17 June 2012

Praxis: Innovation through Feedback from Reality

Paulo Freire defined praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it." Praxis and the scientific method are both about learning how the world works and when used wisely are powerful tools to make the world a better place. Learning about how the world works is a concept that is infused throughout the AguaClara program from the research laboratory to the classroom to the Agua Para el Pueblo (APP) office to the plant operators who run the AguaClara plants. Our emphasis on learning and a desire to know what is really happening rather than what we wish was happening is part of the magic of AguaClara.

I was recently reading the report from the WASH sustainability forum and found this remarkable statistic. 
"Over the last 20 years, 600,000-800,000 hand pumps have been installed in Sub-Saharan Africa, of which some 30% are known to fail prematurely, representing a total failed investment of between $1.2 and $1.5  billion. Less than five percent of projects are revisited after project conclusion, and far less than one percent have any long-term monitoring."

Organizations that implement projects and don't follow up miss an important learning opportunity. They never learn what works well and what causes problems and thus they never get the feedback necessary to improve either the technology or their method of implementation. This isn't Praxis.

At AguaClara we work hard to learn from both success and failure. We collaborate with APP and communities to test at full scale the ideas that we develop in the laboratory. We constantly evaluate the interface between humans and technology and work to make that interaction as positive and empowering as possible. 

Michael Adelman summed it up this way. "AguaClara needs to disseminate...
  • not just a technical model
  • not just a governance model
  • but a RESEARCH model - where the inclusion of the "real world" accelerates the innovation process
Just like we need to convince engineers not to fear gravity, we need to convince researchers not to fear reality."

Imagine what Cornell will become as more researchers accelerate their innovation by engaging with communities and partners in the "real world."

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