Archive for January, 2013

Shall we talk politics? UK Government Mid Term Review.

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by

Shall we talk politics or is it really just too scary and nothing to do with a development charity?

I’ve just been reading the draft UK government’s midterm review posted by Guido Fawkes – Together in the National Interest. Of course I’m particularly interested in the section on international development.

Lots of good things including the continued commitment to 0.7 spend on development, some ideas that are great but have been around for a very long time i.e. commitment to focus on some of the underlying causes of poverty including education – which should be welcomed – and some ideas that are in my mind ill-considered including the payment by results based approach to aid.

The agenda as set out seems quite narrow. I talk to my computer and was caught by my office sharers questioning ‘where is technology, energy access, climate change’ etc. And the approach – ‘please don’t let us impose aid on people lets learn from Schumacher and start with them’. And equity – the gap between the rich and the poor is in many places widening. And what about trade – given my background in the fair trade movement I am passionate about trade as a driver of change – if we get the rules and relationships right!

But the section on international development is only a brief part of a long ish document and so very hard to include everything. I’m going to be optimistic and encouraged by the fact that the government’s commitment to international development continues. I am really positive about the on-going commitment – in the face of some opposition – from all three major party leaders to continued spending on helping the poorest people in the world.

As groups of people interested in what’s happening in the world its really important we engage with our governments and others to let them know we support their commitment and to act as a prompt to new thinking. One of the great things about not being in politics or in the public sector – or even being a contractor like some constancy companies – is we can have our opinions and make our point.

I have to say what’s written above are my personal views only and not those of Practical Action. So if you could write your recipe to focus UK aid for the next two years what would you include?

Let’s make a 2013 late New Year’s Resolution to engage in the debate. Politics is about people.

#ASEconf13…the place to be

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 by

I love the ASE conference.  Every year before I have time to get stuck back into my ’real’  job after Christmas I am lucky enough to spend a few days chatting to enthusiastic teachers and others involved in science education about Practical Action’s  Education work.  I also get the chance to find out what else is going on in science education.

This year we were promoting our new STEM challenge. The Floating Garden Challenge is based on our work in Bangladesh where we show communities how to build huge rafts to grow their crops on.  Students have to think about the problem themselves first…that farmers crops get ruined by floods… then design and build a model solution.  Teachers and other educators were quick to see the value of the science behind the challenge as well as all the other great cross curricular links, including how it could lead to some great outdoor activities that there seems to be a move towards this year.

For me there is nothing more motivating than when colleagues tell you how teachers and students really enjoyed using your material and Liz Lister from Graphic Science ( aka @scarycurlgirl) got the prize for being the most enthusiastic!!  

‘I  really really love the squashed tomato challenge’

Was the first thing she said to me as she rushed over.  I had to promise to send her a pile of our floating garden posters before she would leave the stand!!

Julei Brown from Practical Action with Ricky from Millgate HouseRenewing and deepening relationships is also a real bonus of the conference.  I know some people have been coming for years and real friendships have developed as a result.  For me one of the highlights of the conference was getting back in touch with friends from Millgate House.  By the end of the conference we had hatched a plan to work together on some resources for a new project called ‘Make the Link’, which aims to embed issues around  Technology Justice in Science and  D & T teaching in Europe. The staff at Millgate House even trusted me enough to give me a member of their team to look after.  Ricky is a bit of an adventurer and we are hoping to arrange a trip to Kenya for him to visit some of Practical Action’s great projects there this year.  

As it is the ASE’s 50th anniversary this year they will be holding an extra ASE conference in the summer on 27th and 28th June as a summer celebration .  I have already got our place booked and can only recommend you do the same…hope to see you there.

Is ‘Energy Literacy’ vital for poor communities?

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 by

Energy literacy is a relatively new term being used to describe knowledge of the basics of energy.  It has strong associations with sustainability and the efficient use of energy by consumers.

Every practitioner wants to install a energy scheme that is sustainable and wants that energy to be used efficiently, rationally and productively.   A number of different approaches, tools and guidelines have been developed over time to facilitate this.

The energy team in Practical Action Latin America began to use the description ‘energy literacy’ back in the early 2000s in our project in rural Latin America called “Sustainable energy options for poor isolated communities in Latin America.”    This work was building  the capacity of rural and isolated communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, to understand, assess and articulate their energy needs.  It involved providing  information on energy options and issues to rural communities to help them make appropriate energy choices.

Right at the start we realised that people in those communities had no idea what we were talking about, when we used the terms “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy.”  They could hardly identify electricity and had no understanding of the terms “efficient cooking” or “clean cooking.”  We realised that to get their attention we needed to provide very simple information and simple explanations with practical, visual examples.

Our objective was that when we left the communities, local people understood the basics: Energy sources, small scale renewable energy technologies, micro hydropower, solar PV, micro wind systems, tariffs, reasons for tariffs, life span of the energy systems; they could also recognise the difference between grid and off-grid electricity and others. We applied the term “energy literacy” to this process of providing simple information to communities with little or no knowledge on energy

Once people know the basics about energy and understand that implementation costs are high and that every energy scheme requires operation and maintenance, they become more responsible for these aspects their energy generation system as well as its replacement when it ends its life span.  And this makes a vital contribution to its sustainability. 

We also learned from this project that, “energy literate people” can assess their needs and can engage more effectively with local and regional authorities and demand their needs in a more organised and coherent manner. Several communities who benefited from that project with “energy literacy”, they had been able to fine tune their demands and already have energy access.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about the concept of energy literacy.  Could it be useful and how could it contribute to the sustainability of off-grid systems?