Appropriate Technology

Appropriate technology is a movement (and its manifestations) encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally autonomous. It was originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher in his work Small is Beautiful. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered.

Appropriate Technology addresses the needs of small-scale technologies as a solution to the problems of rapid energy cost growth, growing shortages of non-renewable energy resources, and the continuing problem of developing ways in which individuals and communities can become self-sufficient and self-reliant. Although these problems affect the whole country, it is the low-income communities that have been most affected by the current energy crisis and most in need of effective assistance to achieve self-reliance ” (ibid.). Introduction of the first annual report of NCAT)

“The right technology is technology with a human face. ” (EF Schumacher)

“The central tenet of appropriate technology is that a technology must be designed to adapt to and be compatible with its local setting. There is, however, general agreement that the main purpose of the movement for appropriate technology is to increase local self-government at the local level. ” (Mark Roseland, edition of the 25 th anniversary of Small Is Beautiful)

“Appropriate technology is a technology that is designed with particular consideration for the environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of the community for which it is intended. With these goals in mind the appropriate technology typically requires fewer resources, is easier to maintain, has a lower overall cost and a lower impact on the environment. ” (Wikipedia)

“It’s cheap and it works. ” (Ray Schott, NCAT in the late 1970s)

“The application of modern scientific knowledge and technology to conform to existing economic, infrastructural, social and cultural conditions and practices. By extension, the concept involves the implementation of low-tech solutions incorporating simplicity of design, use and maintenance. » (NALMS)

“Technology adapted to local conditions. ” (Cooperating for Development)

“A complementary technology to the talents of the country. ” (Virtual Zambia)

“A flexible and participative approach to develop economically viable, regionally applicable and sustainable technology. » (IISD Developing Ideas)

“A set of useful technologies that impose the least intellectual, economic, social or even environmental costs in the country. ” (Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences)

“Designed for use in developing countries and should be easy to use by unqualified people, and easily repaired on site. » (Vestas, IUCN)

“Appropriate technology describes a way to satisfy human needs with the lowest impact on the finite resources of the Earth. Is the technology manufactured locally or does it use local materials? Can it be manufactured, or at least maintained, with a minimum of specialized training? Is its use sustainable over several generations? Does it cause suffering, human or otherwise, in its manufacture or use, disproportionate to its benefits? Can we afford it financially? It is a way of evaluating a technology, a way of thinking about the social, economic and environmental impacts of introducing technology into our lives, and one technology may be appropriate in some situations and not in others. ” (Campus Center for Appropriate Technology)

“The right technology is to be aware of what we are doing and aware of the consequences. Appropriate technology is a bottom-up process; it is not superimposed on the situation; it is a solution to economic needs that comes from the grassroots. » (Journey to Forever)

“Appropriate technology reflects an approach to technological development characterized by creative and healthy engineering that recognizes the social, environmental, political, economic and technical aspects of a technological solution to a society’s problem. In general, appropriate technologies are smaller scale technologies that are environmentally and socially benign, affordable, and often run on renewable energy. ” (Dennis Scanlin)

“A technology that is accessible and affordable for ordinary women and men within their own communities, and that is sustainable for them both economically and environmentally. ” (Center for Applied Community Technology Systems)

“Technology that is essential, affordable, requires little maintenance, and enhances the sustainable use and management of resources and opportunities in drylands with a mature perception of environmental, social, economic and political frameworks and values.. ” (Appropriate Technologies for Arid Lands)

History of technology, the development over time of systematic techniques for making and doing things. The term technology, a combination of the Greek technē, “art, craft”, with logos, “word, speech”, meant in Greece a discourse on the arts, both fine and applied. When it first appeared in English in the 17th century, it was used to mean a discussion of the applied arts only, and gradually these “arts” themselves came to be the object of the designation. By the early 20th century, the term embraced a growing range of means, processes, and ideas in addition to tools and machines. By mid-century, technology was defined by such phrases as “the means or activity by which man seeks to change or manipulate his environment.” Even such broad definitions have been criticized by observers who point out the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between scientific inquiry and technological activity.

A highly compressed account of the history of technology such as this one must adopt a rigorous methodological pattern if it is to do justice to the subject without grossly distorting it one way or another. The plan followed in the present article is primarily chronological, tracing the development of technology through phases that succeed each other in time. Obviously, the division between phases is to a large extent arbitrary. One factor in the weighting has been the enormous acceleration of Western technological development in recent centuries; Eastern technology is considered in this article in the main only as it relates to the development of modern technology.

Indian ideological leader Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as the “father” of the appropriate technology movement. Though the concept had not been given a name, Gandhi advocated for small, local and predominantly village-based technology to help India’s villages become self-reliant. He disagreed with the idea of technology that benefited a minority of people at the expense of the majority or that put people out of work to increase profit. In 1925 Gandhi founded the All-India Spinners Association and in 1935 he retired from politics to form the All-India Village Industries Association. Both organizations focused on village-based technology similar to the future appropriate technology movement.

