Sunday, April 24, 2005

Technology Transfer: The Diffusion of Advanced Biotechnologies and Maori Horticulture

Okay, here's draft number three - the link is through to the conference site. I've scored free registration: as the rangatahi say, 'Big Ups' to the organisers. Formatting is lost, and so are the nifty diagrams.

The role of technology in any society is difficult to isolate. First, it is all pervasive: no society lacks technology (although some certainly lag in their attempts to acquire specific technologies). Secondly, it is constituted of tangible innovations – pots, metal implements, buildings – and intangible knowledge – pottery, metallurgy, architecture. Innovative technologies are indicators of ‘civilisation’. They are also integral to contemporary development, now promoted in terms of a ‘Knowledge Economy’.

The sheer pace and scale of technological change has meant that although technology is ‘intentionally and systematically’ put in place, it is now experienced as a somewhat ‘alien and uncanny force’ (Rapp 1981). The very ‘success’ of certain technologies (revealed in their comprehensive diffusion) is implicated in threats to the sustainability of various communities and even humanity itself. How can sustainable technologies to be diffused in order to ‘avoid, remedy or mitigate’ adverse effects on the environment?

In this phenomenon, indigenous peoples are almost generically described as 'laggards': that is slow to adopt new technologies. While remaining the originators of (acceptably quaint) traditions, indigenous peoples are incessantly targeted as potential receptors of new and therefore beneficial technologies. In this paper I present data from a research project revolving around the innovation of sustainable biotechnologies to Maori horticulturalists. These technologies are distinguished from unsustainable technologies in a number of ways, not least the requirement that they be comprehensively diffused in order to ‘work’.

Inputting this data into a classical diffusion model reveals the phenomenon of ‘reverse cascade’ diffusion where the initial sources of innovation are Maori acting as case studies and/or collaborators. The flow of subsequent innovations appears to be mediated by neo-liberal markets, hindering the vital diffusion of sustainability on to Maori land.

Keywords: technology transfer, diffusion of innovation, sustainable Maori development.

This paper treats innovation as any idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new: it can also be the rediscovery of an idea, practice or object. Adoption is the singular decision - whether by an individual, institution, firm or other ‘adoptive unit’ - to take up an innovation. Diffusion is the process whereby the adoption of an innovation is transferred through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.

Given the absolute importance of diffusion in the ultimate success of any technology, the lack of diffusion of sustainable technologies, where they exist, speaks of their failure regardless of their efficacy in isolation. This fact must be kept in mind during the following discussion.

The term ‘technology’ itself is difficult to define. Heidegger (1977) begins his thesis on modern technology with accepting it as a means to an end and a human activity: “…to posit ends and procure and utilize the means to them is a human activity (p 4). He goes on to say that “The manufacture and utilization of equipment, tools and machines, the [artefacts] themselves and the needs and ends they serve all belong to what technology is (p 4-5). This description is echoed by Rogers (2003: 12) who considers technology to be the “…design for instrumental action that reduces the uncertainty in the cause-effect relationships involved in achieving a desired outcome” (Rogers 2003). For Maori growers it will include all the strategies and tactics employed to reduce the vulnerability of their crops.

The Diffusion of Innovations: Models and MethodsThe S-curve is commonly to describe diffusion (Fig 1). It seems to have been initially promoted by French sociologist Gabriel Trade (1903) who saw the task of the sociologist as tracing “…the curve of the successive increases, standstills or decreases in every new or old want and in every new or old idea, as it spreads out and consolidates itself, or as it is crushed back and uprooted”. History for Trade “…is a collection of those things that have had the greatest celebrity…those initiatives that have been the most imitated.” (cited in Katz, p 149).
The early exploratory works of Gabriel Tarde and others were revolutionised by Torsten Hägerstrand, a Swedish geographer who attempted to model the spatial characteristics of adoption and diffusion with new (to geography) quantitative techniques (Hagerstrand 1952; Hagerstrand 1967). He utilised the analogy of a wave (adoption and diffusion) spreading across a pond (society) after a pebble (innovation) had been thrown in. In this model, the timing of adoption is a function of a person’s distance from the first innovator.

Many researchers have focused on information as the key variable (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971; Rogers, 1983). For Hägerstrand, communication is the key mechanism in diffusion; the spatial pattern was the result of a ‘contagious’ process, which he called the ‘neighbourhood effect’. Tarde had also acknowledged the importance of simple (but not simplistic) communication.

