By ADRIAN SMITH, STEPS Centre member
The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg brought forward cross-cutting commitments to a ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable production and consumption systems (i.e. environmentally sound and socially just). An increasing number of governments, businesses and civil society groups are considering how reformed governance might bring such systems into being in areas such as energy, water, housing, food, mobility (e.g. UN Marrakesh-Process).
I co-organised a workshop in Berlin last week to explore the politics and governance implications of such ambitious goals. Commitments to system innovations are based on an understanding that sustainable development requires fundamental structural adaptations to the sociotechnical systems that service and co-constitute human needs. The innovation of more sustainable artefacts and practices cannot be effective without changes to the broader contexts in which they are produced and used.
The workshop brought together leading thinkers in the fields of governance studies and socio-technical transitions research. Many themes were discussed during the workshop, and each explored in a wide variety of cases, ranging from biofuels in Brasil, to the life cycle of electronic products, to sanitation reforms in Indian cities, to ambitions for renewable energy autarky in southern Austria, and many more.
Themes included how to think about systems reflexively, and ensure that any possibility for purposefully guiding their development avoids the technocratic pitfalls of earlier systems theories. Building on this was a re-consideration of the bases for democratic legitimacy in many of the fluid governance networks that are emerging to address persistent problems of unsustainability in key socio-technical systems around water, energy, housing, mobility, and so on.
Indeed, papers provided contrasting entry points to thinking about the make-up and extent of these systems. Some argued systems had to be considered as the emergent outcome of millions of every-day practices that effectively and perpetually re-make them. Attempts to transform the sustainability of water systems, for example, have to be re-framed and considered from the vantage point of final practices, such as showering, and consider how governance struggles to re-frame the meanings of these practices in more sustainable terms, and how these are co-produced by the provision of new elements, including mundane plumbing technologies, or new institutions for water provision.
Other papers took a more top-down view of their systems, and urged more synoptic overviews of the way governance engages with the complex configurations of institutions, technologies, actors, and environments. A strategic and synergistic portfolio of governance activities termed ‘transition management’ that emerged from the latter view was the subject of much debate.
Either view – whether objectifying systems analysis or constructivist practices research - places considerable demands upon the capacity of governance. The possibility of different participants in these systems of provision to have sufficient agency to overcome and remake the structural nature of the inter-locking relations that make up the system was a recurring theme at the workshop.
The organizers, which included Jan-Peter Voss from the Oeko Institut and John Grin from the University of Amsterdam are considering publishing a selection of the papers in a Special Issue journal. Read more
Monday, 24 September 2007
By ADRIAN SMITH, STEPS Centre member
Friday, 21 September 2007
By LYLA MEHTA, STEPS Centre member
The conference laid bare the ideological and socio-political differences between the promotion of elite institutions and supervised learning as opposed to unsupervised and more organic forms of experimentation and learning in technological innovation. We had an overdose of the former with the presentations on the Millennium Project and the Chief Scientist's call for African institutes of excellence.
While we as a development studies community need to engage with mainstream processes and solutions promoted by the Commission on Africa and the Millennium Project, are we giving too much importance to these dominant perspectives, instead of engaging with and promoting the alternative perspectives of Paul Richards and Robert Chambers?
I was very disappointed with the speech by David King. It had a very top down view of science and technology. It also had some factual flaws: For example, The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) did not promote the Green Revolution in India. It was encouraging and important that Professor Shiv Visvanathan from India forcefully challenged the Chief Scientist on this issue.
It was problematic that David King was extolling Indian IIT type institutions and their potential to address the problems in Africa. Unlike what he implied, the IITs in India haven't really addressed the country's basic problems regarding food, water, sewage and sanitation.
Many IIT graduates go onto study in management institutes and then land up in national and global corportations. While such centres of excellence certainly play an important role, it would be wrong to assume that that elite institutions are the best placed to create skills that would address the MDGs. Instead, elite institutions and their solutions can be very ignorant of and insensitive to local conditions and needs and may also be a part of the problem.
Thursday, 20 September 2007
And as we draw to a close at DSA 2007, we have a diverse set of panellists to give us some reflections on this year's conference. And they are quite controversial reflections: "It's like being in groundhog day," says the DSA's own president.
Joachim Voss, director-general at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia says he came to the conference because of a concern that science and technology need to be more pro-poor. But says there is very little cross-fertilation between the work he does - research FOR development and the work that most people at the DSA do - research ON development. “What do we need to do to initiate that dialogue?” is his concluding thought.
Andrew Scott, director of policy at Practical Action, says there has been an absence of natural science at the conference, and got a sense that the DSA audience was slightly uncomfortable with the subject when it was mentioned. And given that science and technology is a hot topic, he has been struck by the lack of argument and heated debate. One reoccurring theme has been looking to the past, “which made me wonder what has changed,” he said. “And I’m not sure I got an answer to that.” There have been some thoughts about what the big development challenges are which David King was getting to last night when he talked about the world's population flattening out, says Scott. "But I think the question is what standard of living can people aspire to, and how can we make that equal."
Shiv Visvanathan sees two things - the making of the problem and the response to the problem. "What we are watching here is a fascinating attempt to reinvent democracy," says Visanathan. He sees STEPS as an attempt to respond to these two issues in three specific ways – as trying to work out a new kind of social contract in terms of the politics of memory; the politics of history – a new form of story-telling; and thirdly ritually finishing a form of mourning – as we attempt to bring together some new forms of innovative thinking. "We serve as memory, methodologists and critics – can we be both innovators and story-tellers?" he asks in conclusion.
Sam Jackson, the president of the DSA, says throughout this conference she feels like she has been trapped in groundhog day, hearing the same stuff over and over again: “I find myself slightly frustrated by the sense of being not able to move forward because there is a re-living instead of moving forward.”
Lack of international voices and a hope for the growth of interdisciplinary studies are two more views from the floor.
“The glaring gap I see here is the private sector, apart from the person from Monsanto," adds Voss. "The key actors in all of this are BP, Shell and such. So how do we democratise the large scale private sector so that it becomes responsible to the poor of the planet?”
STEPS is a great vehicle to tackle some of these issues but what we need to do is take the learning from STEPS and stick it into policy-making,” adds Scott.
Lawrence Haddad, diretor of IDS, has the final word, or rather words: development studies has to get engaged with science and technology."Ultimately it can't be about 'us and them' - not ignoring, glorifying or vilifting science, but engaging with it."
