Intermediate Technologies

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University

Often technologies used in development or transfered to poor communities do not fit the needs of the community that these technologies are designed to help. Instead these tools go unused or are not properly utilized to maximise their benefits due to a lack of knowledge about their use or more commonly their relavance to peoples needs.


Often the simplest and most benign level of technology that can effectively achieve the intended purpose in a particular location will be the most relevant. These Intermediate Technologies are particularly useful to underdeveloped rural areas, which may lack the specialised expertise or infrastructure to operate and maintain high technology.


Intermediate technology, as asserted in the book Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher, tends to promote values such as health, beauty and permanence.

The idea of intermediate technology or "appropriate technology" is meant to highlight an approach to the concrete tools pushed in development practice. For example in a rural area, where literacy is low, where there is a lack of communication lines and even electricity it would not make sense to implement a tele-center to promote information awareness, rather a small local radio station by which people could obtain information through battery operated radios would be much more relevant to transfer information.

In essence the role of an intermediate technology is meant to allow peoples to take advantage of technology but in ways that don't drastically disrupt the cultural integrity of the community. It is ultimately respectful and mindful, to the fact that a treadle-pump for accessing water over walking 2 miles to the river 5 times a day is going to be more relevant to rural woman raising a household than a computer. In fact, there are no shortage of reports of technology transfer programs that failed miserably due to inadequate assessment of community needs. Instead, tools that were perceived to be most relevant based upon a variety of biases were given and yet when later evaluated where found to be dysfunctional or not in use.

Again, that was because they lacked relevance to the lived experiences of the peoples it was intended to help. Unfortunately, it is difficult to produce a list of appropriate technologies since by their very nature require their deployment to be context specific. So in some cases a rural wireless network may be very relevant and yet in others a underground water collection stations for use during the dry season will be most applicable.


Therefore when seeking to promote the livelihoods of peoples through the process of technology transfer it is important to be careful and creative in mapping out projects and types of technologies to be placed in a community to reach maximum use and benefit to those it is intended to support. Consultants and development advocates must ensure that proper measures are taken to ensure relevance and usefulness. In these cases it would seem appropriate for communities and technologists to come together in a participatory process for mapping out needs, infrastructure and culturally relevant solutions.

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