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Creating Technologies That Help People Kevin M. Passino Humanitarian Engineering:
Creating Technologies That Help People Kevin M. Passino
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
The Ohio State University
Bede Publishing, Columbus, Ohio, 2015 Cover photo: By the author, March 2005, Yuscaran, Honduras, C.A. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Passino, Kevin M.
Humanitarian Engineering: Creating Technologies That Help People
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Engineering. 2. Humanitarianism. 3. Poverty c 2015 by Kevin M. Passino. All rights reserved. Bede Publishing, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America ISBN-10:
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
It is attributed to Kevin M. Passino.
MATLAB and Simulink are trademarks of MathWorks. This book is provided by the copyright holder “as is.” Any express or implied warranties, including, but not
limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose are disclaimed. In no
event shall the author be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, exemplary or consequential damages
(including, but not limited to, procurement of substitute goods or services; loss of use, data, or profits; or business
interruption) however caused and on any theory of liability, whether in contract, strict liability, or tort (including
negligence or otherwise) arising in any way out of the use of this book or any information, theories, or software
contained or described in it, even if advised of the possibility of such damage.
Neither the name of the author nor the name of The Ohio State University may be used to endorse or promote
products derived from this book, or the software contained in it, without specific prior written permission. In memory of my father, Stan Passino (1933-2013),
my role model for taking action to promote social justice.
To my mother, Mary Dolores Passino, the reason I am an engineer. Stan Passino, bricklayer, circa 1956, doing volunteer work (laying block). If you want to help fix the mess,
you have to be a part of the mess,
and learn to love the mess.
Unknown origin Preface Ending poverty and promoting human development, in a socially inclusive and
environmentally sustainable manner, is the greatest challenge of our era. This
book examines the role of engineering in humanity’s quest to meet this challenge.
Social justice is used to define broad goals, including human dignity, equal rights
and social inclusion, along with environmental justice. Development strategies
move us from current conditions of underdevelopment to social justice, and include approaches from development economics, health, education, and business.
Engineering for sustainable community development, here via “participatory
development,” provides an approach for engineers to cooperatively work with
people on location to identify needs and resources, develop technology solutions,
and assess impact. Definitions and Focus
The following definitions help explain the focus of this book:
• “Technology” is often thought of as “a tool that extends human capability” (e.g. from hammers, to bridges, to the internet). The New Oxford
American Dictionary defines technology as “the application of scientific
knowledge for practical purposes.” Encyclopedia Britannica defines technology as “the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of
human life.” “Technologies are developed and applied so that we can do
things not otherwise possible, or so that we can do them cheaper, faster,
and easier” (Volti, 2006).
• “Engineering” can be defined as “the use of science and mathematics to
invent, create, design, develop, improve, modify, or apply technologies.” Of
course, engineering also focuses on the creation of “processes,” but often
it has a focus on technology for processes, such as computer automation
• “Humanitarian” has been defined as being “concerned with or seeking
to promote human welfare” (New Oxford American Dictionary), which Preface vii is quite a bit broader than typical interpretations of this word in that
it applies to long-term problems (not just natural disasters) everywhere,
from individuals and community to international sites. Here, we define
the meaning of “human welfare” via social justice.
• “Social justice” can be defined as “standards for, and a view on how to
promote, human dignity, rights, fulfillment for all of humanity.” Central to
social justice are: (i) dignity, rights, and fulfillment of the human person;
and (ii) the structure and systems that influence, support, or help humans
achieve fulfillment (well-being, welfare, etc.) such as family, work, economics, politics, environment, and peace. In other words, human rights,
fairness, equality, and helping each other are key issues in social justice.
• “Humanitarian engineering” is “creating technologies that help people”
(the book title/subtitle, and notice that the title and subtitle help define
each other so that there is an emphasis on helping people in significant
need). The term “create” is used as shorthand for the other ways technologies are introduced by engineers (e.g., use of off-the-shelf technologies
where the only “creation” is matching a solution to a problem, or where existing technologies are modified for a specific context and where there is an
increased element of creativity compared to direct but creative use of offthe-shelf technologies). Another good definition of humanitarian engineering is “creating technology to promote social justice.” An alternative to
“humanitarian engineering” is “development engineering;” however, this
term would normally imply a more limited scope (e.g., not considering
disaster response) and many find that over-use of the term “development”
is problematic and confusing (e.g., in engineering, “development” almost
always refers to “technology development,” and so “development engineering” would imply that someone is “engineering a better technology
development process,” which is indeed a focus in some disciplines of engineering that have nothing to do with humanitarian engineering).
• “Development” in this book means either human development (not the
development of a baby into an adult) or economic development, or both.
Human development typically includes both intellectual and physical development, often economic development, and for some, also spiritual development (but individuals are the authorities on what development means
to them). Economic development generally means more people earning
more money. The focus of this book is more on human rather than economic development. Basic issues in human development (e.g., education
and health) will generally affect economic development; however, this book
does not focus heavily on business formation in the developing world, or
job creation, explicitly, though that may be the result of some of the issues
that are discussed (e.g., participatory social business).
