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Blending “Hard” and “Soft” Science: the “Follow-the-Technology” Approach to Catalyzing and Evaluating Technology Change

Boru Douthwaite, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Nicoline C de Haan, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Victor Manyong, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
Dyno Keatinge, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture


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The types of technology change catalyzed by research interventions in integrated natural resource management (INRM) are likely to require much more social negotiation and adaptation than are changes related to plant breeding, the dominant discipline within the system of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Conceptual models for developing and delivering high-yielding varieties have proven inadequate for delivering natural resource management (NRM) technologies that are adopted in farmers' fields. Successful INRM requires tools and approaches that can blend the technical with the social, so that people from different disciplines and social backgrounds can effectively work and communicate with each other. This paper develops the "follow-the-technology" (FTT) approach to catalyzing, managing, and evaluating rural technology change as a framework that both "hard" and "soft" scientists can work with. To deal with complexity, INRM needs ways of working that are adaptive and flexible. The FTT approach uses technology as the entry point into a complex situation to determine what is important. In this way, it narrows the research arena to achievable boundaries. The methodology can also be used to catalyze technology change, both within and outside agriculture. The FTT approach can make it possible to channel the innovative potential of local people that is necessary in INRM to "scale up" from the pilot site to the landscape. The FTT approach is built on an analogy between technology change and Darwinian evolution, specifically between "learning selection" and natural selection. In learning selection, stakeholders experiment with a new technology and carry out the evolutionary roles of novelty generation, selection, and promulgation. The motivation to participate is a "plausible promise" made by the R&D team to solve a real farming problem. Case studies are presented from a spectrum of technologies to show that repeated learning selection cycles can result in an improvement in the performance of the plausible promise through adaptation and a sense of ownership by the stakeholders.

Key words

actor-oriented approach, follow-the-technology approach, integrated natural resource management, learning selection approach, participatory technology development, social construction of technology.

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087