A student in my masters program last year wrote his dissertation on a business model for a pedal-powered pump for fecal sludge to be used in slums in Tanzania. He also, as part of his research, created a cool “widget” – the “People Powered Poo Pump”.

The technology was actually not so new. The student came from MIT and worked with Global Cycle Solutions, whose focus is on pedal-powered technologies (recognize the blue stand and attachment in this article? GCS developed those). The business model was more interesting, in my opinion.

But as his dissertation was picked up by the media, the spotlight was focused on the widget. Because cool widgets are a selling point.

Unfortunately, the fact that the media likes a widget does not mean that it’s going to work. As Kevin Starr points out in his talk at PopTech, such was the case with LifeStraw, OLPC, and PlayPumps.

(This is the sOccket. Lots of hype. Little to show for it.)

In order to mitigate seduction by “cool widgets”, Starr recommends we ask ourselves the following question for every new technology in the spotlight:

1. Is it needed?
2. Does it work?
3. Will it get to those who need it?
4. Will they use it right?

I like it. Short and sweet. Now if only we answered these questions more often before we support organizations, we’d start supporting more realistic and effective solutions.

(For those of you who watched the video from yesterday’s post, you’ll have heard this already. But I thought the points were so important that they needed their own post.)

(Image from here.)