Appropriate technology development involves co-creating innovative solutions that are sustainable, affordable and reliable. Towards that end, a set of five design principles is emerging based on the experiences of practitioners working on the ground with communities around the world.
These Design Principles can be found in the ASME Engineering for the BoP Report:
1. Develop appropriate solutions, not technologies
Design “in” developing countries, rather than designing “for” developing countries. Understand the social, political and cultural context of the specific need or problem through a needs assessment. Amy Smith, director of the MIT Development Lab requires all students taking her class to spend a week living on $2 a day to begin to understand the trade-offs that must be made when one has very limited resources.
2. Consider the context
Understanding user needs isn’t just about individuals but also the economic environment, infrastructure and culture in which products and services will be used. Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices suggests “Don’t fight culture; if people cook by stirring their stews, they’re not going to use a solar oven, no matter what you do to market it.” In addition, the best solutions innovate on existing platforms, rather than importing new systems and technologies.
3. Create transparent technology
Products should be simple to make, to use and to understand. Open source the design whenever possible to encourage continued re-purposing and innovation.
4. Embrace the market
Solutions should be designed for price, not created then priced at cost. For a technology or tool to be truly effective, it must be affordable relative to the local economy. For example, AIDFI, a Philippine non-profit, manufactures a water pump for local villages capable of pushing water from a concrete reservoir up a hill at a 40 degree slope. The basic pump technology isn’t new, but AIDFI enhanced the design by using inexpensive and locally available materials such as door hinges. The bottom line: to reduce costs, remove unnecessary materials and source locally.
5. Design for DIY (Do It Yourself)
The most successful products and designs are those that are co-created with the end users. Involving the community in the design process builds capacity, – not just products. Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Design Group notes “There are geniuses in every village ready to make significant changes to their environment; they just don’t have the access to tools, resources or time.” The end goal should be to build local capacity, skills, knowledge, experience and expertise that allow societies to meet their own needs.
Note. In economics, the Bottom of the Pyramid is the largest, but poorest socio-economic group. At global scale, this is the 2.5 billion people who live on less than US$2.50 per day. In the mountain region of Peru more than 60% of the population belongs to the BoP.