The Social Technology Network: A hybrid experiment in grassroots innovation

Working Paper
  • Published 15/07/14
  • ISBN: 978-1-78118-184-3

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Created in 2004 with the arrival of the new center-left government of the Workers Party in Brazil, the Social Technology Network (STN) aimed at fostering a process of social inclusion, public participation and income generation by drawing from existing capabilities in S&T. From the beginning, the STN relied on a hybrid alliance between social movements, NGOs, national institutions and semi-public companies like Banco do Brazil’s Foundation and Petrobras. This allowed the STN to develop a bank of social technologies, scale up experiences at a national scale and reach more than 900 institutional adhesions, including some from other South American countries. However, as the STN started to plan further expansion and larger projects it also faced the limits of its informal structure and crumbled under different expectations and tensions between civil society actors and public institutions.

The short story of Brazil’s STN raises questions about what are the best strategies in the pursuit of grassroots innovation, what should be the role of the State, funders and civil society actors, and how to combine the urge to scale up solutions to poverty situations with the aim of empowering marginalized social actors. In this paper, we analyze the origins and background of the STN, its framing and spaces of development along with exemplary technologies in order to understand how this hybrid grassroots movement attempted to build pathways of social inclusion and sustainable development.