(Eng)UK - East Midlands

neil birrell (neil@lds.co.uk)
Thu, 19 Oct 1995 11:44:14 +0100

scanned article

Beyond Technological Fixes, Towards
Socially Directed Innovation

"Technological innovation is widely
believed to hold the answers to many of
our economic and social problems. But
what sort of technology should we be
focussing on and how do we decide?" (Dr
Dave Elliott: @pen University; Discussion
Paper No. 9 May 1987).
if any reader has ever been to public
debates on how to renew local
communities they will have heard the
usual formulas o@ economic revival
through attracting large and small scale
technology. Loughborough, in this
respect, is no different, with its
supporters pointing out the @uccesses of
the town with its Science F@rk on the
Epinal Way site and now the newer
&ience Park on the Ashby Road,
attracting, as it did, the new British @as
Research Centre. However, on closer
inspection neither development have
produced the goods in terms of local
employment. Nor have they demonstrated
the 'trickled down' effect on the local
economy. Quite the contrary, they have
both remained specialised @ectors
operating within a very narrow field of
spplication. Iobs that have been created
tend to fit into the low skilled or no
skilled variety, usually manual and low
E@very few decades there appears to be a
nurry of activities, usually based around
a specific set of 'new technologies' (the
steam engine in the 18th Century; the
micro-chip in the 20th Century). There
are a number of reasons for this,
including commercial attractiveness,
vested private interests, corporate plans,
national government plans.
The problem with these seemingly
'objective developments' is that they
contain many underlying values, often
dressed as common sense. The results,
however, have been far from @vhat many
people regard as 'sense', be it common or
othervvise: de-skilling of traditional
crafts, built-in obsolescence, products of
a kind which prevents repair or
renovation. As a direct consequence a
society is emerging that defines wealth
and vvellbeing in term@ of ownership and
understanding of the latest technological
gadgetry, turning tools and life
enhancing appliances into gateways for a
happy and rewarding life. One has only to
consider the recent launch of 'Windows
95', a mere tool for personal computers
but, from the advertising hype you would
be e@ccused for believing that love making
would never be the same again.
How should we then calculate the benefits
of technological breakthroughs. Below
are some suggestions for consideration:
Criterion 1: make efflcient use of scarce
materials resources - by designing
products for 10ng life, ea@y repair,
renovation and reconditioning and,
ultimately, for easy recycling of
constituent materials.
Criterion 2: make efflcient and safe use of
finite energy resources (a) by adopting
cleaned-up efficient energy conversion
systems for fossil fuels, avoiding waste
and 1099 at the point of use (via
insulation etc ) matching supply to
demand more effectively, and ( b) by
substituting renewable energy sources
(wind, wave, tidal and solar) for fmite
reJerves wherever po@ible.
Criterion 3: technologies should develop
and enhance human skills rather than
decrease them, reduce boring and
dangerous work, and lend themselves to
control by users, rather than the other
way round.
Criterion 4: Technologies @hould be as
flexible as possible. All other things being
equal, we should choose small-scale
options and/or modular systems which
can be introduced piecemeal, rather than
large integrated systems with long
development times, 'lots of e8gs in lots of
baskets', with the emphasis on diversity
and the avoidance of technoloKies which
foreclose options and can't be easily
abandoned should they prove troublesome.
What are the underlying prescriptions in
the criteria 90 far outlined? That we
miBht be better off with smaller scale
(though not necessArily unsophisticated)
systems in many circumstances within a
more decentralised social and industrial
framework. Working with materials and
products made in the locality as far as
pos@ible. Promoting enterprises that give
priorities to meeting local needs, using
local labour and contributing to the
enriching of the local economy.

Personally, I would give priority to co-
operatives and neighbourhood enterprises
in which the local inhabitants would be
supplying goods and services to their
friends and relatives. This local approach
to employment creation does not require
large corporations beinB bribed the
creation of larger and faster links to
ensure that their goods 'get through'.
The lrery best aspect of this development
approach is in the local knowledge and
nexibility necessary to respond to ever
chanRing circumstances. This aspect
alone beats the high street organisations
hands down becAuse of their centralised
management and manufacturing processes.
Quality and size of manufacturing runs
vvould be strictly determined by local
needs. Obviously any orders beyond the
immediate neighbourhood could be taken
on board, without the particular
organisation having to rdy e@clusivdy
upon outside sales. Research and
development of new products would be
part of the e@eryd@y e@periences within the
loca1 enterprises. Not just the skilled
@mg perhap@ @impler way@
producing a particular item but, ha @ing
listened to cu@tomers' comments upon the
reliability and durability of the item go on
to manufacture an innovative 'Mark II' of
said item. How many of the present
companies producing dining room
furniture ever listen to the customers, for

Can the present town planners please note
that what we require in Loughborough is
a determined approach by our elected
members and officers of Charnwood
Borough Council, to promote local
initiatives from within our own
communities. This could be achieved by a
multi-faceted strategy providing start-up
workshops and office9 with centralised
facilities for book keeping and secretarial
back-up. buying finished goods and
@ervices for the benefit of ta@c payers
vvithin Charnwood, searching the
European Union for grants and similar
projects for ideas and inspiration.

In the long term neighbourhood
enterprises will serve the people of
Charnwood in ways that will ensure local
corporations extract profit from the local
economy and change production
requirements between continents.
Encouraging companies manufacturing
products on the leading edge of
technology suffer from short-termism. In
other words the latest scientific gadget
almost by definition promotes its own
obsolescence because some other company
will be working to capture that particular
market. Keeping enterpri@e@ local and
creating local enterprise might just
recreate a local identity and promote
xreater fellow feeling among the citizens of
C@arnwood. In the proces@ beautiful
objects and a beautiful en@ironment might
emerge from the combination of local
skills and ecological awareness. One thing
is for sure, eYen if a local co-operative
filils miserably. the people of C@harnwood
won't be faced with massive redundancie@
or ugly @andalised buildings rotting away
(take a walk around Empress Road). The
starting point for promoting this 'other'
economy could be the placing of a
contract for the maintenance and
refurbishment of council hou@es and
e@tates to a local building co-operative.