than an individual or organisational problem.  
  • The Capstone output should meet certain pre-defined criteria which will be defined by the Capstone team.
  • The Capstone will build on the educational activities and training that help to build academic, professional and (inter)personal skills among students and extra-academic actors.  
  • In some cases, ethical clearance may be needed for research to be conducted.
  • Selected challenges need to be somewhat diverse in terms of their geographical and empirical focus. 
  • At least 4 students need to have an interest in addressing the challenge and form a student team. This means that submission of a challenge does not guarantee placement of the challenge. In this case, options can be explored to offer the challenge to students in the new edition of the Master’s programme as part of a short-term assignment in phase 1 (from September 2022) or phase 2 (from February 2023) or as challenge in the Capstone next year (September 2023).

Who can become involved?

External stakeholders can become engaged in the Capstone if they:

  • Are active in addressing sustainability challenges that relate to (some of) the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  
  • Value trans- and interdisciplinary approaches and inclusiveness. 
  • Are willing to invest (some) time and effort in the Capstone. Time commitment can vary depending on ways of involvement.
  • The main client who submits a challenge is expected to at least meet student teams once a month and provide one round of feedback on the proposal, the Capstone output and the students’ presentation thereof.    

All student teams will be guided by academic supervisors. Academics in one of the five CHARM-EU partner universities can also submit a challenge and/or sign up as academic supervisor.

Academic supervisors

Academic supervisors guide students in defining, analysing and addressing the Capstone challenge. They help students in: managing their relation with extra-academic actors; developing assessment criteria for the final Capstone product; developing theoretical frameworks, (research) methods and overall design of the Capstone; finding appropriate (academic) resources; and reflecting on the group process. Supervisors are based in the university where the challenge is mainly taking place. Supervisors have experience in Master and/or Bachelor thesis supervision, have affinity with transdisciplinary research, and are experts in or have affinity with the field of the sustainability challenge. Diversity across academic supervisors is sought, e.g. in terms of discipline, professional background, geographical orientation/origin, gender, etc. Supervisors can also propose challenges themselves, for example by linking challenges to their own research projects.

How to become involved?

External stakeholders and academics can engage in the Capstone in (some of) the following ways:  

  • Submit a challenge and further co-define it together with students and academic supervisors.  
  • Collaborate in analysing, evaluating and addressing (part of) the Capstone challenge. 
  • Provide one-off or longer-term expertise, technology, tools, methods, guidelines, etc. 
  • Grant students access to data in the form of interviews, databases, facilitation of field work, etc. 
  • Assess students on their Capstone proposal, presentations and final outputs. 
  • Give lectures or workshops for skill development, or (co-)organise training.

If you have any questions about the capstone, please send an email to