BROOKINGS: TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT AND COLLABORATION (1977)  Page 1 of 4

I. Technology and Development

          Improved technology, defined simply as knowledge systematically applied to practical tasks, is indispensable to development. People must learn ways to be more productive if they are to raise their general standards of living. But technology does not exist in a vacuum. Changing technology implies changing institutions, policies, and individual behavior as well. Consequently, few aspects of development are more complex than the process of finding or creating more useful technologies, and devising institutional and policy frameworks conducive to their use within the context of the needs, values and objectives of the people involved.

 

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         The common perception of the need for developing countries to employ more productive technology and the demonstrated existence of more efficient and effective technology in the advanced countries provided the basis for large-scale technical assistance programs of the past three decades. An unprecedented sharing of knowledge has occurred through international education, advisory assistance and transfers of capital goods to less developed countries.

          Perhaps the most difficult lessons of this international effort to spread the benefits of modern technology throughout the world concern the limitations of existing knowledge and practices in other geographical, social, and cultural settings. Surprisingly few processes, techniques, policies, or institutions are transferable without adaptation or without undesirable side-effects.

          The process of development can be described as one in which adaptation is constantly, if gradually, occurring on three planes -- technical, institutional and personal -- in order to apply increasing knowledge and increasing capacity to practical tasks. It is a process in which institutions in advanced countries have important supporting roles to play in sharing existing knowledge, creating new knowledge relevant to the problems of developing countries, and assisting the building of local competence to create, adapt, and apply modern knowledge. The latter task is most difficult, because, although the experience of the advanced countries indicates the nature of the tasks confronting new institutions abroad, it does not reveal how these tasks can most effectively be accomplished in non-Western societies.

          Thus, three decades of experience in development have brought the sober realization that the developing countries could not, even if they wished, follow in the footsteps of the Western nations; that their versions of modern technology, their institutions, and their policies will necessarily be different from those of industrial countries; and that neither the developed nor developing countries yet know the solutions to many of the critical problems they face. Promising collaborative efforts are already underway to adapt the three main instruments for problem-solving -- policy, organization, and technology -- to the needs and circumstances of the developing countries. These collaborative efforts offer hope not only for the developing countries but for the United States as well.

          In this Annex, we reflect on the technical assistance experience and the opportunities in the future for productive technical collaboration. We then consider the organizational means by which the United States might enhance its participation in the collaborative process.

II. Technical Assistance:  Sharing Modern Knowledge

          The United States, as the country with the most completely articulated systems for creating and using modern knowledge of any large nation, has since the Second World War been recognized as a vital source of both funds and technology. U.S. institutions have mobilized to offer technical assistance and to share existing knowledge. Invaluable as this process has been, how­ever, the limitations of direct transfers of technical knowledge and processes are now becoming better understood.

          Probably the largest transfer of knowledge has occurred through publication. The Japanese made extensive use of Western scientific and technical publications between the wars, employing thousands of translators in the task. They then designed their own institutions to use the knowledge, a process that has enabled them to become efficient producers.

          Translation is still useful, but the quantity of scientific and technical information now in existence is many times that of the interwar period. It is also a time-consuming and expensive process. Instead, most societies today make use of the material in English, which has become the dominant world technical language. This has the advantage that access is available without the delays of translation; but it has the disadvantage of widening the gap between the highly educated and the rest of the society, for only those trained technically and in the English language have access to the knowledge.

          Training in American institutions is another important means of transferring knowledge. Approximately 150,000 foreign students per year now attend American universities and colleges, gaining technical and scientific knowledge needed at home, and making friends and professional contacts that they frequently maintain throughout their professional careers.

          Although this process is advantageous to both the United States and the developing countries, it has several familiar disadvantages:

·         It is costly, which means relatively few individuals from the poor countries benefit from it. Often the children of wealthy families are the main beneficiaries, perpetuating and reinforcing class distinctions.

·         Even when scholarship funds are available, an intellectual and professional elite is created.

