|GATE - 4/92 - Networking: Lessons and Hopes (GTZ GATE, 1992, 56 p.)|
by Klaus Schmitt
GATE's international workshop on "AT in Post-Modern Times" brought together activists of the Appropriate Technology movement from 31 countries - a fitting context for debating the desirability of a global AT network. Klaus Schmitt summarizes the pros and cons.
At the second day of GATE's international workshop "AT in Post-Modern Times" in May 1992, ten participants from nine different AT organizations joined a working group on networking as a tool for cooperation and for increasing the relevance, impact and dissemination of Appropriate Technologies.
It became obvious that quite a variety of functions is assigned to networking, for example
- networking means to create a synergetic tool;
- networking serves to develop AT;
- networking helps exchange on experiences and discussions
- networking should be based on needs.
Based on the rich experience of her organization APPROTECH,
Lilia Ramos from the Philippines elaborated her understanding of a network as a "structure of activities carried out by users, beneficiaries, donors, institutions and developers":
"AT development is never finally done. It has to be continuously adapted to the needs and the culture of the users and relies heavily on their experience. Networking can provide a channel for sharing this experience and knowledge. Of the various possible levels of networking the most important is that which links users with developers of technology.
Synergy means that the total effect of things done together is greater than the sum of individual activities. This is achieved through pooling and sharing expertise and experience, beginning with specific programmes or issues and moving on to more general concerns. Environmental networks have gone far in this respect in recent years, but AT networks have also produced substantial results such as technology centers, information systems, and the promotion of enterprises. Synergetic effects also have been achieved in resource mobilization, both in terms of enhancing human resources and in terms of mediating between donors and community-based organizations.
Technology Transfer is facilitated through better flow of information, identification of technology sources, and evaluation of technology for better adaptation. South-South exchange as an important mode of technology transfer is effectively done through networks."
Most of the participants agreed with the positive evaluation of networking as a tool for resource mobilization, promoting and strengthening AT, and synergy. Some other purposes, functions and advantages were added in order to assess the desirability and viability of creating a new global AT network.
· Regarding resource mobilization, it was mentioned that some donors prefer to finance programmes of networks instead of small individual projects; a network could assign staff to maintain close contact with donors; projects and experiences of the members could be evaluated collectively.
· A particular role for the promotion and strengthening of AT was seen in the dissemination of information by a technical enquiry service and in intensified PR work through a new network.
· Synergy was expected to result from pooling expertise in joint databases, setting quality standards for members and guaranteeing the quality of their services.
· It was believed that technology development and transfer would become more effective through a network. Identifying needs, assessing technological options, spreading information through technical inquiry services, organizing communication channels and exchange programmes, and especially involving women in technology issues are of course not specific to networks only. But as these are tasks for every agency, the systematization and valorization of experiences in a network was considered important.
It was anticipated that an AT network of this kind would have
the following problems:
- spending limited resources on travel and communication;
- lack of outside points of view in an AT network;
- lack of common objectives and interests among the members;
- lack of finance;
- attempts to build a larger AT network might disturb existing efforts to form national or regional consortia;
- many networks do not work as intended, the synergy effect often gets lost.
Whether or not to set up a global Appropriate Technology network is currently a subject of intense debate. The author summarizes the discussion which took place at the international GATE conference in May this year. Synergy effects and the mobilization of additional funds are seen as advantages of a global network. The limited personnel resources of AT organizations and existing national, regional and sectoral collaboration are cited as drawbacks.
L'opportunite de la creation d'un reseau global de technologies appropriees souleve actuellement une vive polemique. L'auteur resumera la discusson au mois de mai, a l'occassion de la conference internationale GATE. La mise en place d'un reseau global aurait pour avantage d 'engendrer des effete synergiques ou de mobiliser des moyens financiers supplementaires. Les inconvenients evoques vent les capacites restreintes en personnel des organisations de technologies appropriees ainsi que l'existence de groupements nationaux, regionaux et sectoriels.