And that's it from DSA 2007, you can see more news and views about the conference on the DSA's official conference blog. We'll be back on The Crossing blog with more news and views from the the STEPS Centre soon.
The final plenary session of this year's DSA sees Sheila Jasanoff of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard, founder of the Science and Democracy Network and a STEPS Centre Advisory Board member talking on one of her specialist subjects - rethinking risk and regulation. (Photo: Sheila Jasanoff)
Jasanoff, fresh off a plane from Boston, quips that any lack of coherence that we hear in her speech is a deliberate normative position to leave things desirably open-ended. She then launches in to a quick run through a catalogue of risk from 1976 Seveso accident in Italy through to Bhopal in 1984, Chernobyl in 1986 and hurricane Katrina in 2005 with several stops along the way.
And over this 30 year history of risk, law, politics, policy and scholarship has attempted respond to risk, starting with the US Supreme Court’s ‘benzene decision’ on occupational exposure 27 years ago (1980) to the Court’s decision against the Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gases earlier this year.
It is possible to draw a distinction between the technocratic approach and the social-culture approach to risk. At the centrepiece of the former is risk defined in terms of probability of harm and magnitude of harm. The risk assessment is then communicated, economic trade-offs are assessed, public perceptions of risk are measured and new management institutions are established.
Central to the social-cultural approach is putting risk in context – how risks are recognised, distributed and why some risks are not acknowledged. The cultural dimensions of risk are investigated – why are there differences in risk perception and acceptance across nations and how does politics affect recognition, assessment and management of risk.
“When we think about major events in the world technocratic approach has produced some remarkable areas of blindness. One is the way in which risks were or were not seen in run up to 9/11,” said Jasanoff. “Although there had been previous attacks on the twin towers, they were understood as one thing alone – an office building – and not as objects that participate in other kind of networks...Nor were they seen as targets for military action nor was there symbolic attraction thought about by risk assessment.”
And when discussing the stresses that the towers could withstand, structural engineers had not thought about a fully-loaded plane – full loaded with fuel or people. Meanwhile airport security was ‘fighting the last war’ and suicide attacks with planes were not imagined, although they were forewarned. “Risk assessments are only as deep and rich and good as the imagination of the people sitting around the table and those imaginations are often incredibly constrained,” says Jasanoff.
Its interesting how powerful the technological fix remains, she says, citing the US Challenger disaster and UK BSE crisis (the first time around) as examples. 9/11 has also been translated in to a number of technological solutions – the war on terror, airport security - as has Hurricane Katrina – building higher levees and the ‘de-concentration’ of poverty, a terms that sees poverty as something that can be put in solution to dissipate it.
There’s something wrong with the term risk, thinks Jasanoff, it relies too much on a single point of origin from which measurable outputs emanate. Should we not be thinking about risk hand-in-hand with theories of political economy and geo-politics? A sense of scale is also often missing from risk assessment – for instance the large numbers of farmer suicides in India.
So how should we think about the agenda of risk analysis, especially in the development studies context? The technical approach does not make sense unless the social is kept in mind. Most risky situations and disasters are always hybrids in that sense. But he social dimensions of risk are the least studies and understood. The boundaries of risk need to be re-examined: boundaries between kinds of risk, between analysis, management and prevention and between ways of knowing and understanding risk.
And finally the normative dimension needs to be restored: how do risks affect people and who has the power to create new risks? Who is able to participate in, influence and act on controls and how should history matter in regulation?
Examining the 'pro-poor consensus' on biotechnology: a moveable boundary between public and private is the subject for the final STEPS panel session. (Photo: Glover, Brooks, Ely)
The three STEPS members taking part in the panel this morning span several aspects of Centre's work: STEPS Research Officer and IDS DPhil student Sally Brooks, STEPS Research Fellow at SPRU Adrian Ely and IDS DPhil and STEPS post-doctoral fellow Dominic Glover.
Development studies has elaborated a number of critiques and deconstructions of cardinal myths about agricultural biotechnology, especially GM crops, as an indispensable technology for solving world hunger and poverty. But this panel wants to challenge these critiques to see if they add up to a substantial alternative.
Glover kicks off with a series of claims about GM crops that have been discredited by research including that GM tech is scale-neutral and accessible to the floor because the technology is in the seed; that GM seeds are expensive but increase yields; that more production of GM crops will prevent more marginal land being taken into production; and that small farmers’ choice of GM technology demonstrates its suitability and effectiveness – in effect it is a vote of confidence, claims Monsanto and others.
But “We want to ask question the notion of a pro-poor biotechnology and ask if the public-private dichotomy is helpful or harmful?” says Glover. “We see an almost a happy assumption that best of public and the best of private is the end of the discussion and we can move on to the delivery of technology.”
His PhD has focussed on the Monsanto Smallholder programme which ran between 1999 and 2002 in Mexico, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Kenya, which he says was a company’s attempt to grapple with the idea of sustainability. A possibly surprising view, he says. Glover explored why a big company like this would engage in this kind of research and how they went about it.
The top line of why they did is was partly in response to backlash agasint biotech among consumer dev campaigners and anti-globa active, partly about learning how to enage with smallholders and also about market development, about MOnsabnto’s competitive positioning and about managerial control in St Louis, the Monsanto HQ. It was not merely cynical PR – it did include a genuine philanthropic desire, says Glover.
How the company went about it – a small staff working on the programme relied on sale and marketing colleague to implement it on the ground and this gradually changed what the project was about. It as supposed to be about meeting farmers needs, it shifted towards the promotion of Monsanto products and as financial pressure came to bear on Monsanto, it increasingly began to revolve around meeting sales targets.
The gap between the philanthropy and the sale targets created a tension and meant the programme had to be reconceptualised. It became to be seen as a strand of its business between core operations and pure philanthropy – as development as transition. And through that concept Monsanto came to see market expansion for the company as harmonious with farmers’ needs.
But Glover concludes that we need more than a trickle-down critique of responsiveness and accountability. We need to look at who calls the shots, set s the agenda and who is accountable. Monsanto’s programme assumed and constructed what the smallholders needs were, the farmers were mobilised to undermine opposition to GM technology. It overlooked participatory processes to agricultural technology development. The quasi-development and philanthropic notions of the programme proved not to be very robust because it was integrated in to the business side of Monsanto.
Sally Brooks now steps up to talk about her PhD research and will continue to explore the public-private distinction, asking ‘are we moving towards public-private partnerships for international public goods?’ Her research focuses on biofortification research about rice.
