Amber Meikle

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Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Amber

  • It’s just technology

    March 23rd, 2016

    Just over a week ago 80 people converged in Edinburgh for two days of inspiration, collaboration and passionate debate about our shared future and how technology will shape it.what is tech justice?

    What would a world with fairer access to technology look and feel like? What would it take to end the use of technology that harms others and the planet.  How must the nature of innovation change to support this?

    Expert speakers helped us navigate through these huge, complex and at times overwhelming questions, offering their take on the most pressing injustices and challenges to creating a fairer technology system. And what we can do to make it happen.

    Take a look at the short, inspiring talks from : Chi Onwurah MP, Ben Ramalingam (IDS), Matthias Huisken (iFixit), Ken Banks (kiwanja.net), Fionsystemic changea Reid (Oxford fellow, former director of UKCDS) and Simon Trace (independent innovation consultant).

    Each of them pitched their big issues: what is wrong with technology, and how it needs to change to make technology work for people and planet.

    Key threads through all the talks and subsequent discussions were thatGet angry

    • The technology system is broken – and we need systemic change on a global scale
    • We need to get angry about technology injustice, only with passion can we create a lasting change
    • We must work in collaboration

    That’s why Practical Action and the University of Edinburgh have created and launched an online hub hosting the outcomes of this first step in a collaboration and a wider conversation: take a look at the just-tech.community

    passion to make a differenceFor deeper discussion of some of the issues arising from the talks and small group work, look out for subsequent blogs, next events join the discussion join our LinkedIn group.

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  • Technology Justice: a new paradigm for the SDGs

    June 18th, 2015

    We are now entering the final few months of discussions that will cement global development targets for the next 15 years.  As discussions on goals and targets conclude and we look towards the vital task of implementation, Practical Action is launching a new series of policy briefing papers that capture the learning from our programme and policy work with technology and development.

    The first paper, launched today, introduces Technology Justice: a new paradigm to inform the design and implementation of these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    A woman cooking over a traditional stove in Nepal

    The critical link between technology, poverty reduction and wellbeing is now well understood.  For many people, technology is so pervasive that it is hard to imagine life without it, and harder still to keep up with the constant technological change and innovation.  Yet, at the same time, billions of people living in poverty around the world lack essential technologies that could help them to meet their basic needs.

    This stark inequality in how the costs and benefits of technology are shared is not just bad luck, but an injustice that results from choices made in how technology is innovated, disseminated and used.  These choices largely ignore or exclude the poor.

    In our new paper, we put forward recommendations on how to ensure development planning and approaches address  three key global technology injustices: inequitable access to existing technology; innovation that ignores the poor; and unsustainable use of technology. We evaluate current global technology mechanisms and the role the private sector can play to realise Technology Justice in order to ensure that when the SDGs end in 2030 we can celebrate a world free of poverty.

    You can read the paper here..

    Let us know what you think!

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  • Soil testing for better crop yields

    March 30th, 2015

    Arriving at Badikhel, we were confronted with a group of ladies, queuing patiently, and brandishing small bags. Inside each bag was a shovel worth of soil. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Badikhel is an information and resource centre, used by the local community to gain knowledge of agricultural practices and technologies which can help them to improve productivity and incomes on their small farms.  (Favourite technologies include the cow lollipop – a cheap, locally appropriate, easy to make, mineral block that helps to keep cattle healthy. )

    planting in NepalBut, today a very practical activity was taking place – soil testing. The soil pH determines the availability of almost all essential plant nutrients. And if the pH is not right, plants won’t be able to access the nutrients they need for growth and ultimately a healthy yield for the farmer.

    pH testing is  a very simple procedure, as you might remember from school chemistry lessons. Today, instead of the litmus paper I used at school, a gadget with an electronic reading was dipped into the soil and water solution. This simple test, which took seconds to complete, provided information that could transform the outcome of year’s harvest.

    That one piece of data is absolutely central to a series of decisions and actions that a farmer can take to ensure healthy soil and a healthy crop. And yet, despite the work of Practical Answers here at Badikhel and other centres around Nepal, far from all farmers have access to this basic, but essential information.

    ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In the UK meanwhile, new precision-farming techniques are now commonplace in family as well as commercial farms. Sampling is carried out across the field– to a level of detail of mere centimetres. This data is fed into a geographical information system that interprets the structure and content of the soil and calculates the inputs required to achieve optimum conditions for growth.  With this information, a GPS-guided tractor and equipment can vary the quantity of the input applied (let’s say fertiliser) automatically as it moves across the field.  Apart from turning corners the farmers no longer even need to drive the tractor (did you notice tramlines are a lot more straight these days?).   There’s no denying this brings efficiency savings that are good for the farmer and good for the environment, as excess chemical applications are kept to a minimum.

    Surely making a pH test available to the millions of smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the world’s food, is at least as good an investment.

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  • What do we mean by justice?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire CV23, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    October 16th, 2014

    We believe in technology justice! our home page proudly proclaims.

    We know what we mean by technology (physical infrastructure, machinery and equipment, knowledge and skills and the capacity to organise and use all of these). But, what do we mean by justice?

    A quick google search unveils various overlapping perspectives on the concept of justice from different fields. But a common thread runs through them all : fairness and equity.

    As social justice seeks fairness and equity in distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society, technology justice seeks fairness and equity in the distribution of technology. But more than that, it seeks fairness in distribution of both the benefits and costs of technology.

