Friday, 18 December 2009


By Shoumojit Kanjilal, IDS student

When I woke up early and bleary eyed in Copenhagen on Wednesday the heavy snowfall made global warming seem very far away. With limited access to the Bella Centre and a large demonstration having been planned, “the people’s assembly”, the main transport links to the centre had been closed. Photo: Shoumojit Kanjilal

The Danish friends I was staying with had planned an alternative protest with the main aim of getting past the police and barriers to access the centre. Initially I was very sceptical about the motives and impact of such a protest, and that of illegal access to the centre. However, after discussion with the protesters as to why they felt it was important, I was beginning to become convinced that the climate conference was missing many of the major requirements for there to be meaningful reductions in global emissions. For example, the main agreements that are to be made at the UNFCCC Conference will be over the increased use of biofuels. This will be achieved through land agreements to raise the use of monoculture crops such as oil palm. However, there is scientific evidence that the increased production of such fuel will require significant deforestation, thus negating the benefits. Additionally, many of the NGOs that had been given access to the Bella Centre were now starting to be refused entry, such as Friends of the Earth and many indigenous NGOs from the Americas.

Having decided to join the main demonstration, I journeyed to the Bella Centre after a long walk in freezing conditions, with the wind and snow having firmly set in. Even a couple of miles from the centre, there was a visibly strong police presence, with helicopters circling the crowd. The protest itself was peaceful, with roughly 4,000 people marching with slogans such as “Reclaim Power” and “Climate Justice Now”. People in the crowd were vocally angry with world leaders, and the lack of progress in making a binding agreement. As the crowd neared the centre, many protesters tried to force their way through the barriers and police, and pepper spray was used to disburse the crowd.

The demonstrations raised many questions for me. Firstly, there seems to be intense scepticism over the scientific advice being used to mitigate global warming and the ability of world leaders to make the correct decisions, even in the event of a binding agreement. Additionally, despite all parties being able to participate in the conference, the exclusion of some groups from the Bella Centre raises questions over how much decision makers are willing to allow full participation in the details of the final agreed document. Also, are demonstrations the best way for the public to voice their concerns to both leaders and the global public? And finally, do those who demonstrate represent the views of the global public? Hopefully, world leaders will acknowledge their failings and address them in the final moments of the conference, and the further agreements that will undoubtedly be required in the years to come.
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Thursday, 17 December 2009


By Shoumojit Kanjilal, IDS student

Arriving into Copenhagen earlier this week by plane felt like a poor way to begin my time at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Unfortunately it was the cheapest way to travel to Copenhagen, and this is another example of why anthropogenic climate change has increased so dramatically and rapidly. I have unfortunately become a part of the problem, and both myself and the conference need to make meaningful changes if climate change is to be mitigated. Photo: Danish soldier at COP15 /Shoumojit Kanjilal

It felt ominous to be arriving in Copenhagen just after the talks had almost collapsed after the African Group and G77 China block of developing countries stalled talks owing to accusations that the Danish hosts were trying to sideline negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. However, with the talks underway, hopes remain high despite the many doubts.

My first port of call was the vast Bella centre, where the main conference was being held. The atmosphere outside the centre resembled that of a music concert as I was suddenly being handed leaflets, bags of goodies and even free vegan sandwiches. It certainly didn’t feel like an event that would be historic, and even in the queue for the Bella centre, the carnival atmosphere prevailed with the police were handing people free coffee and tea, and UNFCCC workers handing out free soup. There was even a complete absence of protesters, and another hypocrisy seemed to be stirring.

After failing to obtain entry to the Bella Centre owing to overcrowding, I then headed though the snowy streets to an alternative to the main conference - Klimaforum 09 (Peoples’ Climate Summit. This conference has something of an activist feel, packed full of people of all ages and nationalities, with messages of the devastating impact of climate change such as that predicted for the Maldives.

