David J. Grimshaw


Dr David J. Grimshaw was Head of International Programme (New Technologies) with Practical Action and previously a Senior Research Fellow (Emerging Technologies) with the Department for International Development. David is also a Visiting Professor of ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London and a Visiting Professor of Development and Technology at Coventry University. He was on the faculty at Cranfield School of Management, at the University of Leeds and Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. Previously completed research projects include the use of geographical knowledge by business, knowledge exploitation and e-business. He is the author of Bringing Geographical Information Systems into Business, second edition published by John Wiley Inc. (2000) and joint editor of IT in Business: A Manager's Casebook (1999) and Strengthening Rural Livelihoods: The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies in Asia (2011). David has published many papers in academic journals, international conferences and the professional press. Recently completed research includes a systematic review of ICT partnerships in poverty reduction, Connecting the First Mile, and Podcasting in Zimbabwe. He collaborated with the Universities of Sussex, Lancaster, and Durham on an ESRC funded project entitled, Delivering Public Value from New Technologies. Acted as a mentor to the EPSRC funded project on Bridging the Global Digital Divide and he contributed to the Sussex Manifesto process. He ran the first nanodialogue in Zimbabwe in collaboration with Demos and has since engaged in dialogues on nano and water in Peru and Nepal, collaborating with Cambridge University. As an independent consultant David has advised many companies on strategic information systems planning and on geographical information systems. He recently helped to establish a new charity, Science for Humanity, and often contributes to SciDev.Net. He is on the Steering Group of MATTER an organisation who's remit is to enable new technologies to work for all.

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

Posts by David J.

  • Does the call for responsible capitalism include responsible technology?

    January 20th, 2012

    Unless you have been on a different planet this week you cannot have escaped the rhetoric around responsible capitalism.   If you don’t know what this means try “googling” “responsible capitalism”; I have just tried that and found over 13 million hits, many of them within the last 24 hours.  So certainly we have a public relations success.   Still wondering what the term really means?

    The core idea appears to be that fairness matters.   In other words inequalities in society such as high salaries and the bonus culture amongst failing non-profitable banks is being recognised as challenging most people’s concept of fair.   High on the political agenda in the UK is the rhetoric around making markets work for all.   Basic notions of “justice” in most people’s minds is based on equal treatment of people.   Indeed thinkers like Sen go further and claim justice is about what is reasonable.   He further argues against parochialism, saying that we must adress global injustice.

    For those who care about equity in the wider world these are exciting times.   But the debate needs to be broader than the somewhat narrow economic definitions of markets and capitalism.   Injustice is something we can come together and fight against.   One of the less obvious sources of injustice in the global society is the way access to technologies is limited.   Among the key questions we need to ask are:

    • How do we address technology injustice?
    • What is a reasonable and fair access to technologies such as clean water and sanitation?
    • How can we deliver access to energy services to more than 1 billion people who lack them by 2020?

    Let us know what you think about the technology injustices that are current in our global society.   Join in the conversation…remember we can only change the world one conversation at a time.


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  • Technology everywhere…but will it reach the poor?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    January 3rd, 2012








    As dawn breaks in 2012 we enter the season of technology forecasting.   What will new technologies bring us in 2012 and beyond?  Most of these forecasts seem to dwell on the fortunes of the developed world.   What about the majority of humanity (4 billion people live on less than US$5 per day)?

    IBM put forward five forecasts for 2016, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16302566) one of these is that the digital divide will end.   Whilst it is likely that more people in Asia and Africa will be able to own a cell phone or connect to the Internet it would be stretching credulity to suggest that these same people will have a similar level of affordability of digital technologies as those living in the developed world.   Currently, in India there are 1.2 billion people who are not connected to the Internet.   Most of these people live in rural areas where there may be a lack of ability to pay and a lack of access to electricity.   So the digital divide in terms of affordable, accessible and appropriate devices is unlikely to be at an end by 2016.   More needs to be done on energy access and on education to build the capabilities needed to use the technology.

    In remote rural areas of developing countries few people have access to electricity.   So ownership of a mobile phone might be a measure of “connectedness” or even of “progress” but if the phone can only be charged after a walk of 10 kilometres we may argue that there is a lack of appropriate accessible technology.   A second important prediction relates to bio fuel cells (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15305579) reported by the BBC as “power from the people”.   Perhaps that could be re-phrased as “power to the people”.   Yet, in all likelyhood the applications of this new technology will be in medical appliances in developed countries.   What if resources were put into developing this technology as an alternative, local power supply for rural communities in developing countries?

    Technology will likely bring much that is new and exciting in 2012 and beyond.   What can we do to increase the probability that these technologies will be applied to real need in developing countries?   We need to work together with scientists to ensure that technologies are accessible, affordable and appropriate to the needs of people.   Only then can we approach a state of technology justice in the world.


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  • Local voices heard in Zimbabwe

    November 18th, 2011


    At a second community near Gwanda the loudspeakers, carefully placed on a wheelbarrow delivered messages about the local governance of the recently installed water pump.  The language was Sotho, so my Shona speaking colleague was unable to translate for me.
    However, it was clear that the borehole and pump were transforming the livelihoods of the community.  There was a very genuine desire to learn. The knowledge sharing in local voices was clearly owned by the community extensionist, an elected member of the community.
    Going beyond technology the digital extension service is building a community driven process of change.

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  • Can you repeat that?