Biofortification R&D moved from small scale, decentralised efforts in the 1990s to a global programme by 2003. The ways in which a convergence of language is happening within the public and private sectors and big philanthropists like Gates, which means the public/private distinction is probably not helpful any more, says Brooks.
First, some history: Golden Rice – rice fortified with beta-carotene – began as a public sector research project at ETH in Switzerland with Rockerfeller, EU and Swiss government funding. When they succeeded in getting the beta-carotene into rice they discovered a number of conflicts over the use of some privately-owned technology that had been used. So the technology was handed over to Zeneca (Syngenta) and licensed back to the inventors, which was heralded as a breakthrough in pub-private partnerships.
But at this time, around 2000, the efficacy and appropriateness of Golden Rice, and the ownership that had been transferred to Syngenta, began to be called in to question. But by narrowing the debate to proof of concept – that Golden Rice could be done – pushed out the questions over appropriateness and ownership, which was then transferred to IRRI.
Brooks says the Golden Rice project is an example of a ‘shift upstream’ - a reassertion of research outputs as international public goods and that CG centres have moved from being the ‘do-ers’ of research to the ‘brokers’ in international research networks.
Emerging themes include a convergence of language, frames ad style between public and private organisations and the assumption that their agendas and cultures are reconcilable within ‘win-win’ partnerships, she says.
The implications include a loss of accountability as hierarchies are obscured and a centralisation of responsiveness as pressure to simplify and decontextualise comes to bear.
Now Adrian Ely very briefly talks about his research on Bt maize in Africa and the IRMA - Insect Resistant Maize for Africa - public-private partnership project funded (indirectly) by Syngenta, which, unlike Glover’s Monsanto example, was not aiming to deliver its own technology. The programme has delivered insect resistance traits in maize (both storage and crop pests), but it has not yet delivered anything that can be described as ‘pro-poor’ transgenic technology.
And, something of a first for this conference in my experience, the panel gets delegates involved at the sharp end of the session by splitting them in to two groups and asking them to discuss a new rubric for assessing the GM crop agenda and its impacts on farmers and consumers. Well done for mounting some on-the-spot participatory research rather than just talking about it Sally, Dominic and Adrian. And it certainly works in terms of getting a good debate going. It's actually hard to get the delegate to stop debating and start listening to some of the ideas thrown out.
How radical is the change in the global distribution of innovation activities is the question up for discussion first this morning here at Sussex.
The answer is “yes, no and I don’t know” says Martin Bell of SPRU Science and Technology Research here at the University of Sussex, who hopefully will explain a little about that response.
Answer 1 – yes – is because global R&D in developing counties has increased from 2% share of gross expenditure in 1970 to 21% in 2000. But what about innovation-effective R&D? Answer 2 – no – is because in the developing countries outside of NICs and China, share of gross expenditure on R&D has hardy improved on the 2% in 1970, up to just 3.4%. Answer 3 – don’t know - is because the data is so woefully bad as to make it practically useless.
Christina Chaminade from the University of Lund, Sweden, agrees that, yes, the data is useless but she has come to a different conclusion to Bell.
There has been 6% R&D in developing countries 2005 but 52% of R&D sites are in US, 22% in Europe, and 90% of world R&D is based in the US and Europe, Lund says.
However, something is changing she believes. Between 1990-2000 some countries moved from one technology club to another. China has abandoned the marginalised technology club and Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are now in the advanced technology club.
In just one decade China and India now host 18% R&D sites, up from 8% in 1997. R&D expenditure in China has increased 24% p.a. since 1999. So, says Chaminade, the question is WILL global innovation distribution change given current pace, and will it be global, or just China and India?
Raphie Kaplinsky of the Open University begins with some quotes from Alice in Wonderland to the ends of running faster and faster just to keep up, just like global innovation, he says. It is no longer just about product, but where you position yourself in the global value chain. And we have to think about the global innovation change in terms of what type of R&D countries can take part in. The capacity to move from process to product and function upgrading depends on what market you are selling to. The key challenge for developing countries is to move the buyer, he reckons.
Chaminade now takes a look at China and India, their heavy investment in R&D and the two-way flow to and from those countries, and has a perhaps surprising point of view: “While there is a lot of investment we do not believe China and India will become in short term an innovation hub because there are too many structural problems [within the countries].” Current data is based on very limited data and more research is needed on processes and innovation capabilities – escaping the R&D trap, she says.
But Kaplinksy disagrees. He says: “The pace of catch up in the Asian drivers is overwhelming and I have no doubt they are becoming hubs of innovation and in much faster time than any of us thought possible.”
The reasons he lists for coming to this conlusion include the very substantial increase in the number of home-grown scientists; the significance of the ‘brain drain’ – returning scientists; productivity growth which induces innovation; plus very high rates of savings. – which in China is 48% GDP.
But, as we are at the DSA conference, what does this mean for developing countries? Bell argues that the policy thrust at national level in Africa and donor policies are focusing on the wrong places – in the areas where the gaps are least and not greatest and where the activities and capabilities are most important.
Kaplinsky talks about sub-Saharan Africa where he believes there is a failure of the economic machine – “without growth you are unlikely to get innovation”. But the quality of manpower in Africa is a ”very substantial latent potential” that could rival what has happened in China and India. The idea that selling to export markets means growth of productivity is not true, and selling in to the global economy is not necessarily the way forward, Kaplinsky says.
The growth in inter-regional trade, between African economies, is growing faster than trade with countries outside Africa, he says, adding that Africa’s trade with itself is much more technology intensive. “We are living in an insecure world and Africa will find itself in a more closed environment before and the innovation path there may get more focussed on the domestic needs of people in Africa.”
Ian Scones, co-director of the STEPS Centre asks a question of the panel. Why has no-one talked about the direction of change and asked technology for whom? Can the panel focus less on the flawed macro-economics and more on the politics, direction and consequences of innovation?
Bell attempts to answer – he says the macro-economics were what they were asked to talk about, but says they all did attempt to move away from it. However he agrees with Scoones and says it is important to bring the issue of direction of innovation to the surface. The internalisation of innovation activity is key in shifting the direction ot more pro-poor and sustainable directions.
Shiv Visvanathan, a member of the STEPS Advisory Board, says: “I was stunned by the sentimentality of the session.” and reiterates Scoones’ position.
