International development and appropriate technology

Summary of Week 1 of Technology Evaluation for Global Development (edX – MITx)

It is important to think historically because it allows us to understand how we defined problems and solutions, and the underlying assumptions of economic development, poverty alleviation and technological change.

Throughout the years, there has been a shift from macro to micro.

After the end of World War II, the 3 modernisation goals of rapid industrialisation, democracy and  education of the poor – the big push model – led by a large public sector was seen as necessary for generating economic growth. The poor was seen as neither innovative nor entrepreneurial. During this time, evaluation methodology was based on cost-benefit analysis.

Modernisation did not work as planned. Instead, there were negative changes in the economic, political and social environment, with government seen as the problem, not the solution. There was rising pessimism about the negative consequences of technology. Cost-benefit analysis was criticised for prioritising economic growth. The study of institutional constraints emerged as a new evaluation methodology.

The alternative that emerged was a bottom up approach to meet the basic needs of the poor through small-scale appropriate technology (AT) delivered by grassroots organisations.

AT declined as an idea as its political and economic impacts were insignificant. But it re-emerged in the shift towards micro-level poverty alleviation accompanied by incentives for technological innovation. The poor were seen as credit-worthy and savvy consumers.

This has led to an oversupply of appropriate technologies for which there was very little information on product performance. Hence there is a need for the rigorous evaluation of products.



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