    November 18th, 2011


    We visited communities in Gwanda south to discuss their information needs.  They told us that water was their biggest problem. We listened to a podcast about water, in their local language.
    We then asked them what they liked about the podcast and they said being able to listen again. This is something that all communities have welcomed.

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  • Can you repeat that?

    November 11th, 2011


    We visited communities in Gwanda south to discuss their information needs.  They told us that water was their biggest problem. We listened to a podcast about water, in their local language.
    We then asked them what they liked about the podcast and they said being able to listen again. This is something that all communities have welcomed.

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  • Resilience is a state of mind

    November 8th, 2011

    Today has been an adventure. Leaving Harare our mission was to reach Gwanda where we are doing podcasting with the local communities. It turned out not to be so simple… As we watched the radiator water boil over, my sympathy was with the vehicle, after all temperatures were over 35C.  But the only concern for Lawrence was “we can’t let the communities down”.  That is true resilience…that our staff show every minute of every day.

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  • One more thing…

    October 7th, 2011

    I almost forgot…one more thing…the poor pay more for technology than the rich.  That is a technology injustice.  Don’t settle.

    Anyone who has done Economics 101 knows why this is the case.  The cost of supplying a technology to a small market can be high.   The dogma would suggest that prices will remain high.    Yet, if we think out of the box we can imagine different ways of working.   Markets are the facilitator of choice.  Remember the central role of choice in enabling human development.   So we need to work towards business models that enable choice.   This can be done.   Schumacher outlined the case for what he called “Buddhist Economics” in his book: “Small is Beautiful”.

    I am reminded of the story Schumacher (1979:6) told of three people  – a surgeon, an architect and an economist – debating whose was the oldest profession.   The surgeon said there is no doubt because Genesis says that the Lord took a rib out of Adam to make Eve and that was a surgical operation.   The architect protested that long before that the universe had been created out of chaos: that was an architectural job.   The economist merely asked, “who created chaos?”.  Don’t settle.

    Schumacher, E.F. (1979) Good Work, Jonathan Cape: London.

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  • Inspiration from Apple for the core of Technology Justice

    October 6th, 2011

    There is little doubt that Apple did things differently from other computer companies.  In no small measure that unique approach came down to the inspiring leadership of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who died at the age of 56, at the height of his powers.   Practical Action, built on the inspiring leadership of Fritz Schumacher does things differently from other international development organisations.   The comparison might end at that point had I not listened to the speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005.   It gives me hope.   Don’t settle.

    During the day there have been many poignant tributes to Jobs.   The BBC evening news ended with the words of Jobs (quoted directly here): “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.  Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  Don’t settle.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.  So keep looking until you find it.  Don’t settle.”

    Practical Action is in the business of human development.   The process of human development is to enable people to choose the life they have reason to value.   Promoting and enabling that choice is key to success in our business.   Today we have more technology available to us than any previous generation.   You and I (living in the UK) can choose to buy an Apple, or not.   In the world at large 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation and 1.3 billion lack access to safe drinking water.  Those people have no technology options.   Why?   Many reasons are apparent but geography and the place of birth have a major role to play: that is an injustice.  Don’t settle.

    It is an injustice that there are unmet needs in the world while much of the world is driven to innovate by consumer wants.   A world that chooses wants in preference to needs is an injustice.   Don’t settle.

    Don’t settle for less than technology justice for all people where ever they live.   Join with Practical Action to dispose of the dogma…follow your heart…have the courage that there is a different path to create.

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  • Can the capabilities approach help us frame technology injustice?

    Waldeck, Provincie Zuid-Holland, 2551, NL, Waldeck
    September 6th, 2011

    If you think this question is only of “academic interest” then read on.   At the Human Development and Capability Association conference in Den Haag, The Netherlands I put this question before a group of donors, practitioners, and academics.   I wanted to start a conversation about how we can move away from the traditional ways of thinking about development and economies.   How do we address the twin issues of sustainability and inter-generational equity?

    Sen[i] writes about social injustice and challenges much of the conventional approach to economics with his emphasis on well-being and capabilities.

    Practical Action has had a focus on the use of technology to challenge poverty for the past 40 years, inspired by the vision of the economist Schumacher[ii] and based on the notion of intermediate technology.   Currently Practical Action is considering how it can best use the idea of technology justice to form a campaign and movement for change.   How can the capabilities approach help us to frame technology injustice?

    Here are four practical advantages of using a capabilities approach to frame (and/or communicate) the idea of technology justice:

    1. It would allow us to challenge the assumptions of economic growth as a driver for human development.
    2. We could identify unanticipated outcomes (both positive and negative) of our interventions.
    3. It is a values based approach that promotes transparency.
    4. By using a process based approach we can learn about injustice that results from the negative impact of technologies.

    Overall a capabilities approach is normative which fits in with the notion of developing a movement against technology injustices in the world.   Let’s keep the conversation going…

    [i] Sen, A. (2009) The Idea of Justice, Allen Lane: London.

    [ii] Scumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Abacus Press: London.

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  • Which route should we take to technology justice?

    July 6th, 2011

    Over the next strategy period the activities of Practical Action should lead us to being located in the top right hand quadrant of the grid.   This would be consistent with the narrative.   The diagram below shows that there are many routes to that position.   The overall “space” in which we need to move is shown in blue as the technology strategy space.   At one extreme, route A would launch debates about technologies while route B would increase the innovative use of technologies in projects.   In reality both of these routes can be followed at the same time.

    Let us know what you think by entering into the conversation…

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