Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

A Perspective on the Tech Awards for 2005


James L. Koch
Geoffrey C. Bowker

For the fifth year, Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) is honored to be associated with the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation and Applied Materials, Inc. in the renowned Tech Museum Awards—Technology Benefiting Humanity. The University continues to oversee a sophisticated, impartial judging process which selects 25 Laureates to be honored for their pioneering work in developing technology to help others—including five who will share in $250,000 cash awards.  We thought it might be interesting in this issue of STS NEXUS to provide our readers with some additional insight into the selection process: a “behind the scenes look” at how Laureates in each category are chosen. 

                Additionally, we offer some commentary on trends or themes that emerged from the innovative work of this year’s Laureate. By sharing these perspectives, perhaps we can shine additional light on the evolution of technology as it is being leveraged by innovative organizations and inspired “social entrepreneurs” to benefit humanity throughout the world.


The Laureate Selection Process

The Judging Panels

                Each year the Center for Science, Technology, and Society assembles highly respected judging panels comprised of scientists and interdisciplinary scholars, as well as senior executives in science and technology industries, and respected authorities in research institutions, government, and civil society.  This talented interdisciplinary pool is divided into five panels of six or more jurists,  in the categories of: economic development, education, environment, equality, and health.  Each judge reviews all applications in his/her category and completes preliminary evaluations. The five Santa Clara University faculty members who serve as panel chairs facilitate all discussions based on these preliminary independent reviews and—as the process continues to iterate—act as arbiters in the selection process.  Two law student research assistants also are on staff to conduct additional due diligence, and to provide background research and explore Web-based resources in support of the judging panelists’ work.



                Applications, typically 8 to 12 pages in length, include detailed narrativeson how the organization’s technology application significantly improves the human condition. These are often written by entrepreneurs for whom English is not their first language, so great care is taken by the judges to comprehend or clarify all facts in the application during the selection process. Also, several meetings take place throughout the six week period for the judges to share individual rankings and observations regarding merit in relation to specific criteria, and for the research assistants to report on findings.


An Iterative Process

                A common set of criteria is used to ensure a fair and thorough evaluation of each application.  This procedure assists in streamlining the review of hundreds of applications, while simultaneously ensuring all finalists are in full compliance with the criteria for Tech Award recipients.

                In the early phase of evaluation, all applications are assessed purely on the “life cycle” status of the project. That is, judges assess where the technology lies on a development continuum. Technology innovations generally develop over time, passing through five stages.


n      Idea/concept stage

n      Research and development

n      Application implementation

n      Proof of concept or demonstration of benefit

n         Adoption as standard of practice

Continuum of Technology Innovation

Continuum of Technology Innovation

Continuum of Technology Innovation


R & D Phase 

Application/In Use

Proving Beneficial

Standard of  Practice


In the screening process, applications must clearly demonstrate that the nominee organization’s technology has progressed beyond proof of concept and lies in one of the three middle stages along the above continuum. Technology outside this boundary is generally viewed as an unproven concept or so far along in diffusion as to be already in common practice. However, the judges are given discretionary latitude in the middle area of the continuum to allow for the selection of the most promising and inspiring group of Laureates each year.


General Criteria

                Having considered where an applicant lies on the above continuum, judges review the applications against a set of general criteria. These stipulate that a winning technological innovation should:


n      Significantly improve the human condition in one of the five areas;

n      Address a serious problem or challenge with global significance;

n      Make a noteworthy contribution that surpasses previous or current


n      Serve as an inspiration or model for further innovation;

n      Represent a new invention or an innovative use of an existing

        technology that surpasses previous or current solutions.


The Judging Rubric

                Finally, applications meeting the above general criteria are evaluated using a systematic judging rubric (scoring tool), established in collaboration with The Tech Museum of Innovation. In each of the categories below, the applicant can receive a  score of between 20 and 40 points, with a total maximum of 200 points for the seven categories combined.


n      Problem Identification

n      Description of Technology Application

n      Explanation of Leading Edge/Breakthrough Technology Characteristics

n      Evidence of Contribution

n      Presentation of Measurable Results

n      Description of Potential Negative or Unintended Consequences

n      Replication Potential Discussion


This elaborate methodology is not without complications. In cases where applications achieve the same/similar rubric point scores, judging panelists discuss contributing circumstances which may alter the final scores. Ultimately, we believe the judges consistently select an inspiring collection of Laureates.


Hallmark Themes for the 2005 Tech Award Laureates

                In reviewing The Tech Awards’ Laureates for 2005, a number of interesting themes emerge. These themes suggest an outline for the broader patterns of innovation that are emerging across developed and developing countries, in diverse cultural contexts, and under widely varying constraints. They illustrate the pathways being forged by individuals and organizations as they strive to foster the common good, eliminate suffering, and advance the prospects for countless millions. They inspire hope and imagination.  And, they light the way for others to follow. These themes are worthy of more than a moments reflection and cause at least some to ponder what can be achieved when human will and imagination come together to contribute to a more perfect world.


