Wednesday, 17 May 2017

What happened to appropriate technology?

Yesterday, at the end of the STI Forum, I attended a side event organized by Jonny Casey of Practical Action, enthusiastic  young man, of the ilk of all those enthusiastic young men that were part of ITDG, as Practical Action was called in dem-good-ole-days!  [Note:  I am a little partial to Jonny because he was very complimentary on twitter  about my presentation at the STI Forum.  Checking him out I find that at Practical Action  he “leads the organisation's efforts to mainstream gender across its work”  which explains a lot and should endear him further to us genderequality wonks!] 
The side event was billed “World Cafe: A knowledge systems approach for #SDG2  and even though the methodology fell far short of what I understood as a World CafĂ©, our small group discussion was extremely interesting, if rather depressing.  The group comprised largely of young people, mainly part of the UN Working group on Children and Youth who were strongly represented at the STI Forum.  There was also Silvia Ribeiro, Director for Latin America for the etc group, who was older, and had a lot of experience working with farmers.  She knew Patrick Mulvany, ITDG veteran!  The question posed to us was  about who would be the knowledge providers to a community of small scale farmers, and Silvia and I had a hard time convincing the three young men in the group (the young woman, interestingly, had a different approach) that farmers have expert knowledge, and that scientists and ‘experts’  need to work with farmers, because farmers themselves are scientists and experts in their own right. Eventually, I think they got it – at a minimum, we  (Silvia and I) planted a seed of doubt in their minds that there is another approach than the conventional top-down knowledge transfer. And ours was the only group (of three) that presented a participatory, two-way approach to knowledge sharing!

During the STI Forum, BItrina Diyamett, Executive Director at Science, technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO), University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, asked the question, what happened to the appropriate technology initiatives of the 1980s?  and this group discussion certainly brought that question into focus.  What happened to the conceptual thinking and practical work around appropriate technology, indigenous knowledge, participatory technology development?  It seems like the neo-liberal agenda has very successfully swept all of that into the rubbish heap, so that the next generation of technologists and scientists are struggling to reinvent these concepts.  Even at the STI Forum, some of the later panels were finding it difficult to move away from the concept of science, technology and innovation for industry and economic growth and focus on science technology and innovation for eradicating poverty, ending hunger, ensure healthy lives, achieve gender equality, build resilient infrastructure, and conserve oceans.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the younger generation is very concerned about the path that development is taking, and is talking about needing a paradigm shift, a re-imagining of development.  We need to provide them with the tools that will help them to do just that.