·         The American system of higher education is so diverse that the placement of foreign students in the United States is somewhat haphazard, both for the students and for universities.

·         Students are often poorly prepared to take full advantage of American higher education because of language problems and learning habits.

·         Courses, designed to meet the needs of American society, prepare people to work under physical, social, and financial conditions that may not exist at home.

·         Large numbers of students remain here for their professional careers, for reasons related to the kind of training that they have received and the institutional setting in their home countries.

·         Those students who return home may have difficulty relating their knowledge to the problems of their societies.

Despite these serious problems, training foreign students has probably been the most useful and lasting form of technical assistance. Basic scientific and technical knowledge, the techniques of discovery and verification, and a problem-solving orientation -- once acquired -- are invaluable assets for the individual themselves, and for their societies. Many of the defects listed above could be mitigated by structuring programs with the special needs of foreign students in mind.

          Another form of the direct transfer of knowledge is the employment of Americans in advisory and operational posts abroad. This wave crested in the 1960’s and has fallen to much lower levels recently. In 1973, approximately 12,000 publicly supported American experts and volunteers served abroad, about half the number of a decade earlier. The decline has several causes, including increased costs of supporting Americans abroad, which will rise sharply under the new tax laws, and diminishing sources of public and private funds. More important is the increase in trained people locally available, and the rise of national sensitivity to the presence of foreigners in key posts.

          U.S. experts and advisers serving abroad are naturally limited by their own experience in what they can offer, but the most sensitive and adaptable have frequently made the transition to a new and strange environment successfully; in such cases, the didactic phase of technical assistance, once described as “know-how, show-how,” is a thing of the past.

          An additional important form of direct transfer of scientific and technical knowledge is embodied in capital goods and the productive systems employed in their use. Equipment sales and grants, and investments by U.S. firms, are commonly thought of first among the forms of the transfer of technology.

          Although capital goods may seem to be different in kind from training and advisory assistance, machinery can be considered to be a physical expression of technical knowledge. However, the main difference between capital goods transfers and training/advice, for this discussion, is that the greater the concentration or complexity of the capital goods in question, the less flexible are its uses; whereas a highly trained doctor may be more able than a medical technician to adapt his skills to another environment, a more complex piece of machinery is less adaptable than a simpler tool.

          Investment by private multinational firms in lower income countries has become increasingly important recently in transferring technology and managing production. Their operations are encountering mounting criticism. Developing countries increasingly want a greater share of ownership and control of their productive assets, a wider range of products to meet low income needs, techniques better adapted to local markets and factor availabilities, and more training for local people. The international patent system has also come under attack as a barrier to the acquisition of technology by developing countries.

          Each of these means of transferring technology has had important beneficial effects in the developing countries, and all will have continued value in the future. Their most obvious limitation is their dependence on the existing stock of knowledge and on systems devised in the developed world with only partial relevance to developing country conditions. As a result of direct transfers, distortions and inequities have emerged or increased in the economic and social systems of the developing countries.

III. Technology

          The realization that the direct transfer of modern technology from the advanced to the developing countries is often inefficient and ineffective has led to various attempts to find technology that is more “appropriate.”  The appropriateness of technology is a subject on which much has been written and even more remains to be learned; it is a concept with at least three dimensions: physical, economic, and social.

Physically, because most advanced countries are in the temperate zone and most developing countries in the tropics or sub-tropics, agricultural and medical technologies of the advanced countries imperfectly fit the conditions of developing countries. Economically, advanced countries typically have a relative abundance of capital, and shortage of labor, compared to developing countries, so industrial technology in the advanced nations tends to be more capital-intensive than is appropriate to developing countries. Socially, the goals, capacities, and cultural characteristics of the advanced countries differ from those of the developing countries, and these have a bearing on product configuration, productive organization, and the quality of the labor force. Obviously, differences of the same kind exist among developing countries as well, so that technologies appropriate to some will not meet the needs of all.

          The search for technology appropriate to a particular need may be of varying complexity, from selection through adaptation to basic knowledge generation. But even the selection from existing alternatives, as among the more than 4,000 known strains of sorghum, may be a complicated process.

