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Murcott, Susan, SP.723 D-Lab: Disseminating Innovations for the Common Good, Spring 2007. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 11 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

D-Lab: Disseminating Innovations for the Common Good

Spring 2007

A hand-powered vacuum pump features a wooden flywheel that connects to two commercial vacuum pump units, mounted on a wooden frame.
This human-powered vacuum pump was developed by SP.723 students on the Vac-Cast project for use in rural clinics. Using the pump, technicians can make a mold in sand around an amputated limb, to quickly and cheaply cast a fitted prosthesis. This technology won $7,500 funding in the '06-'07 MIT IDEAS Competition. (Image courtesy of Vac-Cast Project: Tess Veuthey, Goutam Reddy, Irina Azu, Maria Luckyanova, Aron Zingman, and Stephen Samouhos. Used with permission.)

Course Highlights

This course features a gallery of student projects, which were deployed in various communities during the summer of 2007. It also contains a full set of class discussion notes.

Course Description

Third in the trilogy of D-Lab courses, D-Lab III focuses on disseminating innovations among underserved communities, especially in developing countries. Students acquire skills related to building partnerships and piloting, financing, implementing, and scaling-up a selected innovation for the common good. The course is structured around MIT and outside competitions. Teams develop an idea, project or (social) business plan that is "ready to roll" by term's end. Course includes an on-line forum discussion board, student-led case studies and a final proposal or business plan for realizing your dream innovation.

Special Features

  • Special feature video

Technical Requirements

Special software is required to use some of the files in this course: .mp4, .rm.


D-Lab III is the third in the D-Lab trilogy of courses on "Development," "Design," and "Dissemination," focusing on disseminating innovations for the common good among underserved communities, especially in developing countries. Students acquire skills relating to building partnerships and piloting, financing, implementing, and scaling-up a selected innovation for the common good. The course is structured around MIT competitions: IDEAS, $100K, and Deshpande IdeasStream Innovation Showcase; and outside competitions: Ignite Clean Energy, Environmental Protection Agency P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability, and World Bank Development Marketplace. The "theory" part of the course addresses diffusion of innovation, and the acquired "how-to" skills relate to building international collaborations and to piloting, implementing and scaling-up an innovation. The class draws lessons from success stories of social entrepreneurs, while also identifying challenges, unintended consequences and failures in implementing technologies, projects and policies. Topics include defining vision and strategy, social entrepreneurship, implementation models, mechanics of implementation, micro-financing, management and accounting, monitoring and evaluation, opportunities and challenges of targeting one's enterprise to developing country and "bottom of the pyramid" contexts. Students learn to "pitch" to potential backers and explore essential skill sets and tools that can support realization of their innovation. Assignments include an on-line forum discussion board, student-selected and led case study readings/class discussions, a honed, incrementally-improved, final proposal for realizing your dream innovation. Teams develop an idea, project or social business plan that is "ready to roll" by term's end.



Main Text

 [DOI] Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed. New York, NY: Free Press, 2003. ISBN: 9780743222099.

Case Studies

 Yunus, Muhammad. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. New York, NY: PublicAffairs/Perseus Books, 2003. ISBN: 9781586481988.

 Prahalad, C. K. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing, 2006. ISBN: 9780131877290.

Course Policies and Requirements


Implementing an innovation is first and foremost about commitment (and passion). Moreover, this is a class where your work is potentially impacting the lives of people around the world, thus we expect an appropriate level of commitment.


Regular attendance in class is essential and is expected of all students. Students missing a class meeting should contact the instructors to make up the work.

Course Units and Hours

This is a nine-unit class: Three hours a week will be spent in class and the remaining six hours will be spent working on assignments, readings, and most especially, developing your innovation and implementation plan.


Please ensure that your phones, computers, PDAs, music, and/or pagers are turned off during class.

Academic Honesty

Students in this course will work in teams to develop their innovation. However, individual assignments must be completed individually. Plagiarism, the use of writings or ideas of another as one's own, is unacceptable. Special care should be taken not to borrow and modify materials taken from the Internet or any electronic or printed source. Any student who violates this code of academic honesty will be cited immediately.

Late Work Policy

We do not accept late work.

Evaluation and Grading

Assignments that are submitted on time will be assigned a letter grade ranging from A to D, and following the grading guidelines of MIT's Academic Procedures and Institute Regulations.

Assignment weights will be determined collaboratively by the end of the 3rd Week of class, with the only qualification being that the two most heavily weighted assignments must not exceed 45% of the total course grade. (Preliminary weighting shown)

Participation 30%
Case study tutorial 15%
On-line discussion board 15%

Team project proposal/plan/presentation

IDEAS proposal

Executive summary/ies for $100K, Ignite, Deshpande, other (optional but encouraged for teams of multiple classmates)

IDEAs poster and other display for IDEAs judging session


Final Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation



Active class participation is highly valued and graded. Class participation includes regular attendance in class and in planned meetings and events outside of class, involvement in class discussions, asking and answering questions in class, substantial participation in team exercises, team projects, and team presentations, leading one class case-study discussion during the semester and submitting reading reviews to the class online discussion forum board. Participation includes completing assigned reading and on-line discussion board on time, and being an active member of group discussions and team activities.