The most thought provoking talk of the day was that of George Monbiot, a journalist and climate activist, on the curse of fossil fuels. Monbiot made a compelling argument on why there would be no meaningful policies made at COP15 as discussions and agreements will be made in one direction only - on curtailing demand for non-renewable energy. However, at the same time, there is little or no discussion on the curtailment of non-renewable supplies with sources not likely to diminish with improved technology to access previously inaccessable supplies, such as coal under the north sea. Monbiot’s central conclusion is that non-renewable sources need to be left in the ground, and renewable alternatives need to be used immediately. Perhaps meaningful agreement will not be made after all. However, until the conference is over, I have to retain my hopes.
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By Elisa Arond

“Do we have a choice?” was the provocative question posed by one speaker at a New Manifesto round table hosted in The Hague by the 3TU.Centre on Ethics and Technology. This question came as a response to the STEPS Centre’s emphasis on ‘directions’ of sustainable development and innovation pathways. Photo: Prabhu Kandachar (r) and Jeroen van den Hoven (l)

We've now published videos of the main speaker presentations, the slides on Slideshare, and photos on Flickr. The video ‘vox pops’ from participants will also be posted soon.

The report from the Roundtable is now on our Manifesto site, written by Ilse Oosterlaken from the 3TU.Centre on Ethics and Technology. Ilse, who organised the roundtable, has also written her own blog post on the roundtable.

Professor Luc Soete, Director at UNU-Merit, who began by pointing out that he had worked with many of the authors of the original Manifesto, and had been critical of the Sussex Manifesto when it was written in 1970! He suggested that the influence of the original Manifesto had been far-reaching, and thus argued for the importance of evaluating its impact – I would argue an extremely challenging task for any policy document.

I thought Professor Soete’s main point on the New Manifesto was about the importance of different disciplinary perspectives. He suggested that the New Manifesto must consider the issue of social diffusion of innovations. It needs to incorporate the contributions offered by the range of social sciences in helping to understand why and how different innovations may or may not be developed or adopted. In other words, we must not underestimate the important role of individual human and social behaviours on the development and diffusion of innovation. I agree, and this leads the question of how that might be expressed in policy recommendations.

Professor Soete was followed by Jasper Grosskurth of the Dutch Foresight group (STT) looking at "African Technology Futures" with a strongly free market lens. Jasper critiqued the Manifesto’s point on direction with the question "do we have a choice?" He said the answer was "no": that change is happening, and that innovations will unfold without our help in orienting them, and that people are better off for it!

This certainly sparked strong debate on ethics, who decides, whose ethics take priority. How can one group (e.g. elites from the global North) decide for others? Linking his argument with the two Ds of "diversity" and "distribution", Jasper argued that there is a positive feedback loop between technological diversity and access to technology, and thus the more diversity, the more access and vice versa. With further reference to "Distribution", Jasper said "help the fast, clever ones – rich and poor" with the idea that encouraging the "clever" ones to access technology would have a positive knock-on effect for the continent. There are lots of provocative points here, but this perspective misses out on important issues. It assumes that "trickle down" is enough to distribute the benefits of technologies - and doesn't suggest how to deal with risks and any negative impacts caused by some technologies.

The third presentation was by Monique Deminint - part of the Universal Access to Female Condom (UAFC) Joint Programme, which looks at R&D for better female condoms to achieve a reduction in HIV infections. Her concrete example brought up the challenges of linking needs to market demands, while also attempting to simultaneously change behavior and create demand, by enabling R&D for a diversity of innovations that meet different social and cultural preferences.

Three more speakers from TU Delft spoke, including Professor Jeroen van den Hoven, scientific director at the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology and working on a grant programme on ‘Responsible Innovation with NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research). Prof van den Hoven talked about ‘Value-Sensitive Design’, which he described in terms of values, norms, and ideals needing “to be embedded in the things we make”.

Professor of design engineering, Prabhu Kandachar (TU Delft) followed by addressing ‘Design for the Base of the Pyramid’, describing concrete links with industry and university students toward ‘human-centred design’ that focuses on design and engineering of technologies that meet human needs. When questioned on the rationale for the location of the BoP labs in Delft instead of in developing countries, Professor Kandachar said that Phase 2 would relocate the design and engineering activities closer to the places where the innovations are intended to be used, aiming to move into building innovative capabilities in those regions. I’m curious to see how those plans manifest. Lastly, David Koepsell (associate professor at 3TU.Ethics) talked about ‘revising intellectual property regimes’.

Roundtable participants came from a range of different backgrounds, disciplines and universities across the Netherlands, including academics from the Technical Universities of Twente and Delft, the Institute for Social Studies, and Wageningen - economists, philosophers, sociologists, and engineers. Also present were some social entrepreneurs, other representatives from the private sector, NGOs, and the Dutch Advisory Council for Science and Technology Policy, as well as students ranging from industrial ecology and microbiology to philosophy – a rough count of about 40 people.

