|Blending of New and Traditional Technologies - Case Studies (ILO - WEP, 1984, 312 p.)|
THE RECENT PROLIFERATION and applications of microelectronics and biotechnology, as well as other frontier technologies, have resulted in a host of concerns regarding both immediate and longer-term socio-economic consequences. At the national level, questions are raised about the influence of new technologies on efficiency, economic growth, level and composition of employment, alterations in the demand pattern for human skills and capabilities, income distribution, labour/management issues, shifts in regional economic activity and international competitiveness.
In the special case of developing countries this catalogue of issues must be extended to include anxieties surrounding the process of technology transfer such as the fear of greater technological dependence, an imperfect fit of transferred technology to the socio-economic needs of labour-surplus nations and imperfect competition in the international technology market. Finally, at the global level attention is drawn to the possible impact of new technologies on trade patterns, industrial restructuring and the international division of labour. Questions are being raised as to the relevance of the basic needs and appropriate technology movements, and the quest for a new international economic order, in view of the impressive pace of modern technologies. Especially important is the growing debate over whether the latest surge of frontier technology will furnish the momentum for ending the current global economic stagnation through improvements in productivity and enhanced investment incentives, or alternatively, the world economic crisis will deepen because of diminished employment opportunities and a resulting deficiency of purchasing power.
BACKGROUND OF THE PORTFOLIO
Against this backdrop of issues and concerns the United Nations Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for Development (ACSTD) held a Panel at the International Rice Research Institute (Los Ba Laguna, Philippines) on December 13-16, 1982. The panel papers which focused on the marriage of newly emerging and traditional technologies were subsequently published.* At its Third Session (New York, February 1-8, 1983), the Advisory Committee considered the Report of the Los BaPanel. In addition to recommending that interested governments and concerned organisations initiated pioneer and pilot projects on integration the Committee urged:
* E.U. von Weizser, M.S. Swaminathan and Aklilu Lemma (eds.): New frontiers in technology application: Integration of emerging and traditional technologies, Tycooly International Publishing Ltd., Dublin. 1983.
that existing experiments and case studies be reviewed with a view to drawing lessons from the successes and failures of such past and ongoing activities in both developed and developing countries. In the compilation of such a portfolio of experiments and projects by appropriate organisations in the United Nations system, the following guidelines could be considered:
(i) Access to the economic and social costs and benefits in the light of cultural compatibility, consumer acceptability, decentralisation potential and employment impact;
(ii) Ensure that the integration model is capable of replication and will promote sustainable development;
(iii) Adopt a systems approach in project formulation particularly taking into account marketing opportunities.
United Nations Report of the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for Development at its Third Session, Intergovernmental Committee on Science and Technology for Development, New York, A/CN. 11, February, 1983.
Since the recommendation of the Advisory Committee, the International Labour Office (ILO), in collaboration with the United Nations Centre on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and the United Nations Financing System on Science and Technology for Development (UNFSSTD), undertook the task of preparing such a portfolio. Within the ILO, Ajit Bhalla, Dilmus James and Yvette Stevens of the Technology and Employment Branch were responsible for preparing and editing the present volume.
A great deal of effort went into locating case studies. Over 250 questionnaires were sent directly from the ILO; employers organisations from selected countries sent out more to private firms and UNCSTD mailed out a request for information to approximately 150 national focal points. In addition, several field missions, personal inquiry, a large volume of correspondence and a literature search helped in uncovering viable candidates for case studies.
The need for a collection of case studies is apparent. Newly emerging technologies are ushering in massive changes in the world socio-economic landscape and it is inevitable that Third World countries will be caught up in these shifting contours. Since these frontier technologies are science-intensive, capital-intensive and information-intensive, developing countries seem to be heading for a round of technological upheaval for which their capabilities are limited. While recognising these clear danger signals and not in any way attempting to underrate them, this volume attempts to address the following question: must the introduction of frontier technology into traditional economic regions and sectors always be detrimental to their socio-economic welfare?
More specifically, the volume has four-fold objectives. First, it is intended to establish more clearly what is meant by the integration of newly emerging technologies with traditional economic activity. It is quite apparent that some confusion prevails. In the pioneering New Frontiers in Technology Application; Integration of Emerging and Traditional Technologies, one can find contributions that dealt with the application of novel but conventional technology to traditional sectors and others dealing with new technology with little or no mention of integration. Indeed, despite our best efforts at being clear as to what we meant by emerging technology and blending, many completed questionnaires dealt with appropriate technology projects or frontier technology development without integration features. Although these are all worthy projects, they were not very useful for our purposes. A sharper focus was needed, and although our definitions have purposely remained flexible and borderline situations are plentiful, the concrete examples in the volume attempt at providing cases of blending between emerging and traditional technologies.