Posted by Julia Day at 08:34
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Today technology is discussed as a source of anxiety, uncertainty and risk and this session looks at the politics and ethics of risk and regulation of biotechnology. Here to examine the socio-technical frameworks of agro-biotechnology in India and Latin America are Prof. Rajeev Gowda of the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, Suman Sahai of India's Gene Campaign and STEPS members Esha Shah, Adrian Ely and Patrick van Zwanenberg.(Photo: Suman Sahai)
We’ll hear some Indian perspectives first, from Prof. Gowda to start, talking about managing risk in Bt cotton use in India, where the government response to biotechnology risk has been a top-down process with elaborate regulatory mechanisms, he says. The Monsanto-MAHYCO example of scientific tests of Bt cotton seeds was elaborate, science-driven and attracted much NGO scrutiny, but the cotton was allowed. But regulators grant approval based on safety measures, and the assumption that these measures can be policed, but small farmers are unable to comply.
Meanwhile, down on the farm in Gujarat farmers were found to be planting seeds with Bt cotton in it, although the seeds were not from Monsanto, they were from Navbharat. Destruction was ordered, but didn’t happen and the seeds went back into circulation – it was a regulatory stalemate.
What can we say about the risk-management process? “We have interests that are talking past each other,” says Gowda. The assessment of Bt cotton risk is contentious and the inadequacy of the enforcement of power is obvious. To improve the process we need to integrate other voices and representation of the farmers, but even within the farming community there are divergent interests, scales and views. It is a big challenge.
Suman Sahai, who has been involved in campaigns and cases on this issue for many years, takes the floor. “Regulation in India bypasses bio-safety,” she says, as an opener to a look at the regulatory process. The regulatory body is GEAC, and it lacks technical competence, says Sahai, there are no food safety, population geneticists or ecologists in there. Plus it is not transparent and because of that there is no public accountability.
So what does Sahai think needs to happen? Firstly GEAC needs to be transparent and accountable. Her Gene Campaign recommends that the regulatory structure is divided into an advisory function and a statutory body of scientists that do risk assessment. We need time and a budget and public participation to set up a good regulatory system.
“We are in a country where there is an enormous amount of indigenous knowledge…and this needs to be brought in to the regulatory process,” says Sahai.
A third perspective comes from STEPS member Esha Shah who gives us an historical perspective on this debate about Bt cotton, taking us on a ride across a century and a half in the life of the cotton pest during which it insecticide triumphed over cultural methods of control and insects were elevated from being a nuisance to a threat. In conclusion Shah says that a major problem today is the absence of history and lack of scrutiny of the regulatory options in the past.
Adrian Ely now brings in some examples from his work on risk and regulation in the US and EU. Unlike the US where an administrative body formulated the regulation around GM crops, in the EU it was debated in Parliament. So whereas, in the EU, many ecological uncertainties have been highlighted, this has not happened to the same extent in the US.
Paddy van Zwanenberg brings in experience from Argentina where he has looked at the ungovernability of seeds. The disputes there are not about risk but about access and ownership, such as a long-running row between Monsanto and the government over collection of royalties. The debate then is about where in the chain of production you extract property rights – at the seed, or when the seed has been grown. Monsanto has gone so far as to threaten to pull out of the Argentinian market.
We have to think beyond the conventional framings of these debates, says Ian Scoones, co-director of the STEPS Centre, and that is what the STEPS risk and technology and risk and regulation projects intend to do. “We have to explore actively how to govern the ungovernable,” he says.
Simon Maxwell of the Overseas Development Institute chairs the session with Paul Richards of Wageningen University and Pedro Sanchez, director of the Millennium Villages Project, The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Sanchez is first up, talking about the African Green Revolution and the Millennium Development Goals, which his Villages project suggested a budget of $110capita/yr to achieve in rural Africa.
At Addis Ababa in July 2005 Kofi Annan called for a Green Revolution for Africa, with agriculture at its centre but with nutrition, making markets, politics and sustainability at its core. And what happened? Sanchez gives Malawi’s experience as an example with a 75% subsidy of fertilisers resulting in an increase of maize production and yield doubling for some small farmers.
The Villages idea captured the idea of philanthropists and raised $150m in six months, resulting in 12 Millennium Villages in Africa. The idea behind the villages is that communities need to be empowered with science-based innovation while tackling hunger, disease and water are the priorities.
Food aid from the US costs $670/ton, locally produced food costs $240/ton but using fertiliser and seeds it costs $77 to produce an extra ton of food, says Sanchez. Malaria bed nets have been used to dramatically decrease the number of malaria cases while a range of small scale entrepreneurial initiatives are aimed at getting people out of the poverty trap.
Paul Richards takes the floor now and promises to offer some real alternatives to Sanchez's Green Revolution, in fact Richards' presentation is called Green Revolution Or What? It's the 'or what' - the bottom-up model - that he wants to talk about.
Putting “farmers first” is not enough, says Richards, who believes that we need an approach that puts engineering centre stage. He is interested in developing the theory and practice of unsupervised learning – and believes the Green Revolution is supervised learning. Believing that Artificial Intelligence research can play a central role in alternative models, Richards has been working on the notion of seed systems as neural artificial networks.
So the radical alternative question Richards proposes is whether it could be possible to engineer a genetic network for food security that does not require supervised learning.
Rice in West Africa is his example – interspecific rice (nerica and farmer hybrids). Richards says the Green Revolution induces spread of innovation by showing the seed system the ‘correct’ pattern. But an alternative can be based on unsupervised learning that already takes place, he adds, whizzing through some very big and interesting ideas very quickly, too quickly for your correspondent here to fathom, I'm afraid. So instead you can have a look at his presentation.
And so, to the questions from the floor, the one everyone wants the answer to: are these two approaches complimentary or opposing? The answer, well, Sanchez is polite and says they can be complementary, we want the best of science, whatever that is, says Sanchez.
Richards says he’s talking about organising a network of scientific investigation involving poor people themselves, not about laboratory science. Pressed by Maxwell to say whether he would close down the Villages project Richards says no, there is a role for it. Again, maybe not the answer people were expecting. Financing and incentives and institutions are the things that need to be looked at to make sure that there can be some collaboration.
Robert Chambers of IDS tackles Sanchez about the Villages project, acknowledging the energy and enthusiasm of the project but appealing for alternatives that could spread much more quickly.
Maxwell says that the Villages project is the overwhelmingly successful policy narrative of our day, and if we don’t agree with it then we have to come up with something else. One delegate asks if Villages is a classic 1960s policy, and Sanchez does agree that it is ‘back to the future’, but says: “We are learning, but we cannot wait around. Human poverty can be stripped out in Africa, there are things coming in to place that I have not seen in my entire life and we have to go forward and we can win.”
Richards says he is in favour of the Villages project but wants it to be monitored so there can be some learning at the end of it.
