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close this bookGATE - 3/91 - Impact - A Neglected Dimension of AT (GTZ GATE, 1991, 52 p.)
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View the documentThe impact of appropriate technology - A neglected dimension
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View the documentPlanning, observing, steering - Participative impact monitoring
View the documentParticipative planning and evaluation - Expensive in the short term, cost effective in the long term
View the documentThe forgotten overall goal
View the documentAn effective tool for project development
View the documentCreative cooperation demands mutual understanding

The impact of appropriate technology - A neglected dimension

by Joachim Prey

For more than twenty years now committed individuals and organisations have been working to realize the appropriate technology approach. In many cases impressive results have been achieved, but, over the last few years a certain uncertainty has set in, as to what extent appropriate technology (AT) has really achieved its ambitious goals apart from a few individual successes limited in time and space. Is AT as a systematic approach successful? Is AT still relevant today?

Before we can answer these questions we must take a critical look at AT projects and programmes already implemented and assess their true impact. The exact number of biogas plants disseminated or oil presses produced is of less interest here than the medium- and long-term impacts of these projects on the living and working conditions of the poor and disadvantaged parts of the population.

Have AT projects really achieved significant, widespread improvements in the living and working conditions of larger population groups? If so, are these improvements sustainable? Is it really the poorer, disadvantaged groups of the population who benefit from any positive developments?

And, what is perhaps the most important question of all, has this approach developed its own internal dynamics, which will carry it on, independent of external action? Are the people involved more independent? Are they in a better position to help themselves with their own resources and strength? Are they more aware, more willing to form their own organisations? Can they express their needs in such a way that note is taken at political level?

The importance of impacts for the appropriate technology concept

Now, one could ask what all this has to do with technology. Technology should fulfill a certain purpose as cost effectively as possible in the long term, and nothing else.

This argument bypasses the true problem. The whole concept of "appropriate technology" has always set itself much further reaching goals. AT was developed as a political concept, which was initially applied to industrialized countries. It was only later that the AT movement turned its attention to developing countries. The AT concept was intended to change society as a whole for the better. The selection of technology was accorded a central role in shaping these changes.

Recently this ambitious goal has been challenged more and more. Industrialized countries have de facto long decided against implementing the AT concept in their own countries. Is AT to be seen as a concept only suitable for developing countries? These countries, rightly, reject this exclusive application of the AT approach, fearing that it will merely serve as a legitimation of the ever-widening gap between industrializing and developing countries, between rich and poor.

We cannot pursue this discussion fully here. Let us look firstly at the impacts of activities of the past. This is of vital importance for a reappraisal of the AT concept. GATE considers that it is high time to reconsider experience to date and, on this basis, reappraise the AT concept. This is the only way to ensure that it remains relevant for the problems facing us over the next tenor twenty years.

For many organisations in the South the issue of the impact of their own activities has likewise become important. By recording and analysing impacts the learning process from experience can be systematized and appraised by means of objective criteria. Thus the concepts, methods and instruments involved in work with the target group can be refined and improved.

Recording impacts - breaking new theoretical and practical ground

Despite manifold, generally positive information, on the course and results of technology adaptation and dissemination, no sufficiently widespread evaluation of the direct and indirect impacts of these activities on the living and working conditions of the group of beneficiaries has yet been performed. A study of this sort has to date only been possible on a lesser scale since the impacts of a project can only realistically be examined after a certain time has elapsed subsequent to conclusion of project activities.

Thus the attempt to record impacts of AT projects is, in away, breaking new ground. It has not yet been finally determined to what extent direct cause-effect links can be isolated and clearly described at all in interlinked systems. At best we can fall back only on fragmentary theories applicable to development projects from which we can devise methods and instruments.

At the level of practical implementation too, there are manifold problems from the cost-benefit considerations to the question of whether impacts can be generalized out of their quite specific development contexts.

To date we thus have neither a comprehensive concept for impact analysis nor a range of practicable instruments which can really be used in every day project work.

Impact analysis - two levels important

The impact of a project-related activity is generally very complex and difficult to establish clearly. For this reason it is practically impossible to determine the impacts to be achieved when planning a project. Impacts, which initially appear to be of secondary importance can, in the long term, trigger the most major changes.

Despite these imponderables two major impact levels can be identified at beneficiary level: the direct technical and economic level, and the sociocultural level. The direct benefit of a new technology can be seen at the technical and economic level. The introduction of a new technology leads to economic growth, brings new products or upgrades the quality of existing products, saves time and raw materials, reduces environmental degradation, increases income and creates jobs.

The sociocultural level refers to changes in the awareness and behaviour on the part of participants as a result of the introduction of new technology or adaptation of existing technology. In this way, for example, prejudices against anything new can be countered. Another impact at this level could be, for example, the closer integration of the disadvantaged groups in society, a changed awareness of the respective roles of men and women, an increase in the target group's own initiative and a greater degree of organisation. Impetus leading to greater dynamics is also of major importance. Neighbouring villages, for example, might be inspired to take action too and initiate similar changes.

In brief, at each impact level there are a great many individual impacts which can determine the success and sustainability of an activity. In addition there are a great many reciprocal links between the two levels, the technical and economical and the sociocultural. In the long term a project will more likely have positive impacts if these links between the two levels were particularly marked.

