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Technology in Community Development – Culture, Ethics, and Why it Matters

How often have you gone into a community and seen a broken down water well, unused school building, or decrepit renewable energy project?  Some NGO came in with good intentions, but for a myriad of reasons after they leave these projects fall into a state of disrepair.  And unfortunately the blame is often put on the community furthering an internal feeling of dis-empowerment and lack of self-efficacy.  When really the problems lies in the implementation of the technology itself.

What is appropriate technology all about? It is a way of thinking about technological change; recognizing that tools and techniques can evolve along different paths toward different ends. It includes the belief that human communities can have a hand in deciding what their future will be like, and that the choice of tools and techniques is an important part of this. It also includes the recognition that technologies can embody cultural biases and sometimes have political and distributional effects that go far beyond a strictly economic evaluation. “A.T.” therefore involves a search for technologies that have, for example, 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.  —Village Earth’s Appropriate Technology Sourcebook

We all introduce and use technologies in our community development work whether we recognize it or not.  But how often do we step back and reflect on the cultural biases or political implications that these technologies bring with them?  Technology is not neutral, but by working with communities on the process of appropriate technology generation we can hope to develop ethical technologies that are appropriate to their environmental, socio-cultural, political, and economic contexts.  Through the process of bottom-up appropriate technology generation and the tandem use of both hard (tangible) and soft (participation, community organization, etc) technologies this process can be both empowering for local people and sustainable in the long-term.

Join us to learn more about these concepts in our Technology and Community Development Online Course now enrolling through October 26.  This course is a part of our Sustainable Community Development Certificate and counts toward the specializations in Service and Civic Engagement, Community Planning and Development, and Participatory Facilitation.

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