Maxwell urges delegates to keep on with this debate through the Future Agriculture Consortium (an affiliated STEPS project) among other things.
For the second in our series of STEPS Centre panel sessions we have Cecilia Tacoli of the International Institute of Environment and Development, Prof. Ian Douglas, Emeritus Professor at the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester and Usha Ramanathan of the International Environmental Law Research Centre in New Delhi. Joining them are STEPS members Linda Waldman, Hayley McGregor and Lyla Mehta. (Photo: Usha Ramanathan)
The peri-urban issue is a very challenging area and a grey-area for policy-makers, says Lyla Mehta opening the session, and the STEPS peri-urban project based in Delhi hopes to explore the juxtaposition of urban and rural activities and institutions and the challenges for health and livelihood security of the marginalised and the poorest.
And to our first guest speaker, Ian Douglas, to talk now on environmental change at the peri-urban interface. Douglas has worked for the past 10 years with another STEPS member, Fiona Marshall, on the peri-urban environment. Peri-urban sprawl is a big driver in Asian cities right now – in China, in Borneo – and changes that affect the peri-urban area, such as climate change, happen very rapidly. “So we have a rapid change in space and one of the dynamics of the peri-urban environment is that the peri-urban area itself is changing at the same time – what is peri-urban now might be urban soon. So if you put in infrastructure now, you have to think of what the consequences are for that area in the future,” says Douglas.
Peri-urban areas are important to different people in multiple ways – the area means different things to different people and is used in different ways, says Douglas, showing examples of Rosario in Argentina where the peri-urban space varies from hand-built shelters, to smart housing and massive motorways. So the multiple uses of the peri-urban environment produce plenty of opportunity for conflict.
One of the big issues for planning and managing peri-urban agriculture is how to get participation of stakeholders in the planning process. Key issues for policy-makers and communities include local decision making, access to urban services for the poor, security of peri-urban land tenure, the just application of existing laws and rural action to prevent migration to cities.
“We need to get integrated approach for poverty, waste and agriculture,” says Douglas, and take in to account the formal and informal ways administration, decision-making and political power work in the peri-urban environment. “So we possibly have to think about the peri-urban landscape as a hybrid landscape...so it is a scientific, social and political challenge.”
Linda Waldman now talks about her research on asbestos-related diseases in South Africa and the UK, in which she has explored the interface between medical and legal categories and how people think about their bodies and the disease they have. In India, it is asbestos cement factories that create hazardous zones but the Indian government does not recognise that there is a risk, so the debate is framed in a different way.
In India a new approach to disease and disaster-management has been put forward that uses spiritual knowledge to ward off disease – so as a result workers are therefore to blame for disease and they should seek to rectify the situation by seeking spiritual guidance. “My point is how we frame understandings of diseases – how people and institutions – will affect process and whether things will benefit or penalise the poor,” Waldman concludes.
Medical anthropologist Hayley MacGregor takes the floor now and talks about her work in South Africa’s informal shack settlements, where no national healthcare provision, high infant mortality, high unemployment and violence. She was interested to find out how people thought the environment impacted on their health, and especially on mental health. She argues that living in informal settlements epitomised a sense of marginalisation, of failed expectations and of being forgotten in a new political era as the government of South Africa changed.
“How do we make sense of the peri-urban area?” asks Cecilia Tacoli. She says that starting from an urban perspective helps because the urban area is the driver for changes in its immediate area. “Ofcourse the peri-urban areas are extremely diverse and the only generalisation you can really make is that upstream areas are more desirable than downstream areas,” says Tacoli.
Talking of south east Asia, Tacoli says there is a radical change of occupation as people move into peri-urban areas and move away from agriculture. But peri-urban villages are still villages and they do not have the capacity to deal with urban issues – this is where the question of governance comes into play, she says.
“We need to deal with urbanisation, as urbanisation is going to happen,” concludes Tacoli. “The decisions of cities are largely undemocratic process with decisions and poor people have little say.”
Usha Ramanathan now focuses on the legal aspects of slums in Delhi. The Delhi development masterplan in 1962 included space for ‘economically weaker sections’ and therefore poorer people were a part of development. But at the same time the estate agencies were given power to buy up land for development but were hopelessly inefficient at turning out housing stock, plus there has been a lot of corruption, says Ramanathan.
Although later on the government acknowledged the underperformance in lower cost housing, the law is often forgotten when looking at how people move around. And in Delhi demolition is as much a part of the city’s life as the beautification of it – the building of elegant skyscrapers, for instance. And it is the language of encroachment has made it very easy to demolish the homes of the poor, sometimes with a day’s notice and sometimes none.
The use of peri-urban areas for landfills and waste disposal is something we’ve seen a lot of, says Ramanathan, and the courts have been at the forefront of this issue to decide what is in the public interest. And often the courts say “give unto garbage what you cannot give unto the poor.”
Good morning and welcome back to Sussex for the second day of DSA 2007. We kick off today with what promises to be a very lively debate about biotechnology and the media with a panel that spans journalism, science, academia and big business, Monsanto to be exact. (Photo: Erik Millstone)
Chairing the session is David Dickson, the director of SciDev.Net and freelance journalist Ehsan Masood joins the panel which also includes Erik Millstone, SPRU Professor of science policy and co-convenor of the STEPS Centre's agriculture and food programme, Rod Harbinson, head of the environment programme at The Panos Institute, and Ranjana Smetacek, director of global biotech acceptance at Monsanto. Debate begins at 09.30 BST.
Dickson welcome address begins with an example of the controversy that can surround biotechnology – the brouhaha over the reporting of Kofi Annan’s “no to GM crops” debate at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) earlier this year The media stories around Annan’s comment, or reported comments fed in to NGOs and back and the debate got red hot and ran and ran.
GM is a media-friendly and NGO-friendly issue that can be turned in to an “apparently black and white issues” says Dickson, but it obscures the real nature of the issues: “It is not black and white and trying to force people in to camps is not helpful. It reduces political dynamics to an issue of scientific safety.” GM is a “lightening rod” debate says Dickson, “And much of the debate is about the power and control of corporations as much as the environmental impact. It is a way of raising the debate, but can also imbalance it,” he adds.
And now for some thoughts from the first panellist Ehsan Masood, who starts controversially with: “If you see a story in a mass market newspaper about GM, don’t believe it.”
The internet has swept away the old daily routine of reporting and the quality of information has suffered as journalists have to file more stories throughout the day for the web, the paper while recording a podcast and video. So stick with the specialist publications if you are really interested in this debate, says Masood.
