Economic development as design: Insight and guidance through the PSI framework

Subrahmanian, Eswaran; Eckert, Claudia; McMahon, Christopher and Reich, Yoram (2017). Economic development as design: Insight and guidance through the PSI framework. In: 21sr International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 2015), 21-25 Aug 2017, Vancouver.


Economic development is aimed at improving the lives of people in the developing world, and needs to be carried out with design at its heart, but this has often not been the case. This paper first reviews dominant approaches to economic development including the use of subsidies or the creation of markets and demand and the testing of initiatives using randomized control trials. It then introduces ‘development engineering’ as a representative engineering design approach to engineering and technology in development before presenting the view that successful development needs to involve continual learning through innovation in context. The PSI (problem social institutional) framework is presented as a basis for guiding such development as a design activity, and its application is illustrated using examples from India of the unsuccessful introduction of new cooking stoves and then both successful and unsuccessful approaches to rural electrification. A 2-level approach to PSI is taken, in which the lower level represents daily operation of communities and the 2nd level represents the development project including addressing misalignments between the different PSI spaces and levels.

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