So do we have a choice? My view is that we must make choices and thus the question becomes whether and by what mechanisms diverse groups with different needs, values, and preferences are able to exercise that choice.

One of the challenges is creating spaces for the important task of clarifying one’s individual and societal definitions and visions of sustainability, development, and also innovation. This means generating platforms for discussion and debate to help develop policies that respond to these associated plural understandings, enabling choices that actually respond to real needs and diverse values.

> Report - The Hague Roundtable, 24 November 2009
> Multimedia - slides, video and photos from the Hague Roundtable
> Blog on the roundtable by Ilse Oosterlaken, 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology

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Monday, 14 December 2009


By Melissa Leach

The Kilifi conference on the publics of public health is now complete, after two more intense days. Two dimensions of the contemporary world of public health have been particularly dominant.

First, the new global architectures through which so much funding and programming around health issues in Africa now takes place. The huge sums which are now invested through organisations such as the Gates Foundation and Global Fund, and PEPFAR bring new questions around governance, accountability and partnerships in their wake, while often constructing images of ‘predicament publics’ whose health needs can be addressed through the roll-out of standardised technological solutions.

What happens when such programmes reach the ground, and how community groups negotiate the new architectures through a variety of NGO mediations, was explored in revealing terms by STEPS members Hayley MacGregor and Jerker Edstrom in their study of Zambia, Kenya and Malawi.

Several papers also explored the ways in which foreign-funded medical research programmes are now also sites through which health treatment (for instance for HIV and malaria) takes place, related in complex ways to the protocols and precepts of particular trials. Yet the effect is often to produce well-provided enclaves of ‘high quality’ health provision, often geared to particular diseases, and sitting in sometimes uncomfortable relationship with underresourced government-run public health services outside the ‘experimental publics’ zone.

Second, we have explored a fascinating range of illustrations of what goes on within these ‘experimental publics’ islands. How do medical researchers, study participants and others in what Gemma Jones termed ‘research villages’ interact? How do they imagine each others’ lives and work? What aspects of the many inequalities between them – economic, social, power and status-related – are talked about, and which remain ‘public secrets’, known but not expressed, and therefore not (as Wenzel Geissler pointed out) easily articulated as rights and demands?

Rich and varied pictures emerged from cases as diverse as microbicide trials, in Zambia, malaria research in western Kenya, community engagement practices on the Kenyan coast, and others, with Erick Nambedha, Patricia Kingori, Shelley Lees,

The roles of research fieldworkers as creative brokers between scientists and communities emerges as key, along with public engagement methods and procedures including Community Advisory Boards. Reflection on and exploration of how such mediation across interfaces works in practice, what it enables and what it excludes, is becoming a rich field of inquiry and practice which at least at some level, is transforming the ways in which the social and ethical dimensions of research are understood and negotiated.

While this growing social science attention to ‘experimental publics’ is welcome, however, improving practices and effectiveness of medical research, as the conference drew to a close today many of us expressed concerns about the relative neglect of what goes on beyond the ‘research island’. Where is comparable attention (and funding) to wider health systems and their primary care publics? This relative neglect is despite international and donor claims to a renewed focus on universal access and ‘health for all’ thirty years after the original Alma Ata conference in 1978 and is, many participants expressed strongly, a balance which needs to be redressed.

As the conference moved into its final day, some overarching themes and dilemmas came into view. One concerned whether ‘publics’ should be conceived of as distinct collectivities of people, suggesting an endless and shifting multiplication of kinds of public, bounded in various ways. Yet as Nancy Rose Hunt had suggested to us in her evocative account of violence in colonial Congo, those in power may instead conceive of (and both repress and be nervous of ‘multitudes’, evoking a kind of non-publicness which in turn constructs a notion of ‘public’ more strongly associated with recognition, respect and rights in relation to states and other powerful institutions. And further, associations of public with a public sphere are also in evidence, contrasting, perhaps, with the private and the individuated.

Notwithstanding these definitional debates, a recurring theme concerns the ways that particular versions of publics and publicness are always co-constructed with particular networks, narratives, assemblages or contraptions. The relations within and between them deeply implicate politics – of knowledge, but also of political economy.