La cuestion de si se deberia fundar una red global sobre tecnologia adaptada, se discute controvertidamente. El autor resume la discusion durante la conferencia internacional GATE en el mes de mayo de este ano. Se consideran como ventajas de una red global posibles efectos sinergicos o la movilizacion de fondos suplementarios. Las limitadas capacidades personales de las organizaciones AT y las existentes fusiones nacionales, regionales y sectorales son enumeradas como desventajas.
No top priority?
Although previous discussions concerning networking had been quite intensive, another action oriented working group for discussing practical follow-up had only seven participants from four countries and six organizations. This seems to be symptomatic: networking is seen as potentially useful but not as the top priority for the work of most organizations.
The participants from the South were in a minority in this working group. - But those who participated had already been involved in networking on a national or regional level and strongly advocated it as an effort worth undertaking. Thus, while initiatives towards forming networks often seem to come from the North, it may be found that Southern organizations live up to the challenge and later on become strong supporters. This is exemplified by the history of TECHNONET ASIA, which grew out of a Canadian initiative and became one of the most impressive examples of networking to meet the needs of a number of Southern countries. Agencies from the North should nevertheless take care not to impose their views and to avoid unnecessary duplication of activities.
Purpose and realization
The issue of how a global AT network should operate was approached by collecting statements and ranking them according to their acceptability with the majority of participants.
· Purpose and functions of a global AT network
The network should
- operate as a co-ordinating unit but not become involved in
- conduct a survey of member activities and prepare a directory; associate North and South
- groups and invite donor agencies to participate in conceptualizing AT programmes;
- design a system for know-how transfer between members;
- use the media to promote the idea of AT.
· Rules for installation and operation
- Cost-effective and efficient utilization of resources must
guide all operations;
- The network should have very simple and flexible working rules;
- A participatory approach must be observed in all duties carried out;
- The tasks of the network should be reviewed once a year;
- Funding should come from the members and should be used to carry out tasks professionally.
· Proposals for realization
- No separate infrastructure operation and coordination should be handled by a small team at one member's office and results communicated to all members;
- A coordinating person or group should be appointed to operate the network and a committee to guide it;
- An advisory group or board should be set up to advise and approve programmes for action;
- Annual meetings or workshops should be organized for the members.
Majority for a global network
The action-oriented group recommended to the workshop (and to other AT groups not represented at the GATE conference) that a global AT network should be established. A plenary vote was recommended to see whether the idea was supported. It was suggested that if the vote was in favour a working group should be formed to pursue the setting up of the network. This group should start by addressing the following tasks:
- propose a charter for a global AT network and circulate it among existing networks;
- select an appropriate (international) event for meeting to consolidate agreements on procedures, ethics etc.;
- elect a Board to represent the network and select an organization to assume the role of a clearing-house.
The final vote on the desirability of establishing a global AT network was left to the workshop plenum. A chart had been prepared which offered five different options, ranging from strict refusal to active support. The vote yielded a slight majority (28:20) for creating the AT network.
Ten workshop participants declared their intention to work for the realization of a global AT network; they represent the following AT groups: Botswana Technology Center (BTZ), GTZ/GATE, CRT (Nepal), ATDA (India), APPROTECH ASIA, UNESCO Programme 2000+, CARDS (India), SIBAT (Philippines), SVITA (Thailand), SPATF (Papua New Guinea).
Of the many issues discussed during the four days of GATE's AT workshop in Frankfurt networking was among the most vigorously debated. But it was also the topic on which the most definite proposals for further cooperation emerged. Several workshop participants remained very critical towards a global AT network because of a variety of problems, such as lack of resources and common interests, domination of one group of agencies over others, etc. Others were not very enthusiastic about a global AT network but still thought it worth trying.
Successful networking requires active participation. More than 20 per cent of those who cast their votes are ready to contribute actively to the realization of the proposed AT network. Most of them have substantial experience in networking on a smaller scale and some even on quite a large scale record. These local and regional networks will continue to exist. Their purposes and functions are not identical to those of a global AT network. This does not mean a contradiction between the two levels of networking. Problems of differing interests are less likely to occur with the proposed AT network if it is properly understood as an upward integration of strong national organizations and regional networking structures.