These links and interactions are already very important during the implementation phase though. In this phase they can be seen in the form of the synergy achieved between the project team and the beneficiaries or users.

Here too, success is largely dependent on the extent and the quality of the interaction. Interaction in this case can be defined primarily as the communication and participation between the participating partners.

The commitment and motivation of the future users and the team members, for example, helps greatly in solving individual technical problems. The successful realization of a more technically-oriented activity likewise heightens the motivation and commitment of all participants. This interaction should ideally become stronger and closer, finally resulting in the success of the project. A downwards spiral would likewise mean a failed project.

Participation as a second objective - the means become part of the end

In consequence this means that the degree of interaction between the impact levels is one indicator of project success. With the help of this indicator the success of a project can be better geared to the overall goal of positive impacts. From this we can also devise an instrument for steering project implementation.

Let us not forget that the AT concept took the term "technology" to mean more than merely the mechanical functioning of a piece of machinery. Or, to put it another way, the reliable, cost-effective functioning of a technology can only be guaranteed if a whole series of parameters, including a great many non-technical ones, are taken into account.

The development of initiative and acceptance of responsibility are of particular significance here. They point the way to increased autonomy and decision-making power. AT is unthinkable without participation or "responsibilization" as it is sometimes called. In implementing an AT project the realisation of this participation must thus be accorded high priority.

At the same time parameters as listed above are covered by the term "participation". They are crucial for the sociocultural impact level. They describe changes at sociocultural and psychological level and are, when positive, desired impacts. This is the level at which we see whether or not an AT project has been successful.

This is not news to proponents of the AT approach. In practice, however, it has become apparent that in many AT projects "participation" is not taken into account systematically.

This holds less for the planning of projects of this sort, since participative procedures have now been developed. The extent to which they are actually applied may of course be another thing. in the following articles you will find positive and negative examples.

In contrast, a systematic gearing of project implementation to participation has been largely neglected. Implementation has often been seen uniquely as a management problem, in which the planning, which may or may not have been performed on participative lines, is realized as completely and efficiently as possible. The project team is measured in terms of their success in doing this. Everything which does not actively contribute to achieving this goal is regarded as a nuisance. Participation has, at best, a very secondary role to play, and only becomes important if it helps to solve problems which arise.

Thus the desired impacts at sociocultural level are more or less left to chance. This is quite astonishing if we look at the amount of effort which is otherwise devoted to developing concepts and strategies, methods and instruments. Participation, however, cannot be produced on command. It cannot be reduced to a skeleton of methods and instruments. Participation is primarily a human behaviour pattern, a form of dealing with one another on an equal basis.

Aids are, however, thinkable, to give project staff a better understanding of participation as a constant task in the implementation phase. Participation could, indeed, be set as an additional objective with the same status as the original objective. In the final conclusion this means that the project must be open for a wide-reaching revision of planning if the beneficiaries decide on different priorities on the basis of participative processes.

How this can be achieved in concrete terms cannot be envisaged at present, but in order to gain more experience, and to investigate the question of the impacts of AT projects, GATE has launched the Participative Impact Monitoring Project.

The following article by Dr. Eberhard Gohl will go into more detail. At this point, however, we would ask all of you who are interested in the topic and who have concrete experience to contribute or critical comments to make to take an active part in the debate and write to us.


AT concepts have been successfully implemented for over twenty years now. Today, however, questions are being posed increasingly as to its medium and long-term impact on the situation of the poor. Impacts can be isolated at a technical and economic level and at a sociocultural level. The latter is reflected in the relationship between the project team and beneficiaries during project
implementation, and the quality of this relationship is crucial if positive impacts are to be achieved in the medium to long term. It can be broadly defined as participation and communication. Participation, as a second objective alongside the original objective, could open new avenues for the implementation phase.


Depuis 20 ans, on rise des concepts de technologie appropriavec succ Cependant, on se pose de plus en plus la question concernant son effect a moyen et a long terme sur la situation des pauvres. On constate des impacts techniques et nomiques ainsi que socioculturels. Ces derniers se reflnt dans les rapports entre l´equipe du projet et les bficiaires lors de la risation du projet. Un impact positif a moyen et a long terme dnd de bons rapports. Dans les grandes daignes, cette relation consiste en la participation et la communication. La participation, en tant que deuxi objectif du projet, pourrai aboutir a une nouvelle perspective pour la phase de risation.


Los programas de tecnolog apropiadas han sido aplicados con to durante mas de 20 anos. Sin embargo, actualmente se cuestiona su impacto a mediano y largo plazo sobre la situation de los pobres. Los efectos pueden ser considerados separadamente a nivel tico y econo y a nivel sociocultural. Este ultimo se refleta en la relacion entre el equipo del proyecto y los beneficiaros durante la ejecution del proyecto: la calidad de esta relacion es de importancia crucial para la obtencie efectos positivos a mediano y largo plazo. Los dos tinos que determinan la relacion entre el equipo del proyecto y los beneficiarios son: participation y comunicaciLa participation puede ser vista, incluso, como un segundo objetivo paralelamente al objetivo original del proyecto, y abrir novas vias abra la fase de ejecuci