Masood authored a Panos report - The GM Debate – Who Decides? An analysis of decision-making about genetically modified crops in developing countries - to unpack a bit about where the decisions about GM are made, and a survey of the media coverage of the debate. How free is a writer and who has access are the two main questions asked in the media part of the report.
Masood’s final point is about public relations, or the dark arts, as journalists like to refer to the profession. With the time pressure of the 24/7 news agenda, PR has become an increasing source of stories for journalists – whereas once journalists had time to find their own stories. The other point is that the news agenda changes so quickly, there is less likelihood of one story dominating the press.
Now Erik Millstone takes the floor. He’s well-placed to comment on Masood’s comment of ‘don’t believe the press’, says Dickson, because there is an article about his work in the Guardian today.
Millstone kicks off with the idea that media reportage is a highly plural term, the media is not on just one side of the GM debate: “Print and broadcast media constitute a well-differentiated cacophony,” says Millstone. And there is also a policy cacophony.
And, Millstone says, this may shock some people, but he believes this media and policy cacophonies are to be welcomed and has beneficial consequences in terms of the ways in which “we have, as scholars, conceptualised science in terms of policy-making and in practice in the way that policy-making has been institutionally structured and organised.”
The cacophony has discredited some simplistic representations of this debate, says Millstone. The first representation to be discredited is what he calls the technocratic model – that policy is based only on sound science. That model was torpedoed by the cacophony and it revealed the uncertainties. Now on to the Red Book model – that policy-making should be a two-pronged process that science does a risk assessment and then values and practicalities, the politics, comes in to view. But this has also been torpedoed by the cacophony because it revealed that it revealed uncertainties and competing risk assessment policy framing assumptions. And then there comes the co-evolutionary ‘transparent’ model: that there are reciprocal links between science and policy. So, for debunking over-simplistic models, this cacophony is inevitable and beneficial and should be welcomed concludes Millstone.
Ranjana Smetacek steps up now and immediately quips that she is “stepping in to the lion’s den”. There is a struggle with mainstream media, she says: “Are they there to convey the accurate truth or are they a slick package to be sold?” Media in the west is instant, says Smetacek. “And given that we have instant journalism, what works better is instant slogans such as soundbites that capture the public imagination. Some of the opponents of biotech have done this very well.”
The GM debate is not black and white, says Smetacek, but it is the mainstream media that gets messages out to more people, she says, countering Masood’s point. Moving on to her experience working in India by making the point that even in this day of instant media, there are people out there trying to write balanced, fair stories in India, “And that’s the best we can hope for in this debate – balance,” she concludes.
Rod Harbinson begins his address by saying he sees his role at Panos as stimulating the cacophony that Millstone talked about, and to have some level of quality about it – so that journalists have some quality information, particularly in the developing world where this is sadly lacking, Harbinson says.
The cacophony doesn’t exist to such an extent in the developing world and the debate about these issues is few and far between. The breadth of sources journalists refer to is very few and government announcements are very high on the list of sources that journalists quote. There is an important role for the media to generate debate and provide scrutiny about the GM debate.
Other positive dynamics of the media and its reporting on biotech include involving the public and stakeholders in the debate, and disseminating accurate messages on GM, as well as new media helping citizens have their own views represented in policy-making domains.
But on the negative side in developing countries are worries about stories being spiked (axed) by media owners because of worries about offending advertisers, and the possibility of self-censorship – a difficultly in China, for instance. Press junkets paid for by corporations, misinformation due to self-interest and misinformation due to journalists not understanding the issues and having a poor skills base – a huge problem in developing countries, says Harbinson.
“I’d like to hear how much proponents of GM would like to take part in participatory meetings with the people they purport to benefit, such as small, poor farmers,” he concludes.
And now for some thoughts from the panellists on what the other panellists have said as well as some questions from delegates. Smetacek questions whether its developing country journalists that are the ones giving out misinformation, and she launches in to some choice headlines from the UK press including: “Fears about killer crops” from the Guardian and “Can Frankenstein foods harm your baby” from the Daily Mail. “I wonder if it’s not the developing world where you really have to play to the gallery,” she observes.
Smetacek goes on to point out that in India one of the problems of getting across the nuances of the GM debate is that there are 17 officially-recognised languages: “It is important to raise the level of debate and it is important to recognise that just as journalists have agenda, so does just about everybody else.”
On the point of reaching out to farmers, she says they do need a voice and there are some efforts to do just that, but it was unclear if Monsanto was involved in the efforts she was talking about.
Harbinson said one of the problems he encounters is journalists sitting at internet terminals in capital cities and not getting out and about. He also felt strongly that “the target for GM crops is small, poor farmers, yet they are almost entirely excluded from this debate.”
Millstone agrees that farmers’ voices have not been heard and that this is a problem the STEPS Centre hopes to address.
Masood responds to a question about user-generated content, and says there is not much in agricultural biotech because of the cost and access issues, but added that the user-generated content we see on the 10 o’clock news is all paid for. So it is another blurring of the lines between user and producer.
Harbinson mentions some of the initiatives Panos is undertaking to help boost the voices of poor farmers including a very interesting sounding project called radio listening clubs whereby programmes are made for farmers, for instance, and their discussion after hearing the programme is also recorded and then played back to policy-makers – “it’s a complete feedback loop” he says.
. Read more
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
STEPS PANEL SESSION 1 - PATHWAYS TO SUSTAINABILTY: LINKING TECHNOLOGY, POVERTY REDUCTION AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, opens the first STEPS panel session by saying in this era of dynamic change there are some huge opportunities to tackle poverty and social justice given the current high profile philanthropic and political interest, but conventional approaches are often missing their mark. (Photo: John Thompson at the panel session)
And it is often politics and power that shape which pathways come to be followed. STEPS intends to develop a ‘pathways’ approach in the Centre’s interdisciplinary research that brings together science and technology studies and development studies.
Some of the main notions the STEPS pathways approach that thinks about multiple pathways in specific locations and multiple perspectives. The approach encompasses, among other things, a normative positioning to poverty reduction and social justice, and a reflexive approach appreciating how one’s position affects action. Our research is designed to be interactive and to build on the knowledge and perspectives of poorer and marginalised people.
John Thompson, co-convenor of the STEPS agriculture and food domain, takes the floor to talk a bit about the Centre’s work in the area of the dynamics of agricultural change.
