| Appropriate Technology in Post - Modern Times |
|PART II Diversity is strength|
Have intermediate and appropriate technologies succeeded in their intentions? The answer, as in all the best reviews, is both Yes and No! (...) The ideas upon which the movement was based are as sound today as they were 25 years ago.
In times of dramatic and often irrational developments in economics, politics and culture, the survival of a sound concept may in itself be seen as a success. The "derailment" of values into ever more consumption-dominated lifestyles is perhaps the most damaging development.
The concept of Appropriate Technology would hardly have survived, had it not influenced other spheres of work and in turn received stimulating feedback. In looking back, while evaluating current progress and deficiencies, it becomes increasingly clear how important it is for the AT movement to understand the local context in the South and to influence policy makers, donors and the public in the North.
This includes the task of informing the Northern public as well as development practitioners about innovation as a process, not just as one-time interventions or applications of standard technologies. It also presents the challenge of appropriately shaping cooperation within the movement to include its Southern components as the principal structural elements. The more it is recognized that Appropriate Technology involves (1) making Technology Transfer successful through conscious selection-cum-adaptation, (2) genuine endogenous innovation, and (3) democratically influencing the direction of technological development, the more effective truly equitable cooperation structures will become.
Sound concepts survive because of their openness to new insights and further development. In this respect, AT seems to have achieved more than most other development concepts. The concept's durability has much to do with the ability to learn from mistakes without changing directions and labels too frequently or abruptly.
Often through the failure of hardware-dominated initiatives, it was realised that it was the context that was important in determining success or failure, and attention switched to examining the economic, social, cultural and policy environments within which the technology existed. (...) These wider perspectives certainly improved the quality and relevance of work done and multi-disciplinary approaches have undoubtedly been more successful in practice.
Propagating multi-disciplinarity in development cooperation is certainly not characteristic of AT alone. But its holistic approach and its attempts to maintain the delicate balance between people, the environment and technology, have exerted an important influence on the mainstream.
On the other hand, the growing awareness of socio-economic, cultural and political factors led in some cases to an over-reaction: questioning the importance of technology altogether. The response has been a healthy reassessment of the interrelationship of technical and social phenomena; and the reaffirmation that technology and the technicians must be fully aware of the context in which they operate and of the objectives they can achieve. AT's conceptual continuity has proven to be the best defense against the charge that technology issues were no longer relevant. Clearly, technology policy and practice cannot be neglected in favour of an exclusive concentration on socio-economic conditions, macro politics or "policy dialogue". Nor can the role of technology be declared as secondary in reasonably broad-based strategies for poverty alleviation.
Basic needs strategies were for quite some time propagated as a general paradigm, but they yielded few concrete approaches and results. Many more viable principles and methods have evolved from the work of AT. Much thought has been given to why this is so. Key elements certainly include the decisive role of the local actors and the participatory approaches that evolved from this perception. Participation has in turn ensured that the definition of objectives and the selection of techniques and methodologies is guided by the maxim that benefits must be perceived as such by the beneficiaries.
GATE's recent consultations with the German NGO sector identified the inherent compatibility between AT and participatory approaches as a major reason for the increasing NGO interest in AT. NGOs welcome AT and believe it will become more important in years to come. There seems to be a similar trend among international organizations, although not fully reflected in financial term. The importance of AT should not be underestimated. Perhaps one-third of all projects implemented by multilateral development agencies include an AT component. Only seven per cent, however, are primarily AT projects, and less than ten per cent of the total expenditure of the major international agencies is devoted directly to AT.
The growing acceptance of AT has apparently not (yet?) been translated into actual practice. This may mean that AT's growing recognition is due to a selective and pragmatic attitude within the major agencies: they use appropriate technical hardware when it is available and suits their purpose, but they do not shape programmes to develop situation-specific solutions. Or it may mean that, although AT does not yet profoundly influence the overall approach of those agencies, it is beginning to do so. It probably means both.
