EWB Resources

Appropriate Technology


EWB Australia is an advocate for appropriate technology; choosing to engage in projects and with organisations that develop technology to meet the needs of its users. Appropriate technology is a core tenant of the projects supported by our international field professionals.


What is appropriate technology?

Appropriate Technology is a movement which relates to technological choice, considering its social and cultural implications. Design considerations for appropriate technology solutions include asking whether it is: small-scale, decentralized, enhances existing labor forces, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally autonomous?(1) Mahatma Gandhi is often cited as the ‘grandfather’ of the appropriate technology movement, recognising that technology played a large role in establishing self-reliant villages. He boldly advocated against large scale automation that could destroy livelihoods.

Dr. Ernst Schumacher is renowned for having first articulated the term ‘intermediate technology’ in his 1973 classic Small is Beautiful. The term ‘intermediate technology’ refers to the technology spectrum; from hand tools to fully automated processes. Ideally, people would have access to a full suite of technology, allowing them to choose technology that suits their needs. Sadly, this is not the case and technology at the automated end of the spectrum is too often inaccessible and inappropriate for the majority of user’s needs. When Kentaro Tomoya was asked what he’s learned from a career in technology development he said this: “Technology, no matter how well designed, is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute.”(2)

One example of where automation and advanced technology can support us move towards universal access to techology solututions is when it is linked to the cost reduction of manufacture processed. Advanced manufacturing has significantly reduced the cost and increased the affordability of products around the world with both positive and negative consequences.


How does appropriate technology apply to my EWB Challenge design?

There are many appropriate technology factors that you may want to consider for your EWB Challenge design. A dedicated team from EWB met with Live & Learn in Vanuatu in October. During this visit they were able to pose the question directly to communities, “when choosing technology, what is important to you?” Using this human-centered approach community members used a voting system, allocating 5 each, to different indicators of appropriateness. The results are summarised here


How do I find out more?

For other examples of appropriate technology you could consider referring to EWB Australia’s award winning social enterprise ATEC* and Appropedia, a wiki full of appropriate technology.

You might also like to research projects published in EWB Australia’s Journal of Humanitarian Engineering, or reference peer-reviewed papers such as 'Appropriate Technology – A Comprehensive Approach for Water and Sanitation in the Developing World'.


"I think one thing that really struck me about my trip to Kampung Kiding, in Borneo Malaysia, was how the villagers would come up with ingenious ways to utilise the local materials they were surrounded by. For example, I saw bamboo used in countless ways; as floorboards, gardening tools, to cook soups over a fire, bridges and ladders, roofing & insulation and even for tobacco pipes. Observing these alternative uses of local materials as appropriate technology was extremely eye opening and unexpected."  - Eric Quattropani, EWB Humanitarian Design Summit Participant, Malaysia July 2016