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close this book Boiling Point No. 23 - December 1990
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Why use Technology Assessment when Implementing Technological Change?

Extracts from Science and Technology News by JimJug

The introduction of a new technology can produce unintentional effects which negate the benefits of its implementation. Technology assessment is specifically aimed at anticipating these secondary environmental and socio-economic consequences prior to committing yourself to a particular technical decision. Another of its functions is to avoid lost opportunities. By doing a technology assessment it is often possible to anticipate the most relevant technologies for a given country's situation (Dierkes, 1987, page 5). This allows scarce resources to be directed in the most beneficial directions. The difference between investment appraisal and technology assessment is illustrated by the following example:

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) conducted a feasibility study (investment appraisal) in Zambia to determine if coal briquettes and clay stoves could be made from locally available and currently unused materials. These were analysed to see if they would be economically feasible and socially acceptable to replace charcoal and locally-made iron stoves produced from imported iron.

It was found that the clay stoves were three times as efficient as the iron stoves, which greatly reduces overall energy demands. They could also be produced from local clays, thus eliminating the need for importing iron to make the traditional stoves. Charcoal was satisfactorily substituted by coal briquettes using waste coal slurry, bagasse, molasses and slaked lime. A market analysis indicated a good possibility for marketing these products. The study also showed that the government would have to subsidize the initial start-up costs of these industries (JICA, 1986, pages 1-20).

The Government of Zambia has shown interest in broadening the scope of this assessment by introducing socio-economic benefit analysis through the application of technology assessment as a follow-up to the JICA study. This assessment should identify the secondary and tertiary social impacts of the project and determine if there are other benefits which would induce the government to subsidize these industries. This example reinforces the need to develop a local capability in technology assessment.

The Nature of Technology Assessment

Technology assessment has been defined as "... a class of policy studies which systematically examines the effects on society that may occur when a technology is introduced, extended or modified with special emphasis on those consequences that are unintended, indirect or delayed" (Coates, 1974, page 341).

Technology assessment is necessary:

1) where there is a range of options,

2) to encompass the wider implications of employing new technology" (Menon et al. 1985, page 77).

The implementation of technology assessment is extremely sensitive to social, environmental, cultural, political and economic conditions. Therefore, the use of technology assessment in various countries has not produced a generic model. Even so "... one general principle that can be stated with some certainty is that technology assessment is eminently a social process involving social factors from different parts of society and as such, must be undertaken as a social rather than a technical enterprise. (Wad, 1987, page 53).

Whether they are good or bad, informed or ignorant, technological choice swill be made (Coates, 1976, page 372). Technology assessment is a policy making tool which will help discern the most appropriate technological choices for a given situation. This will become increasingly important in the future as the rate of technological decisions accelerates.

Guidelines for First Time Users

CSC's Science Management and Organisation Programme, through its ComManSat network, is nearing completion of a guide on technology assessment for first time users. This will be or" assistance to users in developing countries who are responsible for making decisions in relation to management and implementation of technological change.

Jim Hoeksema is an Assistant Professor of Industrial Technology at William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa 52577, USA. In the past he has lived in Kenya for five years and currently maintains contact with third world development issues by doing appropriate technology R & D work He edited and improved the ComManSat document on technology assessment during a self- supported 12 week attachment to CSC as part of his preparation for a PhD. (I)


Coates, J F (1974). Some methods and lechniques for comprehensive impact assessmenL Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 341-357.

Coates, J F (1976) Technology assessmenl - A Tool Kit Chemtech, pp.372-383.

Dierkes M (1987) The role of technology assessment in the process Or development ATAS 8ulletin, issue 4, pp 4-8.

JICA (1986). The feasibility study report on the briquettes development projectl In Zambia.

Menon, A B All, Ayiku Barron, Carr, Gachuki, Lim, Williams & Wright (1985). Technological Change:

Enchancing the benefits Vol 1. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

Wad, A (1987). Issues In the development of capabilities [or lechnology assessmenl In developing countries ATAS

Bulletin, Issue 4, pp 50-53.