Low-Tech, High-Thinking

At OHorizons, we talk a lot about Low-Tech, High-Thinking. It is our mantra and the guiding principle behind everything we do, but what does “Low-Tech, High-Thinking” mean and where did the idea come from?

Too often in development, we see expensive and complicated capital-intensive projects being implemented, often with little to no input from the community. The community doesn’t have ownership of the project because they don’t possess the capital, technical expertise, or financial resources to implement the project on their own. This often results in failed projects several years down the road and a lot of wasted time, money, and effort.

We believe that people should be active agents of change in their communities instead of bystanders. To enable this, OHorizons pursues solutions that follow the principles of Low-Tech, High-Thinking. We work with local partners to ensure our projects are sustainable, scalable, and build the capacity of beneficiaries.

Principles of Low-Tech

  • Simple: Anyone, regardless of education level or expertise, should be able to develop and implement a solution with minimal instruction.

  • Low-cost: The solution should be affordable to the end-user.

  • Locally-sourced: 100% of the materials, tools, and labor should be available locally.

  • Flexible: Every community is different and has different resources available to them; solutions should be flexible enough to adapt to varying local conditions.

  • Open-source: Solutions should be freely available to anyone who would like to utilize them.

Wait a minute, what’s High-Thinking? A lot of attention is given to the newest app or high-tech gadget, but we think it takes just as much, if not more, creativity and ingenuity to create Low-Tech solutions that can have meaningful impact on a global scale. Our process is very similar to IDEO’s Human-Centered Design.  We spend a significant amount of time learning the ins and outs of a problem before we propose a solution. High-Thinking requires examining and understanding a problem and its underlying causes; a vital part of this process is listening and learning from the people directly affected.

Next, the systems that influence and contribute to the process get mapped. We interpret and evaluate the importance of these factors. Only then do we begin the ideation process of how we could innovate a solution.

When I came on board with OHorizons, I was very excited to ask our founder what the eureka moment was for our BioSand Filter Wood Mold innovation. When I asked him, he gave me an answer that made it clear it wasn’t an epiphany. There had been years of research combined with direct experience that had been sifted through, leading to an informed decision that this was the direction we would pursue.

The next steps in the process looked something like this: innovate – develop – test – test some more – innovate and refine – tweak – redo – and test again – and retest – refine some more – retest some more – validate - localize. All of this High-Thinking experimentation ensures the innovation adheres to our Low-Tech principles and increases the chances of a successful implementation.  

Low-tech solutions are a great fit for the world’s most remote and underserved communities. These off-grid communities are typically the last places to receive support. Development initiatives frequently focus on the communities where donor dollars can reach the most people in the shortest amount of time. Thus, often the poorest and most isolated communities, which could greatly benefit from access to resources, remain unchanged. Low-Tech serves them!

Currently, we are focused on expanding access to our Low-Tech Wood Mold innovation to give remote, rural communities access to clean water. Eventually, we plan to expand operations into one of our other Horizons of Life: Energy, Agriculture, or Economic Development. After we select our next Horizon, we will begin the same design process to research, evaluate, ideate, prototype, and develop an innovation which follows the principles of Low-Tech. This way, we ensure our impact is equitable, sustainable, and builds the capacity of the communities we work with!

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