History of the Sussex Manifesto

Professor Sir Hans Singer considered it one of the three most important reports he had been involved in writing. Given Prof. Singer’s illustrious career spanning seven decades from 1936, that is quite an endorsement. The report in question is The Sussex Manifesto: Science and Technology to Developing Countries during the Second Development Decade (1970).

Professor Geoff Oldham, one of the original report’s co-authors and now working on our New Manifesto project, gave a STEPS Centre seminar in February 2008 about the writing of the Sussex Manifesto, its controversial reception and the impact it had on science and technology for development, almost 40 years after he and the rest of The Sussex Group wrote it.

Prof. Oldham is a former director of SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research, former chairman of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for Development, and for five years was the UK Delegate to the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

He not only gave us a personal potted history of the writing of the Manifesto, but reflected candidly on what he believes The Sussex Group got right, what they got wrong, whether the report made any difference and finally, what he might have included had he helped write the same document today.

The seven-strong Sussex Group – Profs Oldham and Singer, Charles Cooper, R.C. Desai, Christopher Freeman, Oscar Gish and Stephen Hill – were an early example of collaboration between IDS and SPRU at the University of Sussex, which both opened their doors in 1966.

Causing controversy at the UN
The joint IDS/SPRU team, with Prof. Singer as chair, was asked by the Office of Science and Technology at the UN to give an overview of the issues around science and technology for development, complete with diagnostics and some effort at solutions. The commissioned report was intended to serve as the introductory chapter to the UN World Plan of Action on Science and Technology for Development for the ‘Second UN Development Decade’, the 1970s.

“So we were given the opportunity of looking forward 10 years, and the group made some radical suggestions, for the time at least,” said Prof. Oldham. And it was those radical suggestions that garnered a radical response from the UN: they rejected the report. It was too extreme, and it contained ‘targets’. At the time the UN did not consider it appropriate for a group of academics to be advocating targets. The UN claimed ownership over the report and forbid the Sussex Group from publishing it.

After the efforts that had been dedicated to the production of the report, this response was unacceptable. Oldham and Freeman, who had already flown to Ethiopia to represent the Sussex Group, demanded the right to present their recommendations at the dedicated UN meeting in Addis Ababa. They also decided that whether or not the UN would use the report, they were going to publish it anyway because they, quite rightly, believed the work was important.

So they took the highly unusual, some might say inflammatory, step of challenging the UN to sue them. After the mayhem died down, the UN agreed to publish the “manifesto” (as it was later referred to in the UN General Assembly) as an annex to the final report, but that they instead would write the introductory chapter.

Opportunities taken, and missed
Prof. Oldham believes that among the things The Sussex group did well were demonstrating the need for a systems approach for science and technology for development (albeit focussing mainly on science and technology for economic development as defined in their Terms of Reference); showing the need to consider demand for science and technology as well as supply; and developing indicators and targets.

But more prominence should have been given to social and environmental issues, Prof. Oldham said. Making no mention of “innovation” and ignoring implicit science and technology policy in governments’ economic and fiscal policies were failings, he believes. Ethical issues and the gender dimension were also ignored: “In hindsight we should have recognised them but we didn’t do them justice,” he added.

Positive impacts
The Manifesto did have positive impacts, said Prof. Oldham, including raising awareness of science and technology in UN circles, at a time when there was hostility to any increase in expenditure to science and technology; impacting on the design of IDRC – the Canadian International Development Research Centre – and being used for teaching courses in both North and South universities.

But if The Sussex Group was writing the report today, five further issues would be included: globalisation; poverty; market economies; the growth of science and technology capabilities in emerging economies; and the impact of new technologies, such as IT, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

The worlds of science, technology and development have changed beyond recognition since 1970, but in producing such influential reports, Prof. Oldham believes two things remain as important today as they were forty years ago: creating an esprit de corps among group members to build on their strengths and those of their institutions; and being optimistic about the future.


>> The Sussex Manifesto on Wikipedia

>> The 1970 Sussex Manifesto: Science and Technology to Developing Countries during the Second Development Decade (pdf 1.5MB)

>> Science and Technology for Development: Proposals for the Second United Nations Development (email [email protected] to request a copy)

>> Watch the video of Geoff Oldham’s seminar (YouTube)

>> Read Geoff Oldham’s presentation (pdf 44kb)

>> Read the seminar blog

>>See photos (Flickr)