Background Reading

Appropriate Technology: Problems and Promises, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-2, book, 344 pages, edited by Nicolas Jequier, 1976, out of print, but may still be available from OECD Publications.

Here is the most significant publication on the subject of appropriate technology since Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful appeared in 1973. The editor emerges as the most valuable contributor, providing a brilliant 100-page overview of the major policy issues that confront appropriate technology advocates. 19 articles by participants in the 1974 OECD conference on low-cost technology give a backdrop of some of the efforts and perspectives currently found among practitioners in the appropriate technology movement.

Jequier describes appropriate technology as a cultural revolution in the field of development (and spells out implications that virtually no one else was writing about at the time); identifies local people as the primary innovators of appropriate technology; points to the danger that appropriate technology research will be carried out mostly by groups from the rich countries, thereby stifling the development of research groups with this focus from within the developing countries and leading to the same technological dependency that currently exists; discusses the political implications of appropriate technology; poses questions for national government policy and for aid policy; contrasts decentralized with centralized research on appropriate technology; and explores many other “problems and promises” of the appropriate technology movement. In short, Jequier is among the first to try to identify the disagreements and problem areas facing appropriate technology enthusiasts; he draws up an agenda for discussion and action. Highly recommended.

The A.T. Reader: Theory and Practice in Appropriate Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-20, book, 468 pages, edited by M. Carr, 1985.

Marilyn Carr has provided a valuable service by assembling in one place a selection of some of the best thinking on appropriate technology. More than 100 contributors discuss everything from economic theory and the nature of the innovation/product development process to specific experiences with choices of technology in real circumstances around the world. Readers will find this a good exposure to the ferment of ideas and observations that have come out of the A.T. movement over the past 15-20 years. The contributions are generally of a high caliber, and sure to be thought-provoking to even the well-read A.T. enthusiast. Recommended.

Technology and Underdevelopment, book, 320 pages, by Frances Stewart, 1977.

Stewart leads the reader through the most comprehensive book to date dealing with the economic theory of appropriate technology and development in the Third World. The book is technical but can be absorbed by anyone with a modest background in economic jargon.

There are two parts: 1) a theoretical discussion of the nature of technology and the social consequences of its use, and 2) a set of case studies. The theoretical discussion is aimed at the reader familiar with conventional economic theory. The author points out precisely where the false assumptions and unwarranted extrapolations are found.

Stewart begins with a discussion of the nature of technology and the kinds of technical choices open to a developing country. She defines “technological choice” both in terms of product and the technology to create that product. Stewart states that the major reason developing countries are limited in their choice of technology is that technology has evolved to meet the different needs of developed countries. A new technology is more than a purely scientific achievement—it reflects a society’s needs, standard of living, tastes, and relative scarcity of labor, capital and resources. Thus it would be purely coincidental that an ideal technology would exist for a specific application in a developing area.

The author notes the usefulness of some but not all technologies used in the evolution of developed countries. If a technology becomes obsolete in the West purely because of changes in the relative prices of capital and labor, or due to shifts in consumer tastes, then that technology may be usable in a developing country. However, technologies that became obsolete due to technical improvements may be obsolete in any context. (The failure to make this distinction underlies much of the debate on the relevance of older industrial technologies.)

Another of Stewart’s major themes is that technical choice is not a narrow choice of a particular technique at a particular time. Rather, a national economic system is either oriented towards foreign advanced technology or towards more appropriate technology. If the “modern” approach is emphasized, consumers, infrastructure, and urban concentration tend to lock the country into “foreign” technology. An indigenous technology may not be able to compete in such an environment, despite its overall social desirability. The point is that the national choice of technology and lifestyle is a social choice which will dominate the narrow choice of technology for a specific application.

Introduction to Appropriate Technology, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-9, book, 194 pages, 1977, edited by R. Congdon, RODALE, out of print.

Most of these lectures were originally given by members of the Intermediate Technology Development Group to a university audience in The Netherlands.

“Socially” appropriate technology is the subject, on the assumption that “all development must be for the benefit of as large a section of the population as possible, and not remain the privilege of a small elite.”

The 12 lectures provide a range of insights into the nature and definition of appropriate technology, from the perspectives of members of ITDG. George McRobie’s lecture, “Approach for Appropriate Technologists,” gives a good overview of the rationale and work of ITDG. S.B. Watt’s lecture on choosing water technologies is illustrative of some of the best thinking from that group (e g., “the professionals have become colonials in the sense that they have taken possession of the knowledge of technology—a knowledge that all people should possess to be able to change their own lives.”) Other subjects include agricultural tools, pedal power, building, energy, chemicals, education, industrial liaison, social criteria for appropriate technology and production systems.

Harry Dickinson’s concluding piece, entitled “The Transfer of Knowledge and the Adoption of Technologies,” should be required reading for any person going overseas to do appropriate technology work. “As Westerners and as technologists we have a role to play but we must be self-critical about our own society before we have the wisdom and insight to be of any real value.”

When Aid is No Help: How Projects Fail, and How They Could Succeed, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-27, book, 144 pages, by John Madeley et. al., 1991.

Most aid projects fail to achieve their hoped-for results, largely because the difficulties are enormous. Yet one would never know this from the stacks of final project reports that proclaim success and results in even the most dismal of outcomes. One of the great tragedies of development work is that failures are hidden and lessons that should be learned are not. The learning opportunities for development workers tend to be limited to their own experiences.

This short book is an attempt to unearth some interesting failures, and some successes, and try to learn what went wrong and how things might have been done differently. The author is particularly interested in the fact that in project after project targeting the poor, the better off among the poor get assistance while the poorest of the poor get nothing.

High Impact Appropriate Technology Case Studies, Available in the AT Library. INDEX CODE MF 01-24, 76 pages, by Thomas Fricke, A.T. International, 1984, accession no. PB85 224806/AS.

Interesting examples of eight very successful appropriate technology efforts are collected in this book. Each of these technologies has benefited thousands to hundreds of thousands of people. The author identifies factors which have contributed to the success of each.

The Mark II deep well handpump in India represents an important experience with a simplified unit in which much of the maintenance and repair can be carried out at the village level.

Oral rehydration therapy has proven to be a very low-cost and simple technique for saving the lives of dehydrated infants suffering from infant diarrhea. UNICEF, WHO and many local organizations have launched programs to reach millions of people with this technology.

Argentina is now the world’s leading producer of waterpumping windmills and has some 60,000 units operating domestically. The design is a reproduction of an Aermotor windmill from the U.S.

Bamboo-reinforced concrete rainwater storage tanks have been built by the thousands in drought-prone northeastern Thailand since 1979. Family members provide their own labor and pay for materials while obtaining technical assistance from a Thai voluntary agency.

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