Appropriate technology

Last updated: Wednesday, 10 July 2024

The concept of “appropriate technology” stresses the importance of designing and implementing technologies that are ‘tailored to fit the [prevailing] psychosocial and biophysical context’ (Willoughby 1990). Prioritising the needs, resources, and capabilities of the intended users and their communities.

Typically: small-scale and decentralised, labour-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable, flexible, legible, affordable, using locally available resources as much as possible, and designed for on-the-spot maintenance.

Designed to be implemented at a local or community level?

Challenges the notion of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to technological development. Instead, it stresses the importance of understanding and responding to the unique contexts and needs of different communities and environments.

Just as a computer-based irrigation system might be rather inappropriate for a poor Malaysian rice-farmer, a book-retrieval system based on card catalogs might no longer be appropriate at the Library of Congress. — Andrew Jamison & Mikael Hård, “The Story-lines of Technological Change” (2003)

  • [?] What are some examples of technologies that were successful in one context but failed in another? Why did they fail?
  • [?] How might the principles of appropriate technology be applied to the development of digital technologies, such as software or online platforms?
  • [?] Under what circumstances can labour-intensive technologies be more beneficial than automated ones?
  • [?] How important is a technology’s flexibility in adapting to changing conditions and needs?
  • [?] How does the “proximity” of a given technology to its users influence its effectiveness and acceptance?
  • [&] Compare with: minor technologies?