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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Francis Mills

Factors affecting future attempts to develop appropriate technology products in West Africa

Francis Mills

Factors affecting future attempts to develop appropriate technology products in West Africa

This research seeks to characterize elements of programme design, which affect the sustainability of product-based appropriate technology initiatives.  This research focuses on the treadle irrigation sector in West Africa, an environment in which the transformation of these technologies into commercial products is currently ongoing. In particular this work seeks to answer three questions:

1. What degrees of freedom exist when specifying the technical activities to be conducted in a programme for developing such a product?
2. What situational or contextual circumstances correspond to particular choices in programme activities?
3. What factors must a technically inexperienced organization consider before undertaking a product development project that includes engineering activities?

This work employs desk- and case-study research to explore its central questions.  Most data was collected during field visits to sites throughout Senegal and The Gambia during spring 2005 and subsequent interviews with program officers.  Qualitative and quantitative results from these interviews were then compared to published studies of the cases and related projects.  In particular, data were used to generate a list of programme activities that could determine and be placed within a multi-dimensional framework.  In cases of dissimilar approach, project settings and program officer responses were compared to identify causes for differing activities.

Three case studies are compared in this research.  First, this work examines a treadle pump project executed by Enterprise Works, a US-based NGO, in the Casamance region of Senegal.  Second, the approach of a Kenyan-based NGO, KickStart (formerly ApproTEC), is scrutinized in the way it has transplanted its well-known technologies to establish a presence in Mali.  Third, this research dissects the multi-technology approach of Concern Universal, a UK NGO, in its Gambian irrigation activities.

Analysis of these cases indicates that all three cases include activities that are, in many respects, similar.  This consensus in programme design is taken as a strong indication of best practice.  However, just as no two settings are exactly the same, neither are all stages of these cases carried out identically.  In particular, differences exist within the dimensions of intellectual property protection, involvement of expatriate engineers, and financial subsidy of various project overhead costs.  Analysis indicates that this variation can be attributed to factors that vary by location such as material availability, the presence of a light engineering sector, and donor attitudes.

Although this study is insufficiently broad to generalize this correspondence of factors to other sectors or geographical contexts, it does lead to a series of tools and models that can help organizations with little product development experience understand the variety of programme alternatives available and can make them aware of the factors that might suggest particular choices among those alternatives.