The manufactured world is so basic to modern life that we hardly stop to think about how its constraints affect us. Since the days of Henry Ford, we have been limited by the assumptions that substantial capital must be expended in order to produce a good, and that a good must be produced in large quantities in order to be economically feasible. These constraints disadvantage those without substantial resources for research, development, and fabrication; or whose needs do not represent a large enough market to make those investments worthwhile.
But a convergence of entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, hobbyists, and others known as the maker movement is working to lower the barriers to making, repairing, and extending our contemporary material culture. By making available tools and approaches that allow non-specialists to fabricate sophisticated goods and devices, the maker movement is democratizing manufacturing and disrupting those long-standing industrial constraints.
The DAI Maker Lab is applying tools and approaches from the maker movement to DAI’s global development work, enabling people in developing countries to leverage technology against local challenges in a new way.
The conundrum is as old as development work: certain capacities cannot be built without access to specialized equipment. But because that equipment is rarely designed with developing country environments in mind, failures are more common than successes. Locally inappropriate design, electrical problems, lack of repair personnel, and other problems mean that success rates with these equipment installations are dispiritingly low.
Thanks to tools and approaches developed within the maker movement, we now have an alternative. Stakeholders can be actively engaged in a user-centered design process for their own equipment. This equipment can be prototyped, tested, and iterated in the context that it will be used. And it can be built, repaired, and extended by beneficiaries who have been provided with the tools, open source hardware and software, and knowledge to do so. By pioneering this user-centered design paradigm, the DAI Maker Lab is allowing development projects to leave beneficiaries with truly appropriate equipment that can genuinely belong to them in a way never before possible.
DAI is integrating collaborative workshops, known as makerspaces, into its programming in key technical areas. By giving local populations access to the tools, knowledge, and opportunity to develop their own solutions to local problems, we create tremendous opportunities for economic, youth, and workforce development, and empower communities to apply a new kind of hyperlocal technology to the challenges they face.