Case Study Tutorials

Students shall take turns leading one class in discussion of a selected case study. This will include the selection of the case, identification of quality readings (including not merely Web site URLs, but at least 1 peer-reviewed article and/or published article or selections from a book), preparation, in advance, of study questions and leading the class through presentation and engaged discussion. The reading assignment must be provided by the class leader at least 4 days prior to that class, so that students have time to read the assignment before class.

Class Online Discussion Forum Board

Students will be required to post a critical commentary based on weekly assigned readings to class online discussion forum. Commentaries are informal and will not be graded on grammar, spelling, etc., but should be clearly written and used to critically engage with the assigned materials. Commentaries can be short in length, for example, 1-2 paragraphs and should not exceed 500 words (around 1-2 pages, single spaced). Students are expected to submit their commentaries to the forum site by midnight on the evening (either Monday or Wednesday) of the day preceding the class for which readings are due. Students are expected to read each other's postings prior to class in order to prepare for the class discussion. Commentaries are expected on both the Instructor-assigned readings and the Case-Study readings.

Team Project

Working in groups, students will prepare a team project/proposal/ plan, an IDEAS Competition poster or other display materials, and a team final Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation and pitch on their innovation. Also a simulation/prototype/model may be constructed. We expect each team to select their innovation/idea during the 1st two weeks of class and form a team. Each team will select a unique topic and each individual must contribute substantially to the team project. We will assign a single grade to each team project and final presentation and teams comprised of multiple D-Lab III classmates are strongly encouraged to engage in multiple competitions. The IDEAS competition proposal is due one day before Ses #18 (e-copy mailed to Susan Murcott. The final Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation shall be submitted electronically and delivered in hardcopy to Susan Murcott no later than two days after Ses #25. However, teams are also be expected to meet earlier deadlines, based on the several MIT Competitions D-Lab III teams will enter (See accompanying schedule).

Group Presentations

Group presentations of up to 20 minutes in length will be scheduled during class times during the last week of classes. Please plan to develop a professional quality presentation and dress accordingly. You must use visual aid(s) in your presentation (such as Microsoft® PowerPoint®, slides, overheads, etc), and each individual in a team must participate in the presentation.

Final Exam

There will be no final exam. The team project is the final requirement.

Special Needs

Please advise the instructor early on of any special needs or disabilities so that appropriate accommodations can be made.

Competitions and Web sites

  1. IDEAS (All D-Lab III teams enter IDEAS competition as a minimum requirement)
  2. MIT $100K - Entrepreneurs for development track
  3. Deshpande Center IdeaStream
  4. Ignite Clean Energy
  5. World Bank Development Marketplace
  6. Environmental Protection Agency. "P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability."


This summary of the first year of D-Lab III, 2006, illustrates the success of students in applying the lessons taught in the course to contemporary global problems. (PDF)


1 Big ideas What's your big idea. Pitch it!
2 Development entrepreneurship, $100K and IDEAS competitions 2007 MIT $100K spring kickoff speaker: Micah Rosenbloom, COO/Co-founder, Brontes Technologies
3 IDEAS competition, Deshpande Center for Innovation IDEAS generator dinner
4 Team formation, meaning of "Development" and proposal outline 1st spring deadline for initial IDEAS proposal due
5 Co-evolutionary design for development  
6 Case study — Muhammad Yunus: Banker to the poor Submission deadline for $100K executive summary due one day after Ses #6
7 Case study — Muhammad Yunus - continued discussion Applications due — Deshpande IdeaStream Symposium
8 Case study — Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Venkataswamy (Ali Alhassani) IGNITE clean energy executive summaries due one day before Ses #8
9 Theory  
10 IDEAS proposals review workshop  
11 Case study — participatory development and patent basics and confidentiality (Tamira Gunzburg) 2nd spring deadline for initial IDEAS proposal due
12 Case study — Ghana pottery and patents (cont.) (Jessica Lee) $100K semi-finalists announced
13 Finance  
14 Case Study — making aid work (Angela Kilby), mixed income housing (Daniel Bergey)  
15 Finance (cont.)  
16 Case Study — rural energy in developing countries (Zehra Ali), eco-effectiveness (Tess Veuthey)  
17 IdeasStream conference and innovation showcase IdeaStream conference
18 Monitoring and evaluation IDEAS competition final entries due one day before Ses #18
19 Case Study — total sanitation (Ibrahim Kanan)  
20 Technology for remediation of arsenic in drinking water  
21 Case study — human waste reuse (Xavier Gonzalez) IDEAS displays and judging session due one day before Ses #21
22 Social marketing IDEAS awards ceremony due one day before Ses #22
23 Case study — biogas in Nepal (Chris Tostado)  
24 Final presentations  
25 Final presentations (cont.) $100K awards ceremony due one day after Ses #25   Tell A Friend