Some of our discussions turned from the past and present to possible futures, and scenarios which might include intensification of globalised and neo-liberal forms of health provision, along with a rise in ‘enclave’-type arrangements as foreign companies investing in Africa’s resources also provide welfare services, mimicking in new guises imperial schemes of old.
Epidemiologies may well shift, with the rising importance of chronic diseases and of new zoonotic pandemics both on the horizon. Meanwhile, uncertainties in both the natural and economic worlds look set to intensify. Amidst these complex and unpredictable changes, what kinds of new narratives, and associated pathways for public health, might we envisage?

Our final discussion began to point to some elements of an alternative narrative which many of us might share. This would refocus attention and investment on government-involved, primary health systems, envisaging ‘health’ in terms of basic care, and of broader social and economic wellbeing, of populations as a whole. This in turn would require new forms of research and of research-policy engagement to innovate in health service delivery, and understand how innovations might be scaled up while also adapting to diverse cultural settings and values, and ongoing uncertainties.

With questions of social justice centre stage, research and policy need to move from researching and intervening on, to working with, publics as a common ‘us’, while attending to social difference and positionality.

This take on the conference and its implications is only one amongst many which might be possible, and others will surely have different views. The papers are fascinating, and we will be making them available on the conference website shortly. Do have a read, and take the opportunity to add your comments and participate in the discussion on its forum, helping to take forward the debate of this last week around the new publics of public health.
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Thursday, 10 December 2009


By Melissa Leach

We are on the Kenyan coast, not far from Kilifi town and the site of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), at a conference which the STEPS Centre has had a role in convening, together with colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), KEMRI and the University of Nairobi. Around fifty participants have gathered from all corners of the African continent, as well as Europe and the US, to debate what 'publicness' and 'the public' means in the contemporary worlds of health-seeking, health policy and intervention, and health research in and in African settings. Photo: Sean Warren / iStockphoto

Some of us are anthropologists, some are historians, and some scholars of science and technology studies or bioethics; many of us are also practitioners, involved in day-to-day health research and the many engagements it entails. As one might imagine, our discussions are rich and diverse.

As Wenzel Geissler of LSHTM suggested in his opening presentation, it seems that 'something has changed' from the period just before and after independence in many African settings, when public health and science were perhaps more clearly and firmly associated with nation states and the publics they were supposed to serve.

While chronologies and baselines can always be contested, and many participants have revealed disruptions and variations around this picture in the colonial period as well as before and since, the imaginary of interlocked state-public-health-publics serves as a useful marker against which to think about diversity and change.

And as papers have now made abundantly clear, these departures have been stark indeed. We have seen the rise of neoliberal, marketised and privatised forms of health provision, constructing publics in far more individualised ways - often as consumers. We have seen the rise of global health architectures and financing, often with dubious forms of accountability linked to new eras of philanthropic and philanthrocapitalist funding. And we have seen the rise (and fall) of focused research and policy on particular diseases, with 'vertical' architectures, funding flows and notions of 'predicament publics' emerging accordingly.

In my opening paper, I attempted to outline what appear as some of the dominant policy narratives which now flourish in the field of public health. Notions of 'primary care publics', 'predicament publics', 'experimental publics' and 'pandemic publics', I suggested, now co-exist, each associated with different visions of what kinds of health priorities matter and to whom, and with different sets of political interests, resource flows and governance aims.

Each also implicates a politics of scale and of knowledge in defining who and where the relevant public are, and how they should be involved or 'summoned'. As I hoped and expected, contributions and discussions over the last few days have disaggregated, multiplied and illustrated diverse strands within each of these broad narratives. Thus we have heard about emerging 'HIV publics' from sites as diverse as western Kenya and South Africa. We have heard about emerging publics associated with chronic diseases, a dramatically rising and major cause of mortality in many African settings, whether amongst those facing obesity and diabetes in Uganda as richly documented by Susan Reynolds-Whyte, or in relation to cancer in Botswana, as Julie Livingstone's powerful paper documents.

In the context of chronic disease predicaments, just as in some recent strands of debate around HIV in an ART-available world, publics are often imaged and summoned as individuals, with rights and responsibilities to manage their lifestyles, nutriotion and behaviour in particular ways.

Narratives that blame the individual also serve neatly to detract attention from alternative narratives - about obseogenic (conditions that lead people to become excessively fat) or carcinogenic environments - which would associate the problems with, inter alia, junk and cooking oil prevalence, toxic waste dumping, and the powerful political-economic and corporate interests that lie behind these.

