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Development Engineering meets Development Studies

Peter Robbins, Andrew Watkins, David Wield and Gordon Wilson

August 2016

Abstract

The importance of science in development has been increasingly recognised in development discourses and policy since 2000. The triggers influencing policy debates include the Millennium Development Goal debates, the then UK Chief Scientist’s work to get science onto international agendas, the UK government’s own efforts on global development, and more recently the Sustainable Development Goal debates. Other triggers include increased public engagement with the issues of science and development, for example via the influential Sci-Dev Net web site. The increased interest in science for development has been mirrored by an important focus on innovation and development, which emphasises the importance of creating knowledge to create value.

This extremely positive transformation in development thinking has been less mirrored for the role of engineering in development. Engineering has been less emphasised in these debates, which is surprising given its importance to development policy and practice. Engineering and engineers are important for the building and maintenance of transport, water, energy, informatics, urban systems, as well as systems for health and medicine, and infrastructure of various kinds.  The UK engineering academy writes ‘engineers make things, they make things work and they make things work better’. Engineers do invent and innovate, but not always, or even often, in the ways meant by those who emphasise the applied science nature of engineering.

This article aims to investigate why engineering has not received more emphasis, including why development engineering has not been better institutionalised in the way that tropical medicine, and perhaps even science and innovation for development, have. This may be even more pressing at a time of heightened global environmental and social inequality challenges.  It explores the nature of engineering in development, highlights recent efforts to headline engineering for development and, using this evidence, including analysis of what engineers know and do inside international development, to suggest ways in which its profile and effectiveness can be enhanced. It amounts to a call for a new area of engineering – development engineering.

Read IKD Working Paper 81 - Development Engineering meets Development Studies.

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