          The adaptation of technology to conform to local needs and opportunities will require sustained effort at several levels, the most important of which is within the developing countries themselves. A wide range of indigenous research and development institutions is needed for the task, and here the disparity of local capacities among the developing countries is most evident. Regional and international centers for adaptive research and experimentation also have great potential, as is illustrated below in the food production field.

          In the biological fields, agriculture and medicine, basic knowledge on which to build improved technology is sometimes inadequate. Research priorities in advanced countries have naturally reflected their concerns, so that malaria and bilharziasis receive scant attention compared, for example, with heart disease and cancer. In time, basic as well as adaptive research needed by developing countries will be done in their own institutions by their own scientists; building their capacities is a high priority task, but for the next twenty years or so, the most rapid gains in basic knowledge are likely to be made in advanced countries.

          Despite the magnitude of the task of devising more effective technology in and for developing countries, encouraging examples demonstrate an advance from technical assistance, or the sharing of existing knowledge, to technical collaboration in search of new knowledge and new ways of applying knowledge.

          The most widely heralded example of the development of appropriate technology is in the field of agriculture, where dwarf strains of wheat and rice were genetically produced to form the basis for high-yielding farming systems in the tropics. These “Green Revolution” varieties were bred by Western-trained scientists working in tropical climates in institutions able to combine international scientific standards with a strong problem-solving orientation in an atmosphere free from local political or social forces.

          This institutional arrangement has great advantages in directing high quality, well-managed research to solving specific technical problems facing low-income countries. The international agricultural research center model, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico and extended by both the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations to the Philippines, Nigeria, and Colombia, offered potential gains in knowledge that went well beyond the financial abilities of private foundations to realize. International financing for an expanded group of centers is now arranged through the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), organized by the World Bank, FAQ, and the United Nations Development Program. The combined budgets for these centers is $80 million in 1977 and likely to rise to over $100 million by 1980; the United States contributes approximately 25 percent of the cost.

          These international centers have been criticized on the grounds that their results contributed to accentuating income differentials in the rural areas. Large farmers accepted new practices more readily and had greater access to credit, information, and other ingredients of production, while small farmers were less able to take advantage of new methods. This problem did occur, but the fault should be found less in the new production technology than in delivery systems and policies in the developing countries.

          Another effort to promote the development of more appropriate technology was stimulated by Congress in the International Development and Food Assistance Act of 1975. Section 107 authorized $20 million for three years to support private effort in the field of intermediate technology. A private, non-profit agency for this purpose, called Appropriate Technology International (ATI), is being created under the direction of a six-member board of private citizens. The principal objective of the Congress is to stimulate the development of more labor-intensive production methods, in order to offer increased employment opportunities in developing countries, and to increase access to improved tools and machines for small farmers and small businessmen. (1)  The ATI may find that it is difficult to deal effectively with many of the issues involved in devising more appropriate technology from a base in Washington, but its creation by Congress constitutes important recognition of the fact that modern technology must be adapted to meet the needs of developing countries.

          The need for adaptation goes beyond productive technology. For example, an international program launched with Ford and Rockefeller Foundation assistance in 1976 seeks to increase the acceptance and use of contraceptives in developing countries, by adapting the contraceptive products and the accompanying information material to the socioeconomic, cultural, and physical characteristics of the people using them. Pills, IUDs, and other contraceptive products available to family-planning programs throughout the world are virtually the same, regardless of the cultural background and health of the people for whom they are intended or the system through which the products reach the users. The Program for the Introduction and Adaptation of Contraceptive Technology (PIACT) seeks to help develop the local capacity to adapt products to local needs and customs. Research is employed to find alternate dosage forms (such as the paper pill devised in China), alternate dosage schedules for oral contraceptives, contraceptives for anemic women, information media for illiterates, improved inserters for IUD’s, and safer products for women suffering from liver disease as a result of hepatitis or bilharziasis. (Continued)



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