All of our project work is guided by these four broad principles, drawn from the long-term experiences of other agencies: (1) a focus on appropriate technology, (2) projects initiated by communities/agencies, (3) build capacity and (4) environmental sustainability.
DT does not aim to ‘reinvent the wheel’ where there is already an efficient, viable solution to a problem. But we recognise that not all technology is appropriate to the place where the need is. A tractor might enable higher productivity than a horse-drawn cart, but if it breaks down and spare parts are not available, it becomes useless.
Agencies come to DT because they know that an existing solution is too expensive, requires extensive training to set up and run, and that spare parts or maintenance skills are lacking – or all of these. Our challenge and aim is finding a design solution that is affordable, can be built using local materials and maintained using locally available skills.
Requested by agencies/communities
Engineers have a tendency to create innovative or high-tech products and then look for a market for them. This sometimes works for example in the UK, but in a development context engineering solutions are often imposed on unwilling local people and fail. DT therefore prioritises projects that respond to requests from NGOs and local communities for help with a specific, known problem. For example, Rural Water Aid in Sierra Leone approached us to design a percussion drill to enable them to sink wells for safe drinking water near rural villages. We have to respect that the local community or embedded agency, being most familiar with their situation, knows best what challenges they face, what resources they have and what kind of solution would be viable.
Before a project is accepted by DT, the agency would be expected to have exhausted the resources readily available to them. However, if nothing is apparent, and we estimate there is a high chance that our engineering students will succeed, we are likely to accept the challenge.
We aim that the agency has the responsibility to implement and disseminate the technology so that it can achieve its intended benefit. DT’s work might overlap with the agency, for example in accompanying a prototype to the local region for testing, refining and helping source local parts and skills. But our hope is that once a design is tested and shown viable, it is the agency who bring about the full implementation.
One could solve certain problems by simply giving aid, and this might be appropriate for such things as disaster relief. But help is much more effective in the long run if we encourage the development of local capacity, so people can help themselves.
One DT project in Kenya is to design a means for extracting essential oils from local plants. By stimulating enterprise in this economically deprived area, people would then be more empowered to shape their own future.
Developing capacity involves local ownership of the solution, running it and maintaining it. It may even be best for the local community to pay something affordable instead of receiving it free. This results in a greater sense of investment.
Some DT projects solve a required problem, and as an added benefit generate meaningful work and encourage enterprise. In Ghana there is a project to recycle waste film plastic (eg, packaging and carrier bags) and produce useful items like roof tiles and fence posts. But surrounding this process there are opportunities for employment and enterprise in collecting the waste plastic, running the recycling machinery and selling the products.
Climate change and environmental degradation are pressing issues on the international agenda, and the poor will be often be adversely affected by environmental destruction. DT’s engineering projects must look towards long-term solutions to environmental problems associated with energy, waste, water and materials.
Some DT projects are directly associated with renewable energy generation, for example low head hydro or solar hot water. Other projects aim conserve energy by using fuel more efficiently – for example our water pasteuriser in Nepal which runs on a traditional stove’s exhaust heat.