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Design for the Other 90% and Appropriate Technology: The Legacies of Paul Polak and E.F. Schumacher

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research on Engineering Design Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.393.1 - 25.393.18



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Paper Authors


Lindsey Anne Nelson Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Lindsey Nelson is a doctoral student in engineering education. She has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Boston University and a M.A. in poverty and development from the Institute of Development Studies housed at the University of Sussex in England. Her research interests include sustainable design, engineering design methodologies, the public’s understanding of engineering, poverty mitigation, global participation, and engineering education. She is a passionate advocate for inclusive and socially just engineering professional practice.

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Design for the Other 90% or Appropriate Technology? The Challenges in Targeting Pro-Poor DesignAbstractRecent movements showcase engineering design activities on behalf of poor people, inspiringengineering educators to create global service-learning programs. People who encourageengineers to “design for the other 90%” envision globally engaged businesses paving a new wayforward for poverty eradication while other engineers pursue forms of “appropriate technology”to create socially-just technological systems. The engineering practices related to these phrasesraise questions of which people benefit from engineering design for poverty alleviation, howengineers define “poor” people, what indicates “success” when engineers design for povertyalleviation, and how engineering educators create meaningful global service-learning programsfor students.This paper uses mediated discourse analysis to place engineering design for poverty alleviationin context. Mediated discourse analysis allows researchers to connect a rhetorical frameworkused in problem definition to the real-world prototyping activities of engineers. Therefore, thismethodology permits rigorous assessment of implemented engineering designs. The researcherselected two high-profile technical non-governmental organizations providing similar technicaltools to developing communities for a comparative case study. Each organization has strongrhetorical allegiance to either “Design for the Other 90%” or “Appropriate Technology.” Theresearcher analyzed project implementation reports to uncover relationships between thedesigned tools and targeted users.Results from this research show that the two organizations do pursue similar projects but targetvastly different users. Globally engaged business projects can target poor people living at or justbelow the income poverty line who have certain key assets such as land, literacy, and previousexperience. Conversely, sustained concern for social justice enables an organization to reachchronically poor, vulnerable, or otherwise insecure households. Further, this research showsconsiderable animosity between the different organizational approaches. Greater awareness ofinternational development theoretical frameworks of poverty, vulnerability, and participationcould bridge the gap between approaches and support efforts of engineering educators to designmeaningful global service-learning programs.

Nelson, L. A. (2012, June), Design for the Other 90% and Appropriate Technology: The Legacies of Paul Polak and E.F. Schumacher Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21151

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