    We can give thousands of examples where technology has transformed lives.  Yet, billions of people remain excluded from these benefits. One in six people on the planet still have no access to electricity, at all, while the Midlands (where you can find Practical Action’s UK office) shines brightly among the most light polluted areas on the globe.

     

    Source: Image and data processing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Geophysical Data Center. Data collected by the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency under the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, 1994-1995

    It’s easy then to see there is not equity in who can access the benefits of technology. Neither is there fairness in who shoulders the costs of technology use.  In the Midlands, one cost of our (over)use of the ON switch is obvious: we can rarely now see the milky way at night. But we are also forcing the costs on those who have never once flipped on a light switch.  By emitting more than our fair share of carbon, we are contributing more than our fair share to climate change. But the costs and impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt in the developing world.  That is neither fair nor equitable, but unfair, inequitable, an inequality AND a technology injustice.

     

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  • What technologies are essential? Well, that all depends on the person.

    Lausanne, Switzerland, Lausanne
    June 16th, 2014

    Nestled in the shadows of the Alps, I joined 400 people at EPFL in Lausanne last week to talk technology justice. For many it was the first time they’d heard their work framed as a justice issue.  But this lively mix of academics, development workers and technologists from 70-odd countries had something in common: their vision for all people to be able benefit from essential technology; for that technology to be more environmentally sustainable; and to overcome the injustice faced by billions of people who go without food, shelter or water each day, despite humanity having the technological ability to provide it.

    Unserved by Nairobis water supply. slum dwellers connected illegally through so-called spagetti connections

    Unserved by Nairobis water supply. slum dwellers connected illegally through so-called spagetti connections

    A compelling address from the World Health Organisation drove home that in medicine there is plenty of available technology, as well as big business interest and a huge research and development effort. But even then, very little technological effort is aimed at benefiting the vast numbers of people in the developing world who don’t already access even basic medical technologies, and yet carry the world’s burden of disease and medical risk. Still today, 800 mothers die each day in childbirth: many of whom could be saved by the having access to simple, existing medical devices. Adriana Velasquez Berumen reminded us of a pressing need for new innovation of devices that are appropriate for use in remote, harsh environments or where there may be minimal services such as electricity and water.

    I presented Practical Action’s work in urban areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and Kenya as part of a discusson on essential technologies for the mega-cities of the future.

    this water seller now has a formal agreement with water company and can deliver clean water, legally in a way slum dwellers want it

    this water seller now has a formal agreement with water company and can deliver clean water, legally in a way slum dwellers want it

    The conclusions: the people are more important than the specific technologies. Involving them in decision-making and planning is crucial to creating cities where all citizens can enjoy all essential basic services – waste collection, water connection and toilets. The technology itself is secondary.

    This perspective is one that I hope will be shared by the LBNL Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies (LIGTT). Recognising that R&D into technologies that serve the needs of the poor just is not happening at the necessary scale, they’ve compiled a list of critical problems and promising interventions for priority development and deployment. I’ll be keeping an eye out for publication of their 50 breakthroughs for sustainable development in the next few months. What would be top of your list?

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  • Showcasing green technologies in Sri Lanka

    Colombo, Sri Lanka, Colombo
    October 31st, 2013

    All around Colombo are the signs of a city preparing for special guests.  But with just a few weeks until the eagerly awaited Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, another very special event took place last week in the grounds of the same venue.Staff from Practical Action, Janathakshan, and partner organisations and networks, were working tirelessly to build a magnificent outdoor exhibition under the banner ‘Green Technology Village’ a celebration of 25 years of Practical Action’s work in Sri Lanka.

    As a relative newcomer to Practical Action (very new compared to the many Sri Lanka staff who have decades under their belts!) this was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from the successes, challenges and collective experience of the exhibitors.  And I wasn’t the only one. At least 3000 people – professionals, academics, government officials, members of the public and school children – also came to learn about and discuss green technologies and explore the opportunities they present both for their own lives and those of poor communities in Sri Lanka.

    We learned about traditional rice varieties – long out of fashion – revived and now marketed to Europe.  These earn a price premium (they are both organic and wholegrain after all) and improve nutrition in farmers households, as well as protecting indigenous biodiversity.

    We were shown biogas and fertiliser being generated from food waste using affordable technology that is increasingly attractive to city dwellers and businesses looking to reduce energy bills, as well as rural communities without access to electricity.  Rising energy prices are just one of the problems shared by people in both the UK and Sri Lanka.

    copyright/Friendship 2013

    Schoolboys try their hand generating electricity from a bicycle at the Green Technology Village.

    One problem not shared is the challenge of living alongside one of nature’s giants: the elephant. Sri Lanka is smaller than Ireland, but with 3 times the people and 7,000 wild elephants to boot.  Drawing on the knowledge of local communities, a low-cost bio-fencing technology is being promoted by Practical Action.  Planting huge, long-life, spiky Palmyra trees, in a 5-deep, zig-zag fashion, creates a natural barrier that can replace costly and difficult to maintain electric fences.  Not only will this better protect villages and villagers from roaming elephants, but they produce fruit in the dry season too, just when the elephants are searching for scarce food.

    All of these examples (and the many more at the Green Technology Village) demonstrate that with the right technologies poor people can transform their lives.  And it reminded me that those of us who already enjoy access to transport, energy and other technologies of our choosing, have a duty to be mindful of the impacts of how we use them.

    So, my first step to being a greener technology user?  Well, now I that have the know-how, perhaps I can cut my food miles and build myself a hydroponic veggie patch in my spare room…

    copyright/Friendship 2013

    A staff member demonstrates how to grow lettuce without soil.

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