Complicating and illustrating the figure of a global 'pandemic public' anxious about avian and 'swine' flu, haemorrhagic fevers, and other so-called emerging infections which arise in one setting and threaten to sweep the world, Clapperton Mavhunga encouraged us to pay closer attention to mobility - of animals as well as people and microbes - as key features of our times.

Yet as discussion has explored, the mobility of some coexists with the groundedness of others. It is often quite located, deeply historicised production systems and economically-organised production and market chains that provide the incubators for zoonotic disease, for instance. Guillaume Lachenal's fascinating paper on Cameroon also reminds us that the elaborate, high-publicity scientific and media attention to 'virus-hunting', which has been so pronounced in the search for (and finding of) new HIV and SIV viruses there, may be enacted in local and national settings in 'plays' and performances by politicians and musicians that parody international representations and concerns.

On the ground, Lachenal suggests, new HIV viruses, like avian flu, are not major health concerns - and thus they are the subject of non-interventions. Yet elaborate, nihilistic performances also serve to take attention and resources away from other public health concerns and their publics - such as those around primary care.

Situiations where medical research stations are 'emplaced' in primary care settings, as evocatively explored by Alice Street in Papua New Guinea, also illustrate such tricky interplays. meanwhile, other contributions - whether from Northern Nigeria by Murray Last, or across eastern and southern Africa by Steven Feierman - have offered us insights into the complicated local social networks and sets of helaing precepts and practices that sit alongside, and sometines engage with, policy-led systems and approaches.

These, and other, contributions have thus been exploring what one could see as an interplay of narratives and pathways of public health - and the often highly unequal material consequences that follow. As Michael Parker has suggested, the networked combinations of people, resources, institutions, activities and technologies that one could see as pushing and 'glued together' by particular narratives (in his case, around genomic approaches to malaria control), might be better seen as 'contraptions' - drawing attention to their unwieldy, often rickety nature.

In this vein, attention is also drawn to the many inequalities, tensions and frictions which take place within contraptions. Many fascinating and revealing papers have explored these, especially in relation to the interactions between participants, fieldworkers and scientists that take place in the collectivities that constitute 'trial publics'. Inequalities are at stake, and creativity, and a politics of publicity and secrecy, shapes what is and is not revealed. Yet participants and fieldworkers are also active in articulating alternative narratives about what matters for health and wellbeing.

There is more to come, and this is only a taste of the discussions so far. By focusing in on what 'publics' are coming to mean, and on how they are being represented, I hope that over the next two days we can begin to home in on some of the alternative narratives that are emerging - those that emerge from people's own variegated health concerns in a highly unequal context, and which might provide pointers for pathways to meet them.
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Tuesday, 8 December 2009


By Urama Kevin Chika, Executive Director, ATPS

In response to the post titled “Opening up Research Funding at ATPS” by Adrian Ely, I would like to expound on the Network’s strategic approach to putting stakeholder participation at the core of the research funding process and throughout the whole value chain. This is built on the firm belief that knowledge held by different knowledge communities (both tacit and codified) is valid and could be the bases for innovations for development.

The ATPS supports demand-led capacity building activities in the area of Science, Technology, and Innovation knowledge generation, knowledge circulation and networking, policy making and policy practice in Africa for African development and global inclusion.

In doing so, the ATPS engages the quadruple helix (Science Experts, Policymakers, Private Sector Actors, and the Civil Society) in the identification, prioritization, and implementation of STI policy research and policy processes at national, regional, and global levels.

If asked to state the underlying beliefs in two phrases, I would borrow two from the recent stakeholder workshops held by the ATPS in the process of developing an African manifesto for Science, Technology and Innovation for Africans by Africans. One, “Innovation does not happen in the mainstream” and two, “Collaboration breeds Innovation”.