China also implemented policies similar to appropriate technology during the reign of Mao Zedong and the following Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, development policies based on the idea of “walking on two legs” advocated the development of both large-scale factories and small-scale village industries.

E. F. Schumacher
Despite these early examples, Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher is credited as the founder of the appropriate technology movement. A well-known economist, Schumacher worked for the British National Coal Board for more than 20 years, where he blamed the size of the industry’s operations for its uncaring response to the harm black-lung disease inflicted on the miners. However it was his work with developing countries, such as India and Burma, which helped Schumacher form the underlying principles of appropriate technology.

Schumacher first articulated the idea of “intermediate technology,” now known as appropriate technology, in a 1962 report to the Indian Planning Commission in which he described India as long in labor and short in capital, calling for an “intermediate industrial technology” that harnessed India’s labor surplus. Schumacher had been developing the idea of intermediate technology for several years prior to the Planning Commission report. In 1955, following a stint as an economic advisor to the government of Burma, he published the short paper “Economics in a Buddhist Country,” his first known critique of the effects of Western economics on developing countries. In addition to Buddhism, Schumacher also credited his ideas to Gandhi.

Initially, Schumacher’s ideas were rejected by both the Indian government and leading development economists. Spurred to action over concern the idea of intermediate technology would languish, Schumacher, George McRobie, Mansur Hoda and Julia Porter brought together a group of approximately 20 people to form the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in May 1965. Later that year, a Schumacher article published in the Observer garnered significant attention and support for the group. In 1967, the group published the Tools for Progress: A Guide to Small-scale Equipment for Rural Development and sold 7,000 copies. ITDG also formed panels of experts and practitioners around specific technological needs (such as building construction, energy and water) to develop intermediate technologies to address those needs. At a conference hosted by the ITDG in 1968 the term “intermediate technology” was discarded in favor of the term “appropriate technology” used today. Intermediate technology had been criticized as suggesting the technology was inferior to advanced (or high) technology and not including the social and political factors included in the concept put forth by the proponents. In 1973, Schumacher described the concept of appropriate technology to a mass audience in his influential work, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered….

Growing trend
Between 1966 and 1975 the number of new appropriate technology organizations founded each year was three times greater than the previous nine years. There was also an increase in organizations focusing on applying appropriate technology to the problems of industrialized nations, particularly issues related to energy and the environment. In 1977, the OECD identified in its Appropriate Technology Directory 680 organizations involved in the development and promotion of appropriate technology. By 1980, this number had grown to more than 1,000. International agencies and government departments were also emerging as major innovators in appropriate technology, indicating its progression from a small movement fighting against the established norms to a legitimate technological choice supported by the establishment. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank created a Committee for the Application of Intermediate Technology in 1976 and the World Health Organization established the Appropriate Technology for Health Program in 1977.

Appropriate technology was also increasingly applied in developed countries. For example, the energy crisis of the mid-1970s led to the creation of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) in 1977 with an initial appropriation of 3 million dollars from the U.S. Congress. The Center sponsored appropriate technology demonstrations to “help low-income communities find better ways to do things that will improve the quality of life, and that will be doable with the skills and resources at hand.” However, by 1981 the NCAT’s funding agency, Community Services Administration, had been abolished. For several decades NCAT worked with the US departments of Energy and Agriculture on contract to develop appropriate technology programs. Since 2005, NCAT’s informational web site is no longer funded by the US government.

In more recent years, the appropriate technology movement has continued to decline in prominence. Germany’s German Appropriate Technology Exchange (GATE) and Holland’s Technology Transfer for Development (TOOL) are examples of organizations no longer in operation. Recently, a study looked at the continued barriers to AT deployment despite the relatively low cost of transferring information in the internet age. The barriers have been identified as: AT seen as inferior or “poor person’s” technology, technical transferability and robustness of AT, insufficient funding, weak institutional support, and the challenges of distance and time in tackling rural poverty.

A more free market-centric view has also begun to dominate the field. For example, Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (an organization that designs and manufactures products that follow the ideals of appropriate technology), declared appropriate technology dead in a 2010 blog post.

Polak argues the “design for the other 90 percent” movement has replaced appropriate technology. Growing out of the appropriate technology movement, designing for the other 90 percent advocates the creation of low-cost solutions for the 5.8 billion of the world’s 6.8 billion population “who have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted.”