Global Knowledge Sharing 

                Now in its fifth year, The Tech Awards have in many ways charted the course of the twenty-first century information age.  Each year the contours of our networked global economy are more evident in the media, but it is through the Awards that we can gain profound insight into the interplay of information technology with culture and societies around the world.  The theme that emerges is clear: as information networks transcend geography, disciplines, and culture they, in turn, redefine our identity and our place in the world.  From sparking the wonder of elementary students through Web-based remote control planetary telescopes to the availability of MIT course materials to users in more than 215 countries, the most salient infrastructure of the twenty-first century is the information network.  Combined with the exponential growth of Web sites and the unquenchable thirst of citizens everywhere for information that is timely, useful, and reliable, these networks have spawned an irrepressible desire for knowledge and an unparalleled opportunity for knowledge sharing.  This thirst for information extends to the area of human rights and also to the affirmative seeking of more transparent systems of governance.  Collaboration across geographies, disciplines, and cultures is a fundamental new feature of the global landscape and of several innovations identified in this year’s Tech Awards.  For example, collaboration between a Canadian University and research institutions in Cuba is being recognized for a breakthrough in synthetic, complex carbohydrate-based vaccines that could become the basis for alternative drug development paradigms for addressing other human pathogens.


Civil Society and Social Entrepreneurs 

                From this year’s Laureates it once again appears to be civil society and the not-for-profit sector that is leading the development of humanity-enhancing innovations. But this first level analysis is somewhat misleading; for-profit organizations, universities, and governments are all players amongst this year’s finalists, and many cross-sector partnerships are evident.  In addition, many non-profits are developing at least nascent business models for generating the revenues needed to become sustainable and scalable “social enterprises.”  SELCO, the Solar Electric Light Company, is a classic example of social benefit entrepreneurship at its best.  Motivated by the humanitarian drive to bring affordable electricity to those who live off the grid, it has developed a profitable supply chain for providing affordable photovoltaic lighting systems and water pumping stations throughout Southern India.



                This year, as in previous years of The Tech Awards, partnering is a common theme.  Applications of technology to serve the common good frequently involve cross-sector collaborations.  “Quad leadership” (the ability to form effective partnerships across the boundaries of civil society, business, government, and universities or research institutions) is a key success factor for many of this year’s Laureates.  The platform for these collaborations is information networks, but it is also credibility, trust, and the ability to foster norms of reciprocity.  The majority of this year’s Laureates have built capacity by creating communities cross networks of resource providers.  They utilize this social capital as currency to become sustainable and serve a larger number of potential beneficiaries.


Triple Bottom Lines 

                If the developing countries were to consume resources as lavishly as rich countries, we would need three additional planets to survive.  All of the Intel Environment Award Laureates point to a brighter prospect: preserving fisheries, utilizing renewable energy sources, eliminating particulate exhaust emissions, and improving fresh water sanitation.  As financially sustainable undertakings, each of these Laureates additionally provides both social and environmental benefits; they are “triple bottom line” organizations.  Interestingly, several other finalists outside of the Environment category are deploying technologies that are environmentally sustainable and far more efficientin the use of increasingly scarce global energy reserves. White LED and solar power applications are once again components of Laureates’ technologies.  Are these technology harbingers of whole new industries that will spring up in the context of declining global fossil fuel reserves? As multi-national companies seek—through corporate social responsibility and sensitivity to the environment—to maintain their legitimacy and reputation, might they learn a great deal from some of this year’s Laureates?  Are there analogs that might extend to their global footprints?

 Appropriate Technology

                 Once again appropriate technology is an important theme for innovations in developing countries.  For example, consider: compressed agricultural fiber panels for attractive, affordable, and earthquake safe housing in Romania; the application of peddle power to produce bio-diesel fuel from seeds and to process food for seasonal storage; and the design of specialty nets to reduce the depletion of the fish stocks that are a primary source of protein and livelihoods in developing countries. All of these projects are examples of technologies adapted to the constraints of life off the grid, off the transportation byways, and where substandard housing and food shortages are chronic realities. Think of “appropriate technology” as doing what can be imagined in the most constrained of infrastructures—where electricity, communications, sanitation, transportation, and other systems that we take for granted are nonexistent.  Cut off from broader global networks, these innovations involve the use of local raw materials with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and livelihoods.  With oil reserves estimated to be sufficient for less than forty years, humanity has much to learn about the use of sustainable, renewable resources from indigenous cultures around the world.