The ATPS Secretariat has followed a transparent and rigorous participatory process of engagement with the quadruple helix for evaluating the proposals received under the auspices of the calls for proposals for the year 2009. The drawn out process involved several stages:

(a) A drawn out participatory process involving the ATPS national chapters and national and regional stakeholders led to the identification and prioritization of core areas of development challenges and STI policy needs in the member countries and in the region requiring urgent attention in the medium term. These informed the strategic goals and priority implementation programs of the ATPS Phase VI Strategic Plan, 2008 – 2012. Some required regional responses and actions while other required national case studies;

(b) The process in (a) above informed the call for proposals advertised on the websites and also disseminated through the network membership in the national chapters;

(c) All proposals received by the ATPS were submitted to the National Chapter Coordinators for pre-advice and assessment on the basis of three criteria including (Science Quality, Added Value / Innovation Quality; and Societal / Policy Relevance). Each National Coordinator reviewed the proposal and provided pre-advice to the proponents on how to improve the proposal to increase relevance to national policy needs and also add value at the local levels. In addition, they also ranked the proposals in order of Science Quality, Added Value / Innovation Quality; and Societal / Policy Relevance.

(d) The proposals were also simultaneously sent to a selected team of three from an Independent International Expert Panel of Reviewers (IIEPR) for each strategic theme: Climate Innovations; Agricultural innovations; Intellectual Property Rights. The IIPER reviewed and ranked the proposals independently using the same set of criteria as the national coordinators, but focusing on the regional development challenges and policy priorities. Each IIPER member also provided pre-advice to the candidates to assist them in revising the proposal to improve the innovation content, science quality and societal/policy relevance. All the pre-advice forms were also forwarded to the respective candidates anonymously (i.e., without the names of the reviewers) to inform revision of their proposals.

(e) The scores ranks were collated by the ATPS Secretariat Management Committee (SMC) and the average marks for the four evaluation scores (the National Chapter Coordinator and the three members of the Independent Expert Panel) were computed by the ATPS Electronic Grant Management System (EGMS). This system ensures an independent and impartial sorting and short listing of the proposals to be invited to a Tournament where each Lead Investigator presented the proposal to the ATPS membership and the same Panel of IIEPR, with ATPS Science Council and Board members present.

(f) At the Tournament, each candidate had 10 minutes to present the proposal before the Panel of International Experts, other members of the ATPS and stakeholders, and the ATPS Board. The IIEPR repeated the same system of evaluation on the basis of the same set of criteria. At the same event, the ATPS Participatory Proposal Evaluation System (PPES) was also implemented whereby the wider membership of the ATPS and stakeholders were involved in scoring the presentation of the proposals during the Tournament. The scores from the general membership serve as a control score showing the general perception of the proposed activity by ATPS stakeholders. The average scores obtained from this general assessment process are held on the EGMS for the records and as a control on the scores obtained from the rigorous assessments by the national Chapter Coordinators and the IIEPR. If for instance, the mean score obtained from the general membership rates a proposal as excellent, but the Panel of International Experts rated the same proposal as very poor, there might be reason to investigate the proposals further by sending it out to another set of Independent Experts for further review. All these scores and pre-advice forms will be held in the ATPS archives to inform capacity building needs of the research teams in future.

(g) The mean scores from the whole process, the pre-advice scores by the national chapters and the IIEPR, the tournament scores by the IIEPR, and the general scores by the ATPS membership and stakeholders are collated by the EGMS and made available to the ATPS Board to inform their decision on the specific activities to be implemented. It is very interesting to note here that the scores collated from the recent tournament in Abuja Nigeria on 26 November 2009, show strong correlation between the mean scores by the IIEPR and that of the general members and stakeholders.

The hall mark of this Participatory Proposal Evaluation System (PPES) is the core principles of Transparency, Objectivity and Responsibility which the ATPS Secretariat has adopted as the guiding principles of engagement in all activities. The Network membership is proactively engaged at all stages of decision making to ensure ownership of the process and the products of the ATPS activities. This is also necessary to ensure effective implementation and policy relevance of our activities.

All ATPS thematic research programs focus on facilitating innovation capacity development at individual and institutional levels. Each research program is therefore expected to include the "make" or "design" perspective, i.e. translation of the research outputs into "institutional" and/or "social engineering" designs, and/or cost effective "technical designs/technologies" that are necessary to the specific development and/or policy gaps addressed. To enhance the process, each research team is expected to include (or proactively engage) trans-disciplinary science experts; relevant policymakers and practitioners at all stages of the project cycle: from conception to implementation and dissemination of results. The scientific quality; added value and innovation content; and societal and policy relevance of activities are regarded of equal importance in all ATPS activities.

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By Julia Day

Under what circumstances could the trajectory of GM crop development become beneficial for poor farmers? Erik Millstone explored this idea at recent Royal Society of Chemistry meeting, entitled: Genetic modification: solution or problem?

