By Elisa Arond, STEPS Centre
Last Tuesday evening was the launch of the book “Science and Innovation for Development” by Prof Sir Gordon Conway (Imperial College, and former chief scientist at the UK Department for International Development), Prof Jeff Waage (Director of the London International Development Centre – LIDC), and Sara Delaney (graduate of the MA in Science, Society, and Development at IDS). They keynote speaker at the launch was Calestous Juma (Harvard University), who wrote the book’s preface.
The book is beautifully laid out like a textbook, with lots of examples, references, colourful tables and figures (marvellously, you can read it online in PDF format). A large part of the book consists of reviews of different technologies relating to development. The reviews use the Millenium Development Goals as a starting point, and focus on agriculture, environment and health (with an unsurprising emphasis on scientific/technical aspects, given the authors’ backgrounds).
The authors of “Science and Innovation for Development” have views which complement the ‘New Manifesto’ project – as well as some important differences of emphasis.
The book’s first 3 chapters are on ‘The Nature and Science of Innovation’; ‘Appropriate Innovation’, and ‘Building Partnerships for Innovation’. At the launch, Gordon Conway and Jeff Waage both talked about the need for focused policies that recognize the vital role that S&T plays in development – particularly, building scientific capacities.
The launch event last Tuesday was chaired by Scotland’s Chief Scientist and UK Collaborative on Development Sciences Chair, Professor Anne Glover, and the panel included Professor Alan Thorpe, Chair of Research Councils UK and CEO of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of Research at DFID and Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
Guy Collender of the London International Development Centre has also written about the book launch.
In his presentation, Jeff Waage said we need to “change the way we do science for development – a model of science created in the North, with a slow transfer to the South”. He suggested focusing on building personal and institutional capacities. Training should focus on empowering scientists, building skills and careers in developing countries, and British scientists must learn to collaborate better, by improving incentives.
According to the book’s authors, development can be strengthened through better innovation systems, as well as support for new technologies and research, including the private sector (if it makes technologies available for development needs). Science and innovation aren’t just a search for technical solutions – they’re also about improving scientific understanding. Policymakers need a better understanding of science and its potential for addressing societal needs.
Other presentations dealt with “appropriate technologies” – that is, technologies which are effective, sustainable, equitable, cheap, and with “no side effects”. Neither high-tech silver bullets nor traditional technologies alone can meet the varied development needs across the globe. Both authors pointed out that ‘traditional’, ‘intermediate’, ‘conventional’, and technology-intensive ‘new platform technologies’ can be part of the mix.
Oddly, there was a notable absence of comments on issues of risk and governance, here and throughout the evening’s presentations. How can you have “no side effects”? When you say “appropriate” technology, who should decide whether or not it’s appropriate? However, the approach of using a mix of technologies and approaches to address development needs does remind me of the “diversity” strand of our New Manifesto project.
Interestingly, the questions from the floor focused on issues of policy with regard to governance, building innovative and institutional capacity, and critiques of general insufficient government support for innovation (at least in the UK) – not all topics within the full focus of the book.
Mark Collins, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, said he sees the book as an evidence base for a programme of action. The UK and Commonwealth are both falling short on supporting the governance of science in both developed and developing countries. We could do more to understand the impact of S&T on society – both in terms of moral and ethical dilemmas, and a need to recognize the different effects of S&T on different societies.
Keith Lewin, of the University of Sussex’s Institute of Education, brought up the point of educational access and brain drain – and the need for fresh thinking to change that consistent problem.
Ken Banks, of Kiwanja.net, which helps non-profit organisations to apply mobile technology, said that there are major barriers to institution-building (such as lack of resources). There’s a lack of innovation funding in the UK, especially compared to the US.
Calestous Juma pointed out that donors aren’t often particularly interested in institution-building: when he started the (now flourishing) African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the Mennonite Central Committee were the only donor who would commit funding. The Victoria Institute of Science and Technology (VIST), an exciting new initiative based in Western Kenya that focuses on fostering enterprise, is having similar challenges, since it’s a “high-risk” endeavour and doesn’t fit with donor priorities.
What’s exciting is to see an engaged audience struggling with these issues – the kind of debates the New Manifesto project aims to encourage further. For me, the comments at the launch underlined that the New Manifesto can make some useful contributions to the governance discussions of ‘who decides’ and ‘how’ – areas where this book may be missing out.
What do those governance arrangements actually look like? That’s challenging! I look forward to seeing what comes out in the forthcoming roundtables and, eventually, the final draft of the STEPS New Manifesto.