Partnerships for sustainable development have become the official UN instruments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Among those working on water and sanitation, many focus on technology transfer projects. Transferred technologies are seen as tools not only to combat water scarcity or poor sanitary conditions, but also to alleviate poverty, ensure gender equality, improve health and environment. Yet, technological improvements cannot fulfill all these functions on their own. Thus, technologies that provide quick and easy access to water are not necessarily the most suitable ones for sustainable development of receiving communities. Indeed, a number of such projects fail at getting community support or ensuring their use of the water provided. In these cases, improvements in water access remain insubstantial, intentions of poverty alleviation are frustrated, and the technology ultimately faces rejection. To avoid such results, assessment of water partnerships and technologies should not be solely based on efficiency calculations but also take social implications into consideration.
To do this, we suggest a technology assessment framework based on the social critiques of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Ivan Illich. While STS provides numerous conceptual tools to reconsider technology in general, Illich's concept of institutional spectrum is instrumental to examine the societal impact of particular technologies. Building on these two sources, our framework examines various contrasting characteristics that influence a technology’s social acceptability and desirability, especially from the perspective of the receiving communities. Hence, this framework creates a scale to assess whether a technology preserves the autonomy, flexibility and self-reliance of a community or has predominantly manipulative and monopolistic tendencies that induce dependence. This framework is then applied to the technologies transferred by water partnerships registered with the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
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