Erik's presentation (below) asks - and answers - the key question: are the GM crops currently available, and those under development, suitable for the needs and interests of poor rural subsistence farmers?

The Guardian quoted some of his comments in ies leader column on 4 December, headlined Food sustainability; Modified options.

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Sunday, 6 December 2009


By Adrian Ely

The African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) network is made up of academics, policy-makers private sector and civil society. On the third day of their annual conference on “Africa’s response to global challenges through science, technology and innovation” I witnessed the network’s innovative approach to opening up the decision-making process for the allocation of their research resources.

Applications from ATPS members had already been peer-reviewed and shortlisted prior to being presented by the potential lead investigators themselves at the conference. The delegates were all then given scoring sheets to fill in, the results of these feeding into the process to select which research projects the network would be funding over the coming years.

The criteria against which each was rated were:
- science quality – relevance of the stated problems, objectives and methodologies to the state of the art in the scientific field of enquiry
- added value/ innovation quality – the potential of the proposed activity to contribute significantly to responsible innovations for African development
- societal and policy relevance – overall relevance to the STI capacity building activities of the ATPS strategic plan and national and continental policy priorities.

Although only taking on board limited inputs from the ATPS members present, I saw this as an interesting innovation in resource allocation that served not only to strengthen the process but also to strengthen the network itself. The process included a conflict of interest declaration in order to minimise bias, and a forms for feedback so that presenters themselves could learn from the members present. Although there were administrative challenges with the more complicated procedures involved, the extra effort will be useful to the ATPS science, technology and innovation committee as it decides on the list of funded projects. This was a step towards opening up and democratising the process of research funding and I wondered about how similar models could be extended to include inputs from users and society more broadly. Whether or not these possibilities are explored, lessons were certainly learned from the process at this year’s conference, and it will be interesting to see how it is further improved and developed over forthcoming funding cycles.
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Thursday, 3 December 2009


Adrian Ely writes:

"I heard some inspiring talks at the second day of the ATPS conference, where 157 delegates from 32 countries (including the 23 in which ATPS has national chapters) have gathered to discuss “Africa’s response to global challenges through science, technology and innovation”....

A component of SET-DEV is the production of manifestos around the socialisation of science by the project’s partners, ATPS being one. The African manifesto initiative “aims to bring science closer to African societies, and to promote collective responsibility towards science and technology through the democratization of science.”

More: A New Manifesto: Report from Nigeria round table
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Wednesday, 2 December 2009


We're off to Nairobi for two Manifesto events.

The first is a day-long Roundtable, hosted by ACTS, on Friday. For the second, we'll be joining the 4th TWAS-ROSSA Young Scientists' Conference in Africa (theme: "Science and Technology Enterprises in Africa"), where we'll be co-hosting a reception and a short roundtable next Tuesday.

I'll be posting photos, videos and blogs as the week progresses.

Kenya round tables (A New Manifesto website)
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Tuesday, 1 December 2009


By Alankar and Bhagwati from Sarai

Some poorer communities on the fringes of cities in India don’t get the best access to water, either because they’re not covered, or only partly covered by the formal state-provided water system. They are now fighting back by designing systems to get the resources they need. Photo: Self-designed drainage system in Karhera, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

People in one village, Arthala, have come up with a radical solution – to cut themselves off completely from the water supply and to design their own arrangements. In another, Karhera, villagers built their own complex drainage system which irrigates the fields using wastewater from the village.

Our project on peri-urban sustainability has been looking at how people in areas like this are cut off from services by discrimination, bad planning and lack of understanding from authorities. We have been looking at how villagers are coping in these two villages, which lie in the Trans-Hindon area of the Ghaziabad district in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India.


Karhera is an agricultural village sitting next to cultivable fields. It is only partially covered by the formal public water supply.

The formal system is not only poorly provided – it’s also not appropriate for the village’s needs. Many of the villagers depend on one of two options: drawing groundwater from submersible pumps they install themselves, or relying on the municipal water provision, which is perpetually short in supply.

To get around this, the villagers of Karhera built a traditional scheme to use the wastewater produced by their households, to irrigate the fields around the village. All the wastewater from houses is channelled through the by-lanes of the village towards the place where the fields start. Here, all the small drains from the village merge into a big drain, and the water is then used to irrigate the fields.