Many of the ideas integral to appropriate technology can now be found in the increasingly popular “sustainable development” movement, which among many tenets advocates technological choice that meets human needs while preserving the environment for future generations. In 1983, the OECD published the results of an extensive survey of appropriate technology organizations titled, The World of Appropriate Technology, in which it defined appropriate technology as characterized by “low investment cost per work-place, low capital investment per unit of output, organizational simplicity, high adaptability to a particular social or cultural environment, sparing use of natural resources, low cost of final product or high potential for employment.” Today, the OECD web site redirects from the “Glossary of Statistical Terms” entry on “appropriate technology” to “environmentally sound technologies.” The United Nations’ “Index to Economic and Social Development” also redirects from the “appropriate technology” entry to “sustainable development.”

Potential resurgence
Despite the decline, several appropriate technology organizations are still in existence, including the ITDG which became Practical Action after a name change in 2005. Skat[permanent dead link] (Schwierzerische Kontaktstelle für Angepasste Technology) adapted by becoming a private consultancy in 1998, though some Intermediate Technology activities are continued by Skat Foundation through the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN). Another actor still very active is the charity CEAS (Centre Ecologique Albert Schweitzer). Pioneer in food transformation and solar heaters, it offers vocational training in West Africa and Madagascar. There is also currently a notable resurgence as viewed by the number of groups adopting open source appropriate technology (OSAT) because of the enabling technology of the Internet. These OSAT groups include: Akvo Foundation, Appropedia, Appropriate Technology Collaborative, Catalytic Communities, Centre for Alternative Technology, Center For Development Alternatives, Engineers Without Borders, Open Source Ecology, Practical Action, and Village Earth. Most recently ASME, Engineers Without Borders(USA) and the IEEE have joined together to produce Engineering for Change, which facilitates the development of affordable, locally appropriate and sustainable solutions to the most pressing humanitarian challenges.

Appropriate technology frequently serves as an umbrella term for a variety names for this type of technology. Frequently these terms are used interchangeably; however, the use of one term over another can indicate the specific focus, bias or agenda of the technological choice in question. Though the original name for the concept now known as appropriate technology, “intermediate technology” is now often considered a subset of appropriate technology that focuses on technology that is more productive than “inefficient” traditional technologies, but less costly than the technology of industrialized societies. Other types of technology under the appropriate technology umbrella include:

Capital-saving technology
Labor-intensive technology
Alternate technology
Self-help technology
Village-level technology
Community technology
Progressive technology
Indigenous technology
People’s technology
Light-engineering technology
Adaptive technology
Light-capital technology
Soft technology

A variety of competing definitions exist in academic literature and organization and government policy papers for each of these terms. However, the general consensus is appropriate technology encompasses the ideas represented by the above list. Furthermore, the use of one term over another in referring to an appropriate technology can indicate ideological bias or emphasis on particular economic or social variables. Some terms inherently emphasize the importance of increased employment and labor utilization (such as labor-intensive or capital-saving technology), while others may emphasize the importance of human development (such as self-help and people’s technology).

It is also possible to distinguish between hard and soft technologies. According to Dr. Maurice Albertson and Audrey Faulkner, appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by a community, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”

Albertson and Faulkner consider appropriate soft technology as technology that deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”

agriculture: environmentally sound, small scale, simple, permaculture, organic, alternative crops, composting, recycling, integrated pest management and alternatives to pesticides, small scale irrigation, hydroponics, aquaculture, small scale farming
agricultural tools: small scale, simple, economic, self-construction, hand-held, animal traction, solar, wind, small hydraulic
drying: conservation, and storage: small scale, simple, economical, self-construction, solar
silviculture: environmentally sound, small scale, sustainable
aquaculture: Environmentally sound, small scale.
water supply and sanitation: environmentally sound, water saving, small scale, healthy, adapted to rural areas and small communities, manual pumping, simple and cheap pumps
energy: renewable, efficient, muscular, alternatives to fossil fuels, farm-produced fuels
improved stoves and charcoal production: fuel efficient, efficient, healthy, small scale
wind energy: for irrigation, small scale, self-construction, economic,
hydraulic power: micro-turbines, economical, small scale, water wheel, water mill, small earth dams,
solar energy: Solar bottles (equivalent to a 60w bulb), solar oven.
housing and construction:
science education:
education and informal training:
small businesses and cooperatives:
local communications:
disaster preparedness and relief:

Some of the well known practitioners of the appropriate technology-sector include: B.V. Doshi, Buckminster Fuller, William Moyer (1933–2002), Amory Lovins, Sanoussi Diakité, Albert Bates, Victor Papanek, Giorgio Ceragioli (1930–2008), Frithjof Bergmann, Arne Næss, (1912–2009), and Mansur Hoda, Laurie Baker.

