Successful innovation depends on engaging the grassroots

From SciDev

can’t be imposed on people — they must be engaged to select ideas that suit their lives, writes Lawrence Gudza.

Technological innovation is generally viewed as a panacea for the problems of developing nations. The result is that in countries such as Zimbabwe, institutions from well-off nations have tended to ‘push’ technologies according to their own agendas — and not ones that suit local communities.

This denies these communities the chance for technology democracy and justice — the right to develop, choose and use technologies that help people lead the kind of life they value, without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.

The push for technologies comes at the expense of social sustainability and lasting solutions at the level. Despite decades of effort, it is doubtful whether the objective of improving people’s lives through technology will be reached with this approach.

Such prescriptive approaches to technology development and adoption fail at the first hurdle: acceptance. They are subtly resisted by poor communities when they are socially unsustainable, and actively resisted where they are perceived as violating a community’s cultural and traditional norms.

For example, drip irrigation technology has failed to make an impact because villagers lack water pumps to access underground water. Meanwhile, communities have not embraced ecological sanitation (ecosan) toilets because the idea of collecting their own waste to fertilise gardens violates cultural norms and beliefs.

We need inclusive, community-based approaches that consider how people use technologies in their daily lives. The key for institutions is to engage in a dialogue about technologies with communities — vulnerable groups, traditional leadership, policymakers, scientists and business people.
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