The Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE) at MIT has announced its 2016 product evaluations.
The interdisciplinary program will bring together faculty and students from across MIT to evaluate at least three new types of products being used by people in developing countries, including solar water pumps, food aid packaging, and wheelchairs.
CITE, which is based in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was created in 2012 with support from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Higher Education Solutions Network. It is the first-ever program dedicated to developing methodologies for product evaluation globally.
CITE worked closely with various partners — including Mercy Corps, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals, and the Boston-based nonprofit Technology Exchange Lab — to identify which products to evaluate. CITE evaluates products through extensive lab and field testing and produces evaluation reports intended to help facilitate data-driven decision-making in global development.
“One of the exciting pieces of our work is the close relationships we’re building with local and international partners, which allows us to identify real-world problems and to have true impact in the contexts in which we work,” said CITE Associate Director Joanne Mathias.
“We’re also seeing our methodology evolve and advance. This year we’re working closely with the students who developed Sensen, a low-cost Bluetooth sensor, to instrument all three of our evaluations in order to achieve a wider and more objective understanding of technology use. We’re also more formally incorporating principles of the Lean Research movement started here at MIT D-Lab,” Mathias said.
Solar water pumps
Solar water pump systems prove critically important for irrigation in water-scarce regions, as well as provision of clean water in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, especially with organizations looking for a more sustainable solution than diesel pumps. However, solar water pump systems face adoption and performance challenges, including maintenance difficulties, limited affordability, possibility of theft, and scant availability of spare parts. CITE will study solar water pump systems for two uses — irrigation and use in IDP camps — to understand the technical performance of the products as well as how the products are used and valued by communities over time.
Food aid packaging
Every year, emergency food aid is provided to millions of people worldwide, but food aid often becomes infested or spoiled during transit due to hot and humid climates, long transit times, and poor warehousing. USAID’s Food for Peace partners are looking for chemical-free alternatives to current fumigation practices that will help control for infestation and spoilage in food aid, including hermetic grain bags, hermetic transit liners, and other high-quality packaging materials. CITE will study food aid packaging to understand the cost and efficacy of using various packaging materials in the food aid supply chain.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 70 million people around the world need wheelchairs, and in most developing countries, only a small faction of those who need wheelchairs own or have use of one. CITE will work closely with the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals and Consolidating Logistics for Assistive Technology Supply and Provision to evaluate wheelchairs currently available in low-resource settings. CITE’s wheelchair evaluation will seek to understand technical performance, reliability, durability, maintenance, repair, and user experience.