• “Sustainable community development” is the focus of a significant portion of the field of humanitarian engineering,a nd indeed “Engineering for Humanitarian
engineering is the
help people. Preface
Sustainable Development” would be a good title for this book. “Sustainability” and “sustainable” in this book will always pertain to the environment or some part of it like a specific ecosystem or local natural resource.
The term “sustainability” in this book is always kept consistent with the
definition of “sustainable development” by the Brundtland Commission
that is given in Section 1.3 and work in the areas of sustainability, the
environment, and the general field of sustainable development. In some
work, the term “sustainable is used to describe (i) ruggedness, reliability,
and robustness that ensure long-term failure-free technology operation;
(ii) long-term financial support or viability; (iii) long-term government,
organizational, institutional and/or community support; or (iv) long-term
operation and maintenance of technology solutions. Here, these other connotations of the word “sustainable” are avoided and the appropriate and
more descriptive terms indicated in this list, (i)-(iv), are used. This way,
confusion about what type of sustainability is being discussed is avoided,
particularly, when only one “sub-type” is relevant in the discussion or
when environmental sustainability is not being considered at all. More
importantly, by keeping terms distinct, significant conflicts between the
ideas in (i)-(v) and ecological sustainability are avoided (e.g., financial
viability can have significant conflicts with ecological considerations as is
often the case in the developed or developing world, or when long-term
operation implies long-term high rates of pollution). Clearly, haphazard
use of the term “sustainable” is often problematic, and indeed may not
even promote understanding of ecological sustainability.
The key ideas discussed in this book are condensed into two pages, “The 10
Principles of Humanitarian Engineering,” at the end of the book on page 670.
The objective of this book is to define the challenges of development, the
goal of social justice, and then to provide a framework for creating, modifying, and using existing technologies for development, and promotion of social
justice. Specific technologies are discussed only to provide concrete examples;
there is no intent here to provide an exhaustive “handbook” or “field guide”
for “humanitarian technology” or more specifically, “appropriate technology”
(sometimes, these are called “development technology” if the focus is not, for
instance, disaster response). I have confidence in the creativity of engineers,
more generally, people’s ingenuity. Given challenges, goals, methodology, and
constraints, individuals can create technologies that fulfill humanitarian needs
today and in the future. A book focused on today’s technologies would soon be
out of date. The Important Role of Engineers in Sustainable
Systems of thought on social justice call out the importance of technology,
stress its moral use (e.g., in issues connected to biotechnology, the environ- viii Preface ix ment, or weapons technology), and would then acknowledge the importance of
what engineers do, and that they do it with a deep sense of fairness both in how
they create technology and in the design of technology that promotes justice.
Amartya Sen, a Nobel-Laureate economist, whose perspectives on social justice
and development will be discussed in this book, said:
“The gap between understanding how something would work and
making it actually work can be quite a substantial one, and some
of the major problems of technological advance in developing countries seem to arise from difficulties in the translation of science into
technology” (Sen, 1975).
This is a strong and authoritative endorsement of the value of engineering in
development as engineers are the translators of science into technology. Supporting this, in (Volti, 2006) (p. 65), Volti says: “A great deal of scientific
information finds its way into technological practice through the education of
engineers.” Next, it has been noted that “technological advance has been the
greatest single source of economic growth” (Volti, 2006), which is also supported
by arguments in (Easterly, 2014; Acemoglu, 2009). Also, consider that Jeffrey
Sachs says (Sachs, 2006): “We glimpse the pivotal roles that science and technology play in the development process” and in studying the history of economic
development he says “Technology has been the main force behind the long-term
increases in income in the rich world” and goes on to say that all countries,
including developing ones today, can have “a reasonable hope of reaping the
benefits of technological advance” and quotes John Maynard Keynes as concurring with this point (considered to be the most influential economist of the 20th
century). Yet, the diffusion of technological innovations “often widens the socioeconomic gap between the higher- and lower-socioeconomic status segments”
(p. 130, (Rogers, 2003)) as power, wealth, and information is in the hands of the
wealthy who can then gain the benefits of technological innovation. Humanitarian engineering seeks to spread technological innovations to lower socioeconomic
classes in the world to promote human and economic sustainable development.
Indeed, for the lower socioeconomic classes, poverty is often coincident with
problems of lack of clean water, inadequate sanitation, food insecurity, no
available electricity, inadequate shelter, etc. Each of these presents technological challenges that various disciplines of engineering are well-prepared to deal
with: water filtration, sanitation systems, agriculture, energy technology, architecture, etc. Engineers are needed to create practical and sustainable solutions
for these development challenges, that is, to help with sustainable development.
