Harare, Zimbabwe, 15, 16 and 22 July 2006
In 2006, researchers from Demos, Practical Action and the University of Lancaster collaborated on a process designed to engage Zimbabwean community groups and scientists from both the North and South in debates about new (nano) technologies.
The dialogue is one of four experiments, collectively referred to as the nano-dialogues, in public engagement with nanotechnologies, funded by the Office of Science and Technology's Sciencewise programme. Sciencewise was created to foster interaction between scientists, government and the public on impacts of science and technology
The meetings focused on how nanotechnology could be used to solve Zimbabwe's water problems. Among other things, participants discussed a recent trial in South Africa of a nanotechnology-based filter for decontaminating drinking water. The outcome of the meeting was a general call for poor communities to be involved in debates about whether nanotechnologies can contribute to social and economic development.
"If we are going to make nanotechnology work for Zimbabwe, we need to keep talking to the communities to ask them what they really need," said Lawrence Gudza, Practical Action's team leader for Southern Africa. "We also need to start collaborating with scientists in Africa and further afield. It was great to see scientists and ordinary people coming together to talk about how new technologies might be used in the future."
Practical Action interested in how nanotechnology could be made to address what people need, rather than what the market dictates. Zimbabwe's water needs are unlikely to be met with nanotechnology until we can prove it is cost effective and sustainable.
Opening the meeting, Zimbabwe's deputy science and technology minister Patrick Zhuwawo said that his country, like the rest of the world, could not afford to ignore the nanoscience revolution: "Dialogues such as this one should therefore help us come up with a well thought-out strategy."
The Role of New Technologies in Potable Water Provision: A Stakeholder Workshop Approach - Globalisation and the diffusion of nanotechnologies to help the poor
A full report on the Nano-Dialogues held in Harare, July 2006. The provision of clean water to both rural and peri-urban communities in Zimbabwe is complex. The systems approach to the analysis and reflection on the topics discussed in the dialogues has enabled a comprehensive capture of the complexity and inter-related issues in relation to the presenting problem. The modelling of the problem situation was particularly helpful in articulating the sub-systems needing discussion. The dialogue was able to focus on the three sub-systems of water supply, culture, and technology. Further, we were able to focus on both economic and behavioural changes required. The multiple stakeholder approach to the dialogue worked well with all those involved being able and willing to participate fully. At the end of the second day the tentative conclusion that: "there is no real water quality issue that cannot be solved with existing technologies" was agreed but this was not the consensus at the end of the three days.