                Affordability is another theme that stands out in this year’s Laureates.   This concept entails using the desired “price” (that users can afford) to determine the design, manufacturing, and distribution “costs” that must be achieved to deliver a quality product at this price to target customers or beneficiaries.  In a sense, this is price-led innovation, be it in the design of inexpensive eye glasses, low-power-usage computers, inexpensive photovoltaic systems that benchmark favorably with kerosene, hearing aids that sell for under $60 per ear as opposed to $1,500, or self-prescription lenses that sell for only $10—making sight improvement a possibility for at least a billion individuals who cannot afford prescription lenses today. Is this—in the words of David Green—a new “compassionate capitalism?”  Is this the key to social entrepreneurs, innovations that will first serve those at the bottom of the pyramid and one day become the disruptive innovations of influential new industry leaders?  History suggests we should pay attention to “weak signals.”  In the 1970’s, low cost, energy efficient, high quality cars from Japan were ultimately to set a new world standard, and in China the unmet need for efficient, compact, and low cost refrigerators led the way for Haier to become the third largest appliance manufacturer in the world. The Laureates may inspire, but they also should cause us to ponder the weak signals of ground level innovators who are imagining new ways to serve unmet human needs. For example, in the context of the ever spiraling cost of health care and the growing legions of uninsured around the world, this year’s Laureates provide food for thought in how to improve affordability.



                The technologies of an information society have the potential to increase disparities or to make the most vulnerable and marginalized full social and economic participants.  On this continuum the early results are clear, most notably in the doubling of income disparities between rich and poor nations over the past forty years.  As is evident from increasing returns to education in the U.S. and elsewhere, information technology and human capital are complementary resources. Those privileged by access to education will do better in our information age while those not so privileged fall further and further behind.  Yet, this year as in past years, The Tech Awards have identified compelling examples of technology contributing not to inequality, but to greater equality by bridging between the global north and the global south (e.g. Canada and Cuba), forming the platform for new communities of practice (e.g. World Fish Center), stimulating the development of new learner centered pedagogies (e.g. In 2Books), empowering women in cultures where they are marginalized (e.g. Malnutrition Matters), and reaching out through assistive technologies to benefit the learning of those with disabilities (e.g. AnthroTronix).


Combinatory Principle in Design and Scaling Up 

                This year’s Laureates underscore that, rather than developing new technology, it is often the creative combination of existing technologies that leads to success.  Perhaps this point is best illustrated by Design that Matters which combines light emitting diodes (LEDS) with low cost optics (think ViewMaster toys), and microfilm  to produce the Kinkajou Projector for improving adult literacy through nighttime courses in Western Africa. Similarly, CEMINA in Rio de Janeiro combines radio with digital satellite technologies, communication hubs, and relevant content to reach illiterate, economically disadvantaged populations and to promote participation in the democratic process. In these and other examples, innovators design “total product solutions” that are in fact creative applications of existing technologies which are melded together with service delivery strategies to address the specific needs of a target “market.”  This “combinatory principle” extends to defining the combination of technological, organizational, and financial resources needed to “scale up” from proof of concept to a sustainable enterprise.



                The articles that follow describe the innovations of the 5 Laureates in each of the 5 Tech Award categories, and illustrate the significant changes these social entrepreneurs are creating. As our observations above suggest, you will see that our Laureates are not just inventors; they are change masters and systems builders.

About the Author

Jim Koch

James L. Koch is Founding Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, Executive Director of the Global Social Benefit Incubator, and Professor of Management at Santa Clara University.   Jim received his MBA and Ph.D. from UCLA.  Prior to founding the Center, he served as Dean of the Leavey School of Business from 1990 to 1996—a period in which the School’s MBA program rose to national recognition.  The Organizational Planning and Development group that he founded and led at PG&E from 1980-1990 received the National Excellence Award for organization development from the American Society for Training and Development.  Jim’s research and consulting focus on socio-technical systems and high performance organizations.  His current work examines information technology and organizational change, social capital, and the psychological sense of community in organizations, and the role of technology in improving the quality of life in developing nations.

About the Author

Geoffrey Bowker

Geoffrey C. Bowker is the Regis and Dianne McKenna Professor at Santa Clara University and Executive Director at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society.  Prior to joining Santa Clara University, Bowker was professor and chair of the Department of Communication, UC San Diego. He studies social and organizational aspects of the development of very large-scale information infrastructures. His first book, Science on the Run, discussed the development of information practices in the oil industry. Along with Leigh Star, he has recently completed a book on the history and sociology of medical classifications, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Practice (1999). Since his invitation to join the biodiversity subcommittee of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, Bowker has been working in the field of biodiversity and environmental informatics. He has just completed a digital government funded project on long term databases in environmental science. He was a 2002-2003 member of an OECD working group on international data sharing in science. He is also working on projects at the San Diego Computer Center and in the Long Term Ecological Research Network on the formative evaluation of scientific cyber infrastructures. Bowker has a Ph.D in history and philosophy of science from Melbourne University.

Printer-friendly format