There are thousands of engineers graduating every year from universities
around the world, and many more practicing in the “engineering enterprise”
(entrepreneurs, industry, government, etc.). The field of humanitarian engineering hopes it can harness the talent of the engineering community and focus it on
poverty, sustainable development, and the promotion of social justice. Clearly,
if individuals in the profession of engineering work together, we can do much
more than if we work separately. Indeed, currently and in the past, there have
been many engineers involved in successful humanitarian work (even if while Poverty is coincident
with problems that
engineers can help
with. Preface x working they do not identify themselves as such like a medical doctor often
does by wearing their white coat or stethoscope). This book seeks to synthesize
the past and current work in humanitarian engineering, at least to some extent
(a full history is not an aim of this book), and make some advancements in
how to think about humanitarian engineering (e.g., via mathematical modeling,
dynamical systems, feedback control, and computational analysis approaches). Book Organization and Themes
To picture the organization of this book, consider Figure 1. Chapter 1, entitled
“Poverty, Sustainability, and Culture,” and shown on top left of the diagram,
defines challenges, and explores the role of the engineer in humanitarianism.
Chapter 2, “Social Justice,” shown on the bottom left of the diagram, specifies
local and global goals for humanitarian engineering. Chapter 3, “Development
Strategies,” shown in the center, provides general methods to move current conditions (e.g., economic, health, and education) to improved conditions so that
social justice goals are met. Development strategy choice and implementation,
which depend on conditions and goals and may need to be dynamically adjusted,
and are crucial to “convergence” of the development process, where convergence
can be defined, for instance, by reduction of inequalities (e.g., economic or participatory), so that social justice is promoted. Chapter 4, “Engineering for
Sustainable Community Development,” shown on the right side, uses the content of all the previous chapters and, via local, “bottom-up,” and “participatory
development,” addresses community-identified needs via community/engineering
cooperative creation of sustainable technological solutions.
Strategies Chapter 4
Development Chapter 2
(Goals) Figure 1: Book organization.
You will see that modeling, dynamics, feedback control, optimization, and
cooperation are underlying themes of this book (these are my own areas of expertise). In Chapter 1, models, dynamics, and feedback control for a financial
advisor for a low-income person are developed and analyzed. In Chapter 2,
wealth distribution policies, and democracy, for a community are developed; Central themes
and cooperation. Preface
these are distributed feedback and optimization methods that achieve types of
cooperation. In Chapter 3, modeling and analysis of poverty traps, technology diffusion, and capital investment are studied, and this includes feedback
control for spending and capital investment along with wealth distribution and
democracy at the higher level. In Chapter 4, modeling and analysis of “sociotechnological dynamical systems” are studied and, in particular, cooperation
for management of common pool resources in the form of technologies is studied
using a distributed feedback control method. Moreover, modeling and analysis
of how technologies affect sustainable community development are studied.
The main technical and engineering content in this book are: (i) these studies of models, dynamics, and mathematical or computational analysis, and (ii)
much of the material in Chapter 4, from “participatory technology development,” to humanitarian technology (e.g., appropriate technology), and humanitarian science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education
(e.g., creating low-cost experiments for project-based learning). Multidisciplinary Approach
Humanitarian engineering is highly multidisciplinary. It requires a broader foundation of knowledge than engineering in general. Like engineering, it includes
all the physical sciences (e.g., physics and chemistry), life sciences (e.g., biology), and mathematics/statistics; however, it also includes all areas of social
science. Compared to the traditional engineer, a good humanitarian engineer
needs to know more about people, and in particular social human groups of all
sizes, and how they interact. Humanitarian engineers need to know how to collaborate with diverse groups, where diversity means inclusion of experts outside
engineering, members of a community, both genders, and other cultures/races.
Most humanitarian work gets done “on the back of relationships” between people, and large structural problems of social justice require large diverse groups
of people working together for their solution.
Driven by both technical and social needs, this book incorporates elements
of the following:
• Engineering disciplines: Humanitarian engineering can fit into any engineering discipline and this book fits all these. At The Ohio State University (OSU), where I am employed, the engineering disciplines are civil, environmental, electrical, computer engineering, computer science, biomedical, mechanical and aerospace, chemical-biomolecular, agricultural, industrial, materials science and engineering, and architecture.
• Mathematics and statistics: The need for mathematics and statistics is as
great in humanitarian engineering as for any engineering discipline. Here,
mathematical modeling (e.g., via nonlinear discrete time equations or ordinary differential equations) is used to represent a range of dynamical
systems and standard analysis concepts are employed (e.g., equilibria, stability, sensitivity analysis, and optimization). Also, in our computational xi Preface xii analysis via Monte Carlo simulations we use simple ideas from statistics.
• Social sciences: Each of the social sciences has a role in this book:
– Economics and Political Science: Development economics, quantitative development economics, governments’ role, democracy, political
philosophy, and technology policy.
– Social Work: US and international, community theory and change.
– Psychology: Counseling psychology and social psychology.
– Sociology: Diffusion of innovations, technological change in society,
and rural sociology.
– Anthropology: Culture.
• Philosophy, ethics, and religion: Social justice, religious and se...
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- Spring '20
- Sociology, humanitarian engineering