Many micro-level AT activities appear to be pilot work that has yet to achieve broad impact. Still, AT's success record, however incomplete and provisional, compares rather favourably with "mainstream" development assistance.
In country after country, and in project after project, appropriate technologies have shown themselves to be the key to grassroots economic development. The fact that something has succeeded is remarkable enough, given the spectacular and uniform failure of much official development assistance to make any impression on development indicators, especially in Africa. And in some cases, appropriate technologies have been successful in bringing benefits to very large numbers of poor people.
Yet the knowledge of these poor people is often ignored. The capacities of local artisans, farmers, and particularly women to innovate without external help is well known but often neglected or disregarded. The most promising and far-reaching initiatives to overcome this lamentable bias have so far emerged in the spheres of farmer-cantered agricultural research and resource conservation.
A critical appraisal reveals further weaknesses. Mot programmes and model solutions with great potential but limited impact must be acknowledged as one of AT's failures: "The area of most general disappointment has been the lack of success in attaining wide and spontaneous uptake." This amounts to failure on two levels: AT's potential has not been realized, and the high costs of technology development and pilot programmes has not (yet) been justified.
The challenge therefore is to scale up AT programmes and multiply their impact. "Scaling-up" impact should not be confused with scaling-up the technologies themselves (for example from micro-hydro to meso-hydro). The question of technology level and scale needs thorough consideration in each individual case. Though generalizations are dangerous, "scaling up" AT programmes is a justified general demand. AT can be applied in countless different contexts because the basic concept lends itself to autonomous uptake and multiple adaptation.
Part II attempts to synthesize the many views on these and further issues expressed during the workshop, and to do so within the context of the current discussion on Appropriate Technology. The workshop highlighted four topics: (1) the question of a common AT philosophy and identity as a movement, (2) the improvement of AT dissemination, (3) the impact of market forces on the success of AT, and (4) the relationship between lifestyles, technology choice, and the development process. The last three were subjects of working groups to which the following chapters 9, 11 and 12 owe much of their contents. The first topic is of a more general nature and is present in most written as well as oral contributions. This is reflected in the rather broad lay-out of chapter 10 and it numerous references to the recent literature on AT and overall development approaches.
After 25 years of practical experience it seemed appropriate to analyze failures and successes, and to draw conclusions from this body of experience. Chapter 9 offers some answers to the following questions: Why has the inclusion of AT in development projects succeeded in some cases and has not in others? What are the preconditions for successful and sustainable technology transfer?
The question of the diverse perceptions and philosophies of AT in a modern or post-modern world was raised in most workshop discussions. The demand was voiced repeatedly that AT should be defined and the identity of the movement clarified. There cannot be a definite and final solution to the continuous definition dilemma: appropriateness always refers to specific situations and thus implies constant search and re-adjustment. This has not always been fully recognized within the AT movement, but more frequently it was the source of false outside perceptions. Chapter 10 refers to a variety of different workshop inputs and dicussion statements, as the issue continued to be raised in various contexts. It also draws heavily on some recent works which have contributed significantly to a new understanding of AT as a concept and a movement. The critical but not uncompromising relationship between AT and the development mainstream is reviewed in an attempt to describe AT's actual position and influence, and some of the many features and concerns which qualify it as a social movement are outlined.
Giving priority to people rather than to economic or technical considerations is a cultural approach to development that meshes comfortably with AT principles. Concern over Western cultural hegemony was frequently expressed and the need to apply culturally sensitive approaches in AT practice was stressed. The need to conserve and stimulate cultural diversity was given great emphasis by two working groups during the workshop. Chapter 11 tries to catch the spirit of these discussions.
It is not enough to develop appropriate solutions at one place and simply transfer them elsewhere. Information on technical and social alternatives for autonomous problem solving must reach the people who need to improve their livelihoods. In a world in which the amount of information available is growing dramatically, means of dissemination have to be improved. The workshop participants put great emphasis on improving communication and dissemination methods. The results of these discussions are documented in chapter 12, accompanied by brief descriptions of some of the most important dissemination instruments and examples of actual information services.