“In our first Working Papers on agriculture we have tried to challenge some of the existing narratives and dominant perspectives that have been around for a quarter of a century,” says Thompson. “They make assumptions about a stable and resilient environment and talk of progress towards some singular goal.
“There seems to be an assumption of transfer of science and technology to ‘backward’ agricultural settings. We are trying to make the case for understanding different scales – there are a range of different interactions in food systems –ecological and governance changes – it challenges us to think of new ways of governance. In addition we recognise and look at different pathways to Sustainability and out of poverty. But we know there is not a single pathway to high growth and high resilience, and few of the pathways are going to be straightforward.
STEPS agriculture research will work with ACTS and other partners in Kenya to look at maize innovation. “There is a big push to come up with new varieties that are stress-tolerant varieties in these rapidly changing environments and we’ll be investigating and exploring that and the pathways they open up,” says Thompson. In addition there are a range of complimentary research projects including the Future Agricultures Consortium which is organising a workshop in December called Farmer First Revisited, looking at farmer research and development.
Gerry Bloom, convenor of the STEPS Centre health domain steps up to take a look at what has changed in the area of health and development and why a new approach is needed. “Whereas health was about worthy things we did for poor people and luxurious things we did for ourselves, now we are all worried about health,” he says, noting that HIV/AIDS was the turning point. Health in A Dynamic World is the title of the STEPS Working Paper Bloom co-wrote, and the dynamics that have changed health beyond all recognition in the last 30 years include population density, animal husbandry, the emergence of drug resistant organisms, communications, urbanism, shocks and long-wave events, says Bloom.
And there the likelihood of major future challenges is only going to grow, and we now have areas that are extremely dangerous for global pandemics such as avian flu. Development studies has to recognise that we are not getting healthier, not getting better, but face major new challenges going forward.
Changing governance arrangements, such as government policy responses, is one of the areas that STEPS health intends to look at. Some other questions STEPS health work is addressing include how can governments help households and communities cope with major illnesses; what institutional arrangements are emerging to help people gain access to health care; how important is IT and communications and how is government going to respond.
Lyla Mehta now takes her turn on the floor to talk about the challenges for Sustainability in water and sanitation and asks “are we running out of water”? Mehta says that the way water scarcity is measured – in volumetric terms – tells us little about access, about the way people think of water, changes in institutional approaches to water.
So STEPS has been trying to look at water in a different way – in a dynamic way – at the faultlines and challenges, and at who is shaping the debate. Current approaches do not take in to account the dynamism of change and the many social, technological and environmental interactions around water, says Mehta.
And whose sustainability counts? How to achieve pro-poor sustainability will be a major question for STEPS, looking at areas such as moving beyond the functionality of water and sanitation access, and what is missing in terms of water governance and design to address the disconnect in diverse understandings and framings of liquid dynamics.
And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room now for the questions:
Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.
And, phew, after those back-to-back presentations in a packed seminar room, now for the questions:
Melissa Leach answers a question about how STEPS defines good and bad technology: It would be wrong to pitch STEPS as looking for technology-led solutions, says Leach. Yes technology has a place but it depends on the politics and ethics of technology choice. If a technology is able to be part of the pathway towards Sustainability, then yes, we would see it positively she says.
Leach responds to a hefty challenge about the nature of the STEPS Centre – that it sounds too good to be true. She says that conflict are very much there in the setting in which STEPS will work and “we have no desire to shirk that”. She said the question is an active, live debate in the Centre and that a look at our Working Papers will be reveal that better than a short debate session.
Thompson says STEPS is very much looking at the issues of power and politics in looking at innovation systems. Andy Stirling, co-director of STEPS, adds that the fact that STEPS does not have an over-arching theory is a “saving grace” because he believes that hegemonic theories are in danger of pushing out the politics and power, which the Centre does not want to do.
Stirling adds finally that we are at very early days at the STEPS Centre. And with that, it’s time to wrap up for the first day of DSA 2007. Read more
Welcome to the Development Studies Association annual conference and STEPS Symposium. We’re live here at the Sussex University campus in Brighton, UK, to join in the debate of this year’s theme ‘connecting science, society and development’. Here's what happened at the first plenary session. (Photo: Melissa Leach addresses the DSA).
Sam Jackson, president of the DSA, Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies and Alasdair Smith, chair of IDS, are opening proceedings with a welcome address.
Haddad talks on the subject of this year’s theme and asks if science and technology works for the poor relentlessly enough. Are there enough unions between development studies and science and technology studies? Probably not, and the DSA has been brave in trying to further interdisciplinary studies with this year’s theme. “If there is such as thing as an interdisciplinary nut, I can’t think of a more important one to crack than this one,” said Haddad. “ And we who care about advancing humanity have to be ready to meet those demands, to make science and technology work ever more consciously and relentlessly for the poor.”
Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, gives a quick welcome to the DSA delegates and says a few words about STEPS and how the Centre is trying to do exactly what Lawrence was just talking about – bringing science and development studies together and addressing the power relations between poorer people and technology.
And straight to the first main session of the week, a fascinating pairing of perspectives from Kenya and the UK: Prof. Judi Wakhungu, executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and chair of the STEPS Centre Advisory Board and Gordon Conway, chief scientific advisor to the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Professor of international development at Imperial College.
Conway will talk on making the connections between science, society and development, he says. He begins with economic growth and its connection to how people move in and out of poverty. Moving in to poverty is by and large about health-related expenses, he said and moving out of poverty is to do with links to economic growth. “Economic and social policies are critical, but so are science and innovation,” said Conway.
But what is innovation? The new rices for Africa (crosses between African and Asian rice) are “a remarkable piece of technology”, as is an innovation in Africa for disposing of sanitary towels in girls’ toilets. The simple innovation helps keep girls at school, and as a result girls outnumber boys in the higher classes in the schools that have this innovation, said Conway. So we need to think of a broad definition of innovation.
Conway goes on to talk about his vision for global science and technology systems for the 21st century and how national innovation systems can get involved. The new emerging economic powers – Russia, South Korea etc – have an important role to play because they have a lot of science and technology that is applicable to developing countries, he says. These powers may build their own innovation systems rather than get on board the existing ones.
DFID, in the next few years, will help countries build their infrastructure so that they can take advantage of innovation. And we must not forget that the poor are innovators themselves (which is what STEPS wants to focus on). The other thing we cannot forget going forward is climate change, and how much it will effect science and technology. The effect of climate change on growing maize in southern and eastern Africa is one of Conway’s examples (and one of the STEPS Centre’s first projects in partnership with Prof. Wakhungu’s ACTS). So part of the equation is how to build resilience and how we think about resilience, stresses and shocks.
