San Antonio, Texas
June 10, 2012
June 10, 2012
June 13, 2012
25.991.1 - 25.991.17
On Integrating Appropriate Technology in Developing Communities A Case Study from HaitiDuring past decades, many efforts have been made to apply engineering to address problems ofdeveloping communities. Many of these efforts are identified with groups such as EngineersWithout Borders, Engineers for a Sustainable World, and the IEEE Society for SocialImplications of Technology.Recent work has examined this “engineering to help” movement (Lucena, 2010), anddesignations such as “peace engineering” (Vesilind, 2005) and “humanitarian engineering”(Mitcham & Muñoz, 2010) now represent recognized fields of inquiry and practice. Severalauthors have framed these efforts within a context of engineering ethics, and within thisframework, incorporate perspectives of social justice (e.g., Riley, 2008; Baillie & Catalano,2009).One recurrent theme from these commentaries is the essential need to involve local communitiesas true partners, and not as passive recipients (Lucena, 2010). When genuinely undertaken, thisact of partnering has both moral and practical implications. It is a matter of both respect andpracticality, for example, to recognize the community’s intrinsic knowledge in order to developsystems that will be accepted and sustained. Furthermore, as many have observed (e.g., Easterly,2006), development projects that have insisted on paternalistic, top-down implementations havea long history of failure. This exposes the fallacy of viewing development projects merely as“expert”-driven technical fixes and underscores the reality of the underlying social-technicalsystem. In this way, we extend the concept of appropriate technology to cover design anddevelopment of useful technologies that properly involve the local community.With this background in mind, we describe our work in a small village in Haiti that began inNovember 2010. Among other activities, this project currently involves planning a new micro-hydroelectric plant, developing new construction techniques using soil reinforced by local plantfibers, and improving educational materials.Within our context of appropriate technology, we realized very early that our role is not only toserve as technical advisors – though that is an important part – but also, equally, we must alsoserve as facilitators of the community’s own “philosophy of technology” conversation. Forexample, in our conversation with village leaders regarding their desire to expand the localelectrical grid, it became clear that their principal desire was consumerist in nature. While weentirely respect and recognize their equal right to the very resources that we take for granted, wenevertheless feel compelled to introduce other dimensions into the conversation, such asupsetting standing power or political relations, environmental impacts, and the need to supportindustry that is necessary for a sustainable economy. To advance this conversation, our projectwill disseminate a community survey in October 2011 that will collect information regardingattitudes of members of the community (not only from the leaders). With this information, wehope to gain deeper insight into the landscape of the community stakeholders and their interests(cf. Baillie et al., 2010).As we are also realizing, such engagement raises ethical issues that are analogous to, but distinctfrom, traditional issues addressed in common treatments of engineering and research ethics. Wetherefore explore these issues further here. For example, what constitutes informed consent forsuch a survey? What privacy issues arise, and do they take a different form in this context?What are the reactions of the community members when presented with the classical parametersof participation in human subject research? What tensions arise between respecting the wishesof the community versus remaining true to practices and standards that we believe are necessaryand just?This paper will provide findings on these issues based on visits in March 2010, October 2011,and a future trip planned for the Spring of 2012. The draft paper, final paper, and presentationwill be updated accordingly.Authors’ Note: we are open to presenting this paper in any joint sessions that the EngineeringEthics Division might arrange with the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division.References CitedBaillie, C. and G. Catalano. Engineering and Society: Working Towards Social Justice, Parts I-III, Morgan & Claypool, 2009.Baillie, C., E. Feinblatt, T. Thamae, and E. Berrington. Needs and Feasibility: A Guide forEngineers in Community Projects --- The Case of Waste for Life, Morgan & Claypool, 2010.Easterly, W. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done soMuch Ill and so Little Good. New York, The Penguin Press, 2006.Lucena, J., J. Schneider, and J.A. Leydens. Engineering and Sustainable CommunityDevelopment, Morgan & Claypool, 2010.Mitcham, C. and D. Muñoz. Humanitarian Engineering, Morgan & Claypool, 2010.Riley, D. Engineering and Social Justice, Morgan & Claypool, 2008.Vesilind, A. Peace Engineering: When Personal Values and Engineering Careers Converge,Lakeshore Press, 2005.
Frey, W. J., & Papadopoulos, C., & Castro-Sitiriche, M. J., & Zevallos, F., & Echevarria, D. (2012, June), On Integrating Appropriate Technology Responsive to Community Capabilities: A Case Study from Haiti Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/21748
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