Weizser et al., op. cit.
Second, a more substantive objective is to test the scope for blending frontier technologies with traditional sectors.
Third, our objective is to offer a guide to policy. Emerging technologies have evoked an enormous interest in developing countries themselves and agencies devoted to the economic development of the Third World. Resources are being marshalled and policies forged for both transferring and locally generating these technologies. But there will not be enough resources to do everything; judicious selectivity is therefore of paramount importance. Given the resource constraint and the need or importance of developing policies and programmes selectively, it is vital to consider whether promotion of blending should be a part of the policy-mix and, if so, examine what actions would be most efficacious. The case study approach is one means of learning policy lessons from existing situations, and these insights become useful far earlier than reliable macro models can be constructed.
Finally, much can be learnt from future experiments that design and implement projects for successfully blending newly emerging technologies with traditional sectors. Taking a look at what is already transpiring via the case studies affords greater perception of what types of blending experiments should be tested and the magnitude of resources that must be committed.
SCOPE AND NATURE
The volume covers five categories of emerging technology: microelectronics, biotechnology, space satellites, new materials technology, and solar energy. Some cases from developed countries were included despite our primary concern to explore experiments with blending in the Third World. This was due partly to our decision to concentrate on situations with actual operating experience which significantly narrowed the number of cases available in developing countries. Also it reflected the practical problems encountered in identifying viable candidates for case studies, following up with the individuals or institutions involved and obtaining the necessary material for a complete study. For several reasons, the questionnaire method was not very productive, not because of lack of cooperation which was generally good, but because the vast majority of positive responses either did not involve emerging technologies, lacked a blending or integration element, or were still in the planning stages. Neither did a severe time constraint help matters. Thus a temptation at the early stages of planning the volume to cover only microelectronics applications in the Third World was quickly abandoned. In fact, in retrospect, there were some benefits from a more encompassing work. Biotechnology in developing countries has received very superficial and speculative treatment in the available literature and the economic implications of new materials technology have not benefited from wide exposure. Furthermore, used with appropriate caution and awareness of differences involved, lessons from the blending experience in traditional sectors of developed countries offer some policy guides for developing countries.
The case studies were unable to overcome several limitations. An ideal, comprehensive socio-economic evaluation of experiments with newly emerging technologies would have included the following:
(a) Cost effectiveness (compared to traditional and alternative methods).
(b) Socio-economic impacts
(i) Employment (direct/indirect)
(ii) Income distribution
(iii) Balance of payments
(iv) Composition of employment by age, sex and ethnic group
(v) Working conditions
(vi) Social relationships
(c) Environmental impact
(d) Local supports
(i) Use of local material
(ii) Skill requirements and learning
(iii) Maintainability of the new technology
Evaluations in the collection all fall short of this ideal, but authors were asked to give as comprehensive an appraisal as data, time and circumstances permitted. When the project was originally proposed there was some debate as to whether this volume should be a collection of descriptive cases or of evaluative analyses. We decided on the latter, even though often data did not permit detailed, comprehensive assessments. It was thought that careful appraisal of those socio-economic elements for which reasonable evaluation could be made was preferable to no evaluation at all. Also, experience gained should prove useful in the future for designing assessments ex ante for blending projects that can be followed from planning through operational phases.
One can also see from the table of contents that the case studies are skewed towards examples of microelectronics application. This is no mystery, of course, since the microelectronics revolution was an earlier entrant into the phase of commercial use. Also, it is unfortunate that the collection does not sufficiently reflect situations in which the introduction of frontier technology was a complete failure with respect to integration, or which swept away traditional economic activity. Much could be learnt from more information on such negative circumstances.
Finally, there are the well-known limitations of the case study approach itself. Yet developing countries need some early insights on how to cope with the rapidly altering technological frontier and the day when reliable, relevant aggregated macro-studies can be generated, even in developed countries, is not at hand. In the interim, examples of concrete, specific, and operational experiences illustrating the blending of newly emerging technology with traditional economic activity will serve as a fundamental source for evaluation guides to intelligent policy. It is precisely such examples that this volume seeks to provide.