But livelihoods is the key to the future. Most poor people have multiple sources of income and that’s a good basis for the future, Conway concludes.
Prof. Judi Wakhungu steps up to take the floor now and gives us a short introduction to her inter-governmental institution, ACTS, which conducts science and technology policy analysis and research. The four areas ACTS works in are agriculture and food security; biodiversity and environmental governance; energy and water security; and science and technology literacy.
Giving ACTS’ research in Sudan an example of how ACTS works, Prof. Wakhungu said the organisation looked at the situation in Sudan not as a religious or ethnic issue but from the ecology perspective of oil and water. “And that gave us a diff insight in to the situation in Sudan,” said Prof. Wakhungu.
A large part of ACTS work is on capacity building through its new Science and Technology Institute (STI) – which opened in 2005. By formalising eight of the courses already offered by ACTS the STI trains executives to advise governmental cabinets, ministers, high level panels and task forces on issues such as biotechnology, bio-safety and innovation systems. “By doing this we hope to be better placed to influence change and compliment other strategies adopted in other African countries,” said Prof. Wakhungu. Over 200 participants from Egypt, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Japan and the UK are among those who have completed the courses on offer. Obviously, and rightly so, Prof. Wakhungu is proud of ACTS' achivements.
Sam Jackson, chairing the session, kicks off the question and answer session by asking what is different now? Prof. Wakhungu replies that it is institutions that are different: “Institutions are extremely critical and we understand that in sub-Saharan Africa. We realise that we not only have to change how we think, but the institutions have to change as well. Under this admin in Nairobi, in four years, the culture of the civil service has changed and become more professional because they have become empowered to know that they are the people that have to change the institutions. With the right institutions we can tackle some of these very difficult problems.”
“What are the big three technologies that excite and frighten you”, asks one delegate.
Conway: Mobile phones, is his reply to the first part of the question. Nanotech has enormous potential. We will soon have non pain to coat a toilet with that kills bacteria. There will be a lot of ne materials that get picked up in developing countries really fat. What worries Conway? “It is going to be very difficult to achieve carbon neutral goals,” he says and also the loss of forestry worries him deeply.
Prof. Wakhungu: “There are so many opportunities in terms of ICTs, particularly in wireless communications that transform peoples’ lives, there is a lot of scope for that. I am concerned about the challenges of climate chg and that in Africa we are extremely vulnerable to climate change. I’m also concerned about biodiversity loss. In Africa you see biodiversity loss on a yearly basis.”
“Don’t we need a whole new approach to development and doesn’t science and technology give us that approach?” asks another delegate, possibly rhetorically.
Prof. Wakhungu: “Yes, we do need new ways of thinking.. and we need to restructure our institutions to allow them to take advantage and implement these new ideas.”
And on that note the session ends. Next up, the first STEPS Centre panel session.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
We will be blogging from the Development Studies Association Annual Conference next week, which kicks off at 2pm (BST) on Tuesday 18th Sept with opening addresses from Gordon Conway, DFID's chief scientific advisor and Prof. Judi Wakhungu of ACTS, who is also chair of the STEPS Centre Advsiory Board.
The first STEPS Centre Symposium is being held alongside DSA 2007 and our directors, members and guests are hosting panel sessions throughout the week to tie in with this year’s theme of connecting science, society and development.
STEPS Centre sessions will cover new approaches to linking technology, poverty reduction and social justice; peri-urban dynamics and sustainability challenges; the ethics of risk and regulation of agro-biotechnology; and the ‘pro-poor consensus’ on agricultural biotechnology.
Please come and join in the debate, either in person, or here online at The Crossing.
See the final DSA programme and read more about the STEPS line up Read more
Thursday, 6 September 2007
By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member
Guangzhou, in South China, is one of the cities at the forefront of the country's “ economic miracle”. The skyline is characterised as much by cranes and construction sites as by the high-rise towers which are already home to its thriving commerce. To what extent are Guangzhou’s innovators factoring the environment into this outstanding growth? (photo of Guangzhou skyline)
On September 3rd I was invited to join James Wilsdon of the London think-tank Demos in addressing the Guangzhou Association of Science and Technology (you can read James' blog from the event here). The theme of the day was “Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development”, a subject of growing interest in China as well as the rest of the world. The event was attended by academics, industry representatives and the local media.
After welcomes from the hosts (Guangzhou Association of Science and Technology) and sponsors (the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office), James presented the findings of the first phase of the Atlas of Ideas project. The report, published in February 2007, describes how the global centres of science technology and innovation - previously concentrated within the USA, Western Europe and Japan - are now shifting to include a whole host of new emerging economies.
Of specific interest to our audience that day, Atlas of Ideas describes the growing pace of innovation in China and outlines some of the Chinese government's policies in relation to promoting “indigenous innovation” or “zizhu chuangxin”.
Based on two years of research in China as well as parallel investigations in India and South Korea, Demos makes a powerful argument for what it terms “cosmopolitan innovation”. Science and technology will progress faster and benefit more people, they argue, if these emerging economies can work cooperatively and transparently with more established knowledge centres (e.g. the UK) to address global challenges than if they “go it alone”. The message has resonated strongly within UK policy circles.
My own talk followed on very neatly from James's, taking some of the ideas that he had introduced, such as the importance of considering the direction of innovation as well as its pace, and linking them to the existing approach and forthcoming research of the STEPS Centre.
I described the Centre’s desire to bridge the natural and social sciences and discussed the importance of social and political change, as well as the introduction of new technologies, in the response to global challenges. Guangdong Province (of which Guangzhou is the capital) has already implemented policies around energy saving and decreased emissions, forcing the adoption of cleaner technologies and some behaviour change, especially in energy-intensive sectors. Improvements have therefore been made, but it remains to be seen whether top-down policies, largely reflecting those formulated in Beijing, are enough to bring about the transitions that the city and province require.
Questions from the floor reflected a surprisingly critical view towards new technologies and industrial development. One attendant pointed to the environmental impacts of disposable household objects, while another suggested that technological innovation could lead to unemployment and only benefited a small proportion of the population.
I suggested that similar concerns had been voiced in the West since the industrial revolutions, and argued that education and empowerment of those affected was necessary if they were to benefit from China’s shift towards a more knowledge-intensive economy. Some technologies, or the ways in which they are introduced, might be able to avoid these problems, but it was unlikely that these would emerge under current conditions. Maybe the shift towards a form of development that could put environmental and equity issues at its forefront required social, as much as technological, change.