Hard and Soft Appropriate Technologies and the Technology Generation Process

Community well project - Amazon Basin, Peru

Community well project – Amazon Basin, Peru

Appropriate Technology (AT) is a way of thinking about the choices and the applications of technology to solve a problem or to create something, such as a structure, a machine, an instrument or a system.

Appropriate technology “involves a search for technologies that have beneficial effects on income distribution, human development, environmental quality, and the distribution of political power—as well as productivity—in the context of particular communities and nations”. — Darrow and Saxenian

According to Jequier (1976) Appropriate Technology “represents what one might call the social and cultural dimension of innovation.” The idea here is that the value of a new technology lies not only in its economic viability and its technical soundness, but also in its adaptation to the local and cultural environment. Assessing the appropriateness of a technology necessarily implies some sort of value judgment both on the part of those who develop it and those who will be using it, and when ideological considerations come into play, as they often do, appropriateness is at best a fluctuating concept.

Faulkner and Village Earth founder Maurice Albertson (1985) defined technology as “knowledge, skills, organization and machinery related to the production of goods and service.” Then they define appropriate technology as: “the skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing useful things, while making optimum use of human, natural, and person-made resources in the village—with ‘optimum’ determined on a village-specific basis by the villagers themselves”.

They further break down AT into appropriate hard technology and appropriate soft technology with the following definitions:

  • Appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by the village, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”
  • Appropriate soft technology deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”

Taking each of these concepts, ideas, and arguments into consideration, we provide the following definition of Appropriate Technology

Appropriate Technology is the appropriate use of knowledge, skills, organization and machinery for the production of goods and services that are desired by those people being served. These goods and services are provided in a way that is compatible with nature and the environment, uses only renewable resources (including energy resources), benefits people equally and to the maximum extent possible, and is based on an economic system where the service motive is combined equally with the profit motive.

This definition of AT is speaking in generalities. Therefore, the following is presented to expand on these generalities:

1.   Compatibility with nature and the environment includes:

  • The physical environment
  • The biological environment
  • The social and cultural environment
  • The political environment
  • The atmospheric and space environment
  • The earth environment
  • The auditory, olfactory, and visual environment

2.     Utilization of renewable resources, in order to develop a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature and the environment, includes:

  • Renewable energy resources to help find a way out of the accelerating energy crises
  • Construction material and supplies
  • Equipment and instruments
  • A non-violent approach taken for all activities
  • In order for all human resources (the people) to benefit to the maximum extent possible, AT must assure that:
  • It is a win-win situation for all people and communities concerned.
  • All persons concerned are involved equitably in decisions related to the project or activity.
  • No alienating work is created (which is disconnected from its products and goals).
  • The workplaces become more democratic.
  • Local communities and cultural traditions are preserved and revitalized.

4.    If the economic systems of both private enterprise and public enterprise are based on the service motive as well as the profit motive, AT will help to insure that:

  • No one person or group of persons benefits at the expense of another person or group of persons.
  • Incomes and standards of living are enhanced and not degraded.
  • No inappropriate or burdensome debts are incurred.
  • Diverse locally owned and operated enterprises are encouraged.
  • The AT will have a beneficial effect on income distribution and productivity.
  • Entrepreneurs will place equal value on, and feel equal satisfaction from, performing a service as well as making profit.

The Technology Generation Process

  1. Technology generation begins with a need.
    High-tech (technology) for the sake of high-tech is irrelevant. New for the sake of new is a waste of resources. Appropriate technology addresses a need by providing a solution that fits with the resources and goals of a village in its relationship to a prosperous future.
  2. Technology does not stand alone.
    Technology must be surrounded by organization, participation, management, decision-making, and financial solidarity. It requires training in its requirement for maintenance and optimal operation and training in management skills required to sustain its operation.
  3. Technology generation requires a technology that fits, a package, a scheme.
    The technology fits local resources and fills an expressed need. It is based on local knowledge of circumstances, social arrangements and what words, and imported knowledge of innovations that have worked for others and have solved similar problems.
  4. Technology should be a complete package.
    The package is the way a technology is introduced in terms that make sense to the people using it. The package includes preparation, installation, operation, maintenance, and replacement.
  5. A scheme is the way a technology is made usable and suitable.
    Nothing happens without a scheme. A scheme provides a way to provide the technology, a way to pay for, develop, and maintain the technology, a way to operate and manage the technology. Schemes involve incentives, agreements, organizations, and commitment. Some we all are familiar with are the Heifer Project and milk schemes.
  6. Monitoring and evaluation of the performance of technology is the privilege and responsibility of ownership.
    Constantly evaluating the performance of an innovation means that you are a dynamic part of continued improvement. You are a continual problem solver and innovator who can keep up with this changing world.

Village Earth is the distributor of the Appropriate Technology Library and publisher of the online Appropriate Technology Sourcebook. Topics discussed in this blog post are also discussed in the following online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development and the in-person course Community Mobilization for Chapters of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)

 

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