Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

Other reports in this collection

15.5.2 Pathways of In-Country Technology Transfer

Chapter 1 identified five stages within the process of technology transfer: (i) assessment, (ii) agreement, (iii) implementation, (iv) evaluation and adjustment and (v) repetition. These stages should not be confused with the four steps outlined in Section 15.1. These latter four steps describe the process of coastal adaptation, while the above five stages define the process of technology transfer. R&D, aimed at technology development, innovation and acceptance, is a crucial stage before the actual technology transfer (cf. Gibson and Rogers, 1994).

As noted above, national governments, directly or indirectly, are the primary developer of coastal-adaptation technologies and governments at all levels are the principal users. Transfer mechanisms relevant to R&D include (i) sharing information via workshops, briefings and visits, (ii) publications in professional journals and presentations at scientific and technical conferences, and (iii) where appropriate, patents. At this stage, research quality and strength and scholarly reputation are most significant, while technology-transfer plans and processes are considered less important.

Technology assessment and agreement call for shared responsibility between technology developers and users. Success occurs when a technology is transferred across personal, functional or organisational boundaries and is accepted and understood by designated users. Implicit in these stages is the belief that successful technology transfer is simply a matter of getting the right information to the right people at the right time. Typical mechanisms include technical consulting, good-practice schemes and manuals, exchange programmes and various grants and cooperative agreements in which work is undertaken to benefit both parties.

The success of technology implementation is marked by the timely and efficient employment of the technology. Users should have the knowledge and resources to implement the technology. Following evaluation and adjustment of the technology, repetition is directed at the fully integrated use of the technology by the user community and its further dissemination. Technology repetition builds on the successes achieved in obtaining the objectives of the previous stages. Where hardware is concerned, such as structural technologies and monitoring equipment, successful repetition may require an industrial provider. In these cases, market strength is required.

Moving from R&D to technology repetition is not a linear process. As illustrated by the new breakwater technology CoreLoc (Case Study 21), complexity increased significantly as the transfer process moved from intra-agency technology, via the presentation of experimental findings at other government facilities, to implementation in partnership with private-sector entities. Box 15.2 illustrates the obstacles encountered between the development and application of an important concept for shoreline management in England and Wales, which eventually resulted in a diffusion period of 30 years. An important lesson from these two examples is that feedback from the technology users drives the transfer process.

Box 15.2 Shoreline management plans
Littoral or sediment cells are self-contained systems that contain all the sources, pathways, stores and sinks of beach sediment. They were first recognised over 30 years ago (Komar, 1998), and define natural divisions of the coastline as opposed to the arbitrary geopolitical divisions that are normally used to break up the coast into management units. Academics quickly recognised that littoral cells provided a more effective basis for shoreline management (e.g., Carter, 1988), but until recently there has been limited transfer of this approach to real-world application (see also Case Study 16).

England and Wales have a long tradition of using rigid defences against flooding and erosion in many areas (Klein et al., 1999). Large parts of eastern England would be flooded on every high tide without such defences. These defences were often planned by relatively small geopolitical units (e.g., maritime district councils or local drainage boards), although most funding came from central government. While long-term rates of sea-level rise were often considered in design (e.g., Gilbert and Horner, 1984), the long-term consequences of defences in terms of sediment supply to the littoral cell were not considered. Therefore, protection at one site often led to the need to protect adjoining sites, and the slow but progressive expansion in the length of defended coastline has starved much of the coast of new beach sediment.

These problems have led to a number of policy changes, such as a move towards softer approaches to protection. This has included one of the first transfers of the cell concept to shoreline management. The coast of England and Wales has been divided into 11 littoral cells and about 50 littoral subcells (MAFF et al., 1995). About 40 shoreline management plans (SMPs) have been defined and initiated based on one or more subcells. Most subcells are larger than the traditional geopolitical units involved in shoreline planning, necessitating partnerships to produce the SMPs. Each SMP takes a strategic view of future shoreline defence and after dividing the coastline into management units, four possible policies are evaluated: (i) do nothing, (ii) advance the line, (iii) hold the line and (iv) retreat the line. Importantly, SMPs are "living" documents, and regular revisions are expected to reflect changing policy, improved understanding and opportunities for innovation (Leafe et al., 1998).

The slow diffusion of the SMP approach to practice around the world reflects two key factors. First, the cell concept was developed by coastal scientists, while coastal managers were largely trained in more technical disciplines, hindering exchange. Second, there was no immediate market for the approach as the problems of existing management approaches do not become manifest for decades or longer. In England and Wales, diffusion was facilitated by the need to (i) improve understanding of coastal processes, (ii) predict likely future coastal evolution, (iii) identify assets likely to be affected by coastal change, (iv) identify need for regional or site-specific research and (v) facilitate consultation (MAFF et al., 1995). The threat of sea-level rise helped to raise these concerns and needs, while economic appraisal has helped to distinguish more efficient approaches to shoreline management (e.g., Penning-Rowsell et al., 1992; Turner et al., 1995).

Other reports in this collection