Schumacher’s initial concept of intermediate technology was created as a critique of the currently prevailing development strategies which focused on maximizing aggregate economic growth through increases to overall measurements of a country’s economy, such as gross domestic product (GDP). Developed countries became aware of the situation of developing countries during and in the years following World War II. Based on the continuing rise in income levels in Western countries since the Industrial Revolution, developed countries embarked on a campaign of massive transfers of capital and technology to developing countries in order to force a rapid industrialization intended to result in an economic “take-off” in the developing countries.

However, by the late 1960s it was becoming clear this development method had not worked as expected and a growing number of development experts and national policy makers were recognizing it as a potential cause of increasing poverty and income inequality in developing countries. In many countries, this influx of technology had increased the overall economic capacity of the country. However, it had created a dual or two-tiered economy with pronounced division between the classes. The foreign technology imports were only benefiting a small minority of urban elites. This was also increasing urbanization with the rural poor moving to urban cities in hope of more financial opportunities. The increased strain on urban infrastructures and public services led to “increasing squalor, severe impacts on public health and distortions in the social structure.”

Appropriate technology was meant to address four problems: extreme poverty, starvation, unemployment and urban migration. Schumacher saw the main purpose for economic development programs was the eradication of extreme poverty and he saw a clear connection between mass unemployment and extreme poverty. Schumacher sought to shift development efforts from a bias towards urban areas and on increasing the output per laborer to focusing on rural areas (where a majority of the population still lived) and on increasing employment.

In developed countries
The term appropriate technology is also used in developed nations to describe the use of technology and engineering that result in less negative impacts on the environment and society, i.e., technology should be both environmentally sustainable and socially appropriate. E. F. Schumacher asserts that such technology, described in the book Small is Beautiful tends to promote values such as health, beauty and permanence, in that order.

Often the type of appropriate technology that is used in developed countries is “appropriate and sustainable technology” (AST), appropriate technology that, besides being functional and relatively cheap (though often more expensive than true AT), is durable and employs renewable resources. AT does not include this (see Sustainable design).

Development Responsibility, Technology Adaptation and Control
A general difficulty is that in the course of the enforcement of neoliberal capitalismAs a result, economic distribution problems are exacerbated, and gains in resources are consequently unilaterally distributed. Engineers in all fields should be aware of what the development of technology is, what the consequences are, and that there is a great deal of responsibility in initiating and directing or influencing development processes. Looking at the economic conditions of the global economy, it can not be ignored that even more severe economic pressure can lead engineers, scientists, technicians and managers to base technological developments solely on profit and put sustainability concerns aside.

Engineers have to clarify for whom, that is, for which target group a technology to be developed is determined, what benefits it brings, what meaning it has and how it can be adapted to a specific purpose and to a specific environment… is the subject of technology management.

There are adapted technologies that are specially tailored for use in developing countries, where care is taken to ensure that sustainable development is combined with their use. An adaptation for use in a special environment must be specially developed for this purpose.

It also becomes clear that certain technologies have to be limited in the context of ideological education and social action, if one knows that certain technological products can develop such destructive powers that they jeopardize the survival of humanity, or if these forces soon be unleashed, or that the effects will only unfold fully over the course of decades. The same applies to nuclear weapons as well as to greenhouse gases emitted from anthropogenic industrial processes in the context of climate change, The setting of borders happens primarily through political-technical control, but the responsibility can not be left to the politicians alone. Engineers, scientists, technicians and managers, who are closer to the pulse of technical developments, have to think and participate.

Undoubtedly, neither soft high technologies in developed countries nor adapted technologies in developing and underdeveloped regions can limit, but will, limit the undesirable developments favored by market pressures in dealing with technology produced and used in conventional (capitalist) economics with the conception of those technologies of sluggish reversal and reorientation of the recent past at least one alternativeobjected. Due to their sustainable character (in the sense of a lasting effect for a long time), soft high technologies and adapted technologies place the interests of man back into the focus of the development requirements. However, in an economically harsh environment they must be able to exert a necessary effect.

Criticism of the implementation of development aid projects with adapted technologies comes from Dr. med. Helmut Zell, who had the opportunity to deal with the realities during a two-year stay in Tanzania. Zell complains that, although the relevant institutions in Tanzania have a long list of prototypes, there has been very little or no commercial launch of Customized Technology products as they have almost never reached marketability. In most cases, they were developed at random, without the need for economic calculations or market studies. They often had functional defects and were characterized by a poor price-performance ratio. In addition, they often had to compete with higher-quality foreign imported goods. Zell states that the (labor market-friendly) labor-intensive mode of production is in contradiction with the principle of achieving a good price-performance ratio. Zell notes further that the institutions responsible there have hardly cooperated properly with the domestic industry and that their development of the prototypes was not purposefully aimed at reaching the production maturity, but rather was led by self-preservation interests. A single Adapted Technology product could make Zell competitive there.

Source from Wikipedia