Hierarchy Model and Gravity Theory

In this paper I examine the transfer of sustainability to Maori land by utilising the model of hierarchic diffusion. This occurs “…through a regular sequence of order, classes, or hierarchies” (Haggett: 299). Such diffusion is generally assumed to be ‘downward’, for example from large to smaller cities and towns. However, examples of a ‘reverse cascade’ occur where innovations diffuse ‘upward’, from smaller to larger centres. Figure 2 below represents these phenomena in a simple schema. The term gravity theory is also used to describe hierarchic diffusion (inviting the term ‘anti-gravity’ for ‘reverse cascade’).

The relationship of indigenous peoples to modern technology is commonly treated as a development problem - how to transfer appropriate technology to indigenous groups - or an ethical dilemma where indigenous culture is somehow threatened by new technology and yet cannot be wholly protected from its influence (Stephenson 1994; Grim 2001). In the words of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report (2003) “A common feature…of all successful economies is the degree to which innovation – in the widest possible sense – permeates everything people do.” This report goes on to say that Maori openness to innovation may be constrained due to the “…strange influence of traditions, culture and spiritual values.” The inference is that Maori are slow on the uptake.

The diffusion of innovative crop protection methods through the ‘social system’ that is Maori horticulture is critically evaluated in this paper so as to map the pathways by which sustainable crop protection might be achieved. Obstacles to this diffusion are identified and remedies offered.

Case Study: The National Centre for Advanced Bioprotection TechnologiesThe data on which this paper is based has been gathered from within a network established for the innovation of agri-biotechnologies. The National Centre for Advanced Bioprotection Technologies (NCABT) won funding set aside for the establishment of Centre’s of Research Excellence (CoREs) in the 2002 budget. This Lincoln-based CoRE is comprised of four themes: Biosecurity, Biocontrol, Agri-biotechnology and Matauranga Maori Bioprotection. This last theme is to be conducted in accordance with Kaupapa Maori and Participatory research principles (Zealand; Harris 2003; Environment 2004). The transfer of NCABT technologies - promoted as ‘sustainable’- is an explicit objective.

The process of diffusing sustainable technologies to Maori horticulture is modelled below. This hierarchy will be further described with respect to type of innovation, its source and direction of diffusion.

Case Studies
TBA (okay, that's a cop out... I'm still writing the paper, like everyone else)

Hägerstrandian diffusion sees the motive power of diffusion reside within the spread of information: other cultural variables are interpreted as obstacles. This assumption was not overtly challenged by his fieldwork in rural Sweden, which as Blaut (1977) points out is a culturally uniform space whose pool of potential adopters were in possession of the necessary technical and economic prerequisites for adoption of a set of innovations of demonstrable utility. ‘Information’ was, in these circumstances, quite reasonably the ‘missing element’, the arrival of which would initiate the adoption/diffusion process.

Maori are now returning to the proactive adoption/diffusion practices of the 19th century. In health (Durie, ; ), education ( ), and business (TPK, 2002; NZIER, 2003), Maori individuals and groups are seeking new ways of doing things. A willingness to embrace innovation in horticulture is also evident (Lambert 2004; Roskruge 2004). This involves interacting with ‘traditional’ actors, that is government and its agencies and private corporations. It also involves increasing interactions with new research institutions such as CoREs, and their strategic positioning of matauranga Maori themes.

The promotion of information as a key variable elevates knowledge as the primary causal element in development. However, there are quite clear transfers of innovation, as represented by specifically Maori ides, symbols, terminology and so on, and professional affiliation across disciplines, institutions and projects. This flow is also dynamic,

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Hagerstrand, T. (1952). "The propogation of innovation waves." Lund Studies in Geography B: 4.
Hagerstrand, T. (1967). Innovation Diffusion as a Spatial Process. Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press.
Harris, N. (2003). Team presentation. T. F. colleagues. Chirstchurch.
Lambert, S. (2004). Indigenous Research Ethics and Agro-ecological Development: Raising the IRE in Biotechnology Transfer, Te Papa, Wellington.
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Roskruge, N. (2004). Snapshot of Maori Horticulture. Te Ohu Whenua, Massey University.
Stephenson, R. A. (1994). 'Traditional Technologies' Structures and Cultures of the Pacific: Five Papers from the Symposium "Technology and Cultural Change in the Pacific". Technology and Cultural Change in the Pacific XVII Pacific Science Congress, Honolulu, University of Guam/Micronesian Area Research Centre.
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