To make the system as beneficial as possible to the farmers, the big drain has smaller openings/outlets in its course, which are routinely closed and opened to allow waste-water to flow into different fields. The most interesting feature of this entire process is the very efficient management, collectively done by the villagers, of all the smaller drains which run within the village and feed into the bigger drain.

From a theoretical perspective, such a scheme can be most appropriately understood as ‘environmentalism of the poor’.(1) As per this academic perspective, the poor communities and their environmental approaches need not be classified as merely conservationist but rather should be seen as an outcome of their preferred strategies related to their livelihood and as part of the lived experiences. If the villagers in this particular case are mostly dependent on cultivation, then they also have formulated and implemented a scheme which uses every form of water available to them as a resource.


Arthala is made up of mainly residential settlements. Most of these are inhabited by people with low incomes who are employed in informal or casual labour.

In Arthala the public water service is even worse: vastly inefficient and inadequate. Discrimination also seems to be at work. Nearby, newly developed upper-class residential areas (for example Vasundhara, which has settlers from various cities, mostly Delhi) have been provided with very good water supplies (drawn from the river Ganga, flowing far away from the Ghaziabad region). Arthala, a much older settlement, has been left under-served, relying solely on old supply system based on groundwater extraction, which is acutely inefficient and inadequate.

Recently, a radical step was taken by Sanjay Colony (part of Arthala). In response to the poor municipal supply, Sanjay Colony decided in early 2009 to voluntarily cut themselves off from the formal state-provided water supply system. In its place, they devised and implemented a self-designed system for water provision.

The residents raised money in the community, then installed a high-capacity submersible pump in a local temple. The pump withdraws groundwater, and is connected to a small but intricate network of pipelines (again self-constructed), connecting to all the neighbouring households who had contributed financially to the new system.

At the time of our field visits, negotiations were going on with the local elected legislative representative (ward councilor), to convey to the municipal authorities the need to officially recognize and legitimize this new ‘private’ system; and to ask them to waive the tax which the residents have been paying for the municipal supply.

Graham and Marvin (2001) describe how the rich and powerful are often seen to be voluntarily disassociating from the formal networks of different utilities, like power, water, health, transport, etc., due to the inefficient and inadequate state provisioning, and in place seek private and personalized systems for such services. (2) In this case, though, a community of poor people are deliberately disconnecting themselves from an inept and insufficient public-provided water service. In its place, funded by their own meagre incomes, they have put up a viable and fulfilling supply system.

About our research

One of the core objectives of the Peri-Urban Sustainability research project is to track the diverse pathways (i.e. ways in which interacting social, technological and environmental systems co-evolve over time) and assess which ones can address the needs and interests of marginalized and disenfranchised groups in ways that enhance Sustainability.

From the above two specific instances, some newer understandings can be discerned. In Karhera, the villagers have evolved and maintained their own specific method of using wastewater to benefit their cultivation practices and needs. Thus, in turn they are shaping a contour of sustainable use practice as perceived at a very local level.

In Arthala, residents put into place a ‘private’ form of self-managed supply, which is also discontinuous with the state-provided supply. Arthala’s case shows how governance is also impacted at the local level with the interventions of the constituents of political society (comprising mostly poorer people, and different from the formal citizens belonging to the realm of civil society).(3)


(1) See Joan Martinez Alier’s ‘Environmentalism of the Poor’, Cheltenham UK/ Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2002

(2) Graham and Marvin (2001) ‘Splintering Urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition’, Routledge, London

(3) Partha Chatterjee finds special relationship between the masses and the state in India, which gives rise to what he calls ‘political society’, that is distinct from civil society. For a better conceptual clarity between political society and civil society, see Partha Chatterjee (2004) ‘Politics of the Governed; Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World’, Columbia University Press.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009


In the run up to the Copenhagen conference on climate change, here's Melissa Leach from the STEPS Centre talking about how to pay the climate change bill.

Payments from industrialised countries to developing countries are one method of footing the bill (for example, to help them reduce emissions or invest in clean technologies). But how do these payments work? Will they help the poor, or worsen poverty?

The video is part of the Guardian's Climate Change and You site, which also features case studies, expert views and polls on climate change.
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Tuesday, 10 November 2009


"Rebooting development: Innovation policy in the age of technological abundance" was the title of the 13th Marie Jahoda Annual Lecture.

It was hosted by SPRU on 7 October 2009.

Calestous' deep knowledge is obvious, as well as his passion for the role of technