Cover Image
close this book Appropriate Technology in Post - Modern Times
close this folder Part I Kynote papers
View the document 2. Introduction to part I
View the document 3. AT and new world order.
View the document 4. Appropriate technology: Critique and future perspectives
View the document 5. Alternative strategies for developing and delivering appropriate technologies
View the document 6. Transfer of Technology and Development
View the document 7. Towards a PTD-AT dialogue.

7. Towards a PTD-AT dialogue.

On the Relevance of the Participatory Technology Development Approach for the Appropriate Technology Movement

Laurens van Veldhuizen


The ETC Foundation Consultants for Development Programmes is a medium-sized Dutch private organization which provides advisory and consultancy services in the field of sustainable agriculture and participatory development approaches. In recent years it has gained some reputation in promoting a participatory agricultural research and extension approach called Participatory Technology Development (PTD).

This paper presents the results of ETC's internal brainstorm which throws a first light on the complementarily of the AT and PTD approaches. It also reports the main conclusion of a subsequent discussion meeting with European AT organizations and offers suggestions on how the debate can be deepened and widened to include more individuals and organizations. In the text, the key concepts of PTD and AT are clarified.


PTD is a generic term used to indicate an open collection of approaches, methods and techniques of research and extension emphasizing a high degree of users' participation in technology development. It has its roots in long-standing local experiences with village-level agricultural development. The key concepts of PTD are:

End-users' participation. Farmers play a key role in defining problems and needs, screening possible solutions, trying out ideas, and sharing their results with others. This implies a different role for external advisers. They participate in farmers' efforts to develop their farms.

Sustainable forms of agriculture as central aim of technology development process, which


optimize the use of locally available resources;


use external inputs only to complement deficient elements;


maximize recycling of external inputs;


aim at stable growth and long-lasting production levels

Indigenous knowledge. This refers to ideas, experiences, practices, and information that has been generated locally, or was generated elsewhere but has been transformed by local people and incorporated into the local way of life. PTD believes that new technologies have to be developed in this culture-based knowledge system.

Farmers' experimentation. Farmers are continuously experimenting and adapting their farming practices. The PTD practitioner coming from outside tries to link up with and strengthen the farmers' research process.

The PTD process contains all or some of the following elements in flexible combinations:

- induction training of involved staff;

- getting started: study existing information, build up relationship with farmers;

- participatory diagnosis: making a joint analysis of the local situation and identification of priority problems;

- looking for things to try: identifying indigenous technical knowledge and relevant formal knowledge, eliciting farmers' criteria, selecting possible solutions to be tested;

- setting up experiments: improving on farmers' own way of experimentation, training of fanner experimenters;

- implementing and monitoring farmers' experiments;

- evaluation;

- sharing the results with local and scientific networks to scrutinize and interpret, test and adapt them, farmer-to-farmer extension;

- sustaining the process: creating favourable conditions for local institutions; strengthening local experimenting capacities;

- scaling up/phasing out outsider's role changes from initiator/facilitator to adviser and phases out gradually.


AT organizations generally develop technologies for use by large poor populations living in rural areas or urban slums. Such technologies include:


agricultural tools and equipment;


water supply equipment;


food processing and other household tools; % small scale industries.

The following criteria of AT are often mentioned:


emphasis on low-cost technologies; % simple production methods;


simple methods for operation and maintenance;


local production, close to end-users;


preference for the use of local resources and material;



The AT approach does not seem to give clear indications on the methodology to be used, and the process to be followed in trying to develop relevant technologies. Although the participation of end-users in technology development is not left aside, discussions often focus on What is Appropriate Technology?, rather than how to work to ensure that the technologies developed are appropriate (or appropriated). When comparing the two concepts, several issues emerge which need further analysis.


In the PTD approach the concept of 'technology development' indicates the overall process of starting with identifying (farmers') problems in an area, seeking solutions, testing, evaluation, and extension from farmers to farmers. Where adequate potential solutions are not available, a request may be made to a research organization to add the search for a solution to its priorities.

On the other hand, the AT movement uses the concept of technology development in specialized institutes or enterprises. These are expected to develop technical hardware to the production stage, starting from the first idea, through design, production of prototype, testing and adaptations.

In comparing both understandings of technology development, a few interesting points emerge:

(1) The concept of technology development in the AT context bears similarities to the practice of conventional agricultural research organizations. In the understanding of PTD institute-based research and development is only a 'sub-routine' in the overall process of technology development.

(2) In the same understanding, the institute-based development of AT may also be seen as a sub-routine in a much wider technology development process in which the users of the technology play a crucial role.

(3) There is a distinct danger in AT projects that sub-routines become an isolated activity. This may in fact be among the reasons for poor success in the subsequent introduction of the new technology.

(4) In the AT concept of technology development, involvement of end-users often takes the form of market studies, customers' preference analysis, and participatory trials. The PTD approach attempts to build community-based skills in experimentation, testing and evaluation, ownership and commitment, social organization, and technology use and maintenance.


It is important to analyze the nature of the technology each approach refers to. Are we not comparing two completely different types of technology and does this difference not have important consequences for the technology development process?

The PTD approach is known to have its greatest potential in areas of poor resources with a very diverse ecology and related forms of land use. Its main focus is on agricultural technology (new varieties and improved farming practices) with the following characteristics:


simple, small steps from existing technologies;


understandable and controllable by farmers themselves;


and therefore easily further developed by them;


wide applicability within the community, not just to be used by one or two only.

The AT approach includes a much wider range of technologies. Most often it focuses on rural situations, though not necessarily on agriculture. We may see these AT technologies as being on a continuum between two extremes (but one should not draw the conclusion that a PTD approach is only relevant at the first end of the continuum): (1) Technologies with features very similar to those mentioned above, and (2) technologies that are "black boxes" - that is technologies users can neither understand nor further develop (e.g. certain hand-pumps, or photovoltaic cells).


To bring the analysis one step further it is necessary to draw attention to an important general feature of AT: the production process. In general, AT has to be "made", i.e. produced in a specialized place (workshop, local factory, multinational enterprise). This has two consequences. Firstly, it emphasizes the impossibility of farmers' inputs in further developing the technology. Secondly, and more important' the production process has to be organized. An enterprise may have to be set up, loans may be necessary, and the whole thing must be made commercially viable. All this draws the attention again to the sub-routine at the cost of neglecting the wider technology development process.


The PTD approach is basically a form of integrated rural development: it is an open-ended approach, aimed at increasing the standard of living of an area's population, with attention to the whole development process from problem identification to sustained innovations. Its best-known examples are drawn from rural development programmes run by NGOs.

Most AT projects have a research centre as their institutional base (university, donor dependent research project, AT centre of an NGO). Few AT organizations so far tried to follow a community based development approach. The choice between a community-based general development process and a technology development resource institute may be influenced by several of the following points:

(1) the type of technology under consideration;

(2) political and strategic considerations: how much importance should be given to strengthening the farmers' capacity to do research, and actively participate in and control their own development process;

(3) the local situation, including:

- farmers' general awareness and mobilization,

- existing communication patterns between farmers, research and extension stations, and local enterprises,

- level of technology development in the respective area or country.

What would be the outcome if more AT programmes followed a community-based general development approach rather than the traditional institute-based practice? Would they be able to do so? What would be the consequences as far as staffing is concerned? How could the traditional institute activities better support community based technology development programmes?


The results of our internal brainstorm gave us enough confidence to contact European AT organizations to explore the possibility of establishing a dialogue. At the same time ITDG asked ILEIA/ETC for documentation on participatory approaches in AT programmes. As a result, a one-day workshop was organized in Amsterdam, in 1991, for representatives of ATOL, TOOL, ITDG, GATE and ETC/ILEIA. The PTD-AT dialogue dates from that meeting. If there is to be more attention to PTD-related approaches in AT programmes, several important obstacles have to be overcome:

(1) There is insufficient documentation on the extent to which AT programmes are using participatory approaches. Those programmes using participatory approaches provide little information on the methods being used. Many AT documents focus on the technologies or the AT criteria, and not on the process and methods used.

(2) The awareness of the importance of Participatory Technology Development seems to be limited in the AT movement.

(3) A similar limitation is found among those donors which traditionally fund AT projects, although some participants suggested that this is now less prevalent than before.

The conclusion was to further study participatory approaches in AT programmes and attempt to remove some of these obstacles. A framework for an 'adjusted' PTD approach should be developed, consisting of a collection of participatory approaches, methods and techniques applicable in AT programmes. And awareness should be increased in the wider AT community of the need for PTD approaches in their programmes.