Learning, technology, sustainable development

Sustainable development appears to be the major challenge of our time, and our world as a whole.

In Africa, these past five years, the installation of fiber optic cables and infrastructure has enabled unprecedented degree of connection of the African continent. Internet access costs have fallen and new markets have opened in the fields of contents, software, mobile applications and social networks. From Somalia, Ghana, Dar es Salaam to Dakar, via Cape Town and Cairo, African youth uses ICTs to stimulate growth, create businesses and build a future. Africa has six of the ten fastest growth economies in the world. It is the second largest market in the world for mobile telephony.

Without going into details of the literature, let us try to identify certain notions to clarify what we mean. We come from generations born with the illusion of abundance of energy and resources in a context where social determinism strongly conditions access to knowledge. New technologies offer the potential of a knowledge that is no longer reserved for the elite. However, if these technologies allow rapid and massive diffusion, inequalities persist, as we know, in many ways.

Sustainable development can be analyzed within five areas: cultural, social, economical, environmental and territorial. Each cluster contains essential components, such as creativity, education, innovation, governance, eco-technologies, local loops, transport, energy efficiency… The future heart of the competitive economic model will probably be innovation, and will bring new goals for creativity and cooperation: infrastructures, eco-responsible behavior, formal and informal education, governance and participation, alternative economic models, cooperation itself, etc.

Technologies for sustainable development are areas of research. It aims to study the conditions where technological innovation can foster and promote sustainable development. It takes into account all forms of potentially favorable technological innovation such as: processes, products, organizational methods and market. This research has five objectives themselves guided by operational concerns:

– to explore the ambivalent role of technological innovation, analyzed both as a cause of unsustainable development and a key factor of a new mode of production, compatible with sustainable development;
– to characterize technologies and innovation processes conducive to sustainable development, taking into account not only environmental aspects, but also all dimensions of sustainable development;
– to study the socio-economic aspects of these technologies and innovation processes conducive to sustainable development through case studies;
– to situate technological innovation in relation to other instruments for sustainable development;
– to study the brakes and incentives for implementation of innovation and diffusion of technologies that promote sustainable development policies.

ICT and Web 2.0 are extremely rapid advances in technology. Few sectors have finally implemented their potential. The economy remains very closely linked to competition and really alternative economic models are still in the margin area. A reasonable analysis of technological progress should notice that the value of these technologies is primarily related to the use, willingness and motivation. Various studies show :

– the need for public intervention given the difficulty for managers to convince shareholders of the profitability of a sustainable development strategy;
– the value of technology foresight exercises to identify more precisely promising technologies, both from the point of view of their sustainability, their acceptability to the public and their economic prospects (market size, growth rate, scope and intensity of competition);
– the challenge for business management skills needed to innovate sustainably.

If technology sharing and dissemination help to better understand the economical globalization of the world, their potential raise several challenges:

– to overcome market failure regarding the conditions for sustainable development technologies, using various mechanisms to bridge the gap between their private returns and social returns with current and future generations;
– to support the dissemination of clean and efficient technologies, promoting the dissemination of information and knowledge;
– to promote technological diversity, to avoid locks around technologies having long-term risks;
– technological innovation for sustainable development;
– to strengthen the innovation capacity in the long term by encouraging skills development and strategic foresight exercises;
– to provide a procedure for ensuring the consistency of stakeholders to focus on the appropriation of technology by users and society;
– to encourage citizen participation in the construction of scenarios and socio-economic evaluation of technological choices.

From these analysis, we can attempt, at our scale, to define areas of priority. The results of analysis on the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors of young people show a high share for sustainable development issues interest, but other also from deficits in thinking systems. It is therefore important to promote new approaches.

The elements of this changing culture are remarkable from this point of view: non-elitist, open to people, and with a transformed relationship to knowledge. The main elements to operate are present for the changes demanded by the potential of ICT in an uncertain and complex world.

The emergence of the culture of “make” (DIY) for instance, is not only the result of the technology diffusion, but the meeting of those technologies with an expectation of some populations farthest from academic knowledge. Enthusiasm in a difficult socio-economical context can sometimes be wider than expected by analysts. There are real opportunities to grow both the need and the demand. Collaborative technologies have shown that they can have some success. They also show that the conditions of success depend on how knowledge is disseminated with these tools, and to what destinations. In other words, they indicate the need for a change from the “up-bottom” model to the “bottom-up” and “bottom-bottom” models.

It is the interest of education and training missions what is to taken into account in those new trends. While linking research with industry seems necessary, workshop can be made on the other hand, as we see all over the world, with a specific orientation. Data on social and environmental impacts can be incorporated, experienced and highlighted. The relationship to knowledge is a real drag to people who have been discarded. Changing this relation by new approaches allows to consider the transmission of knowledge and “make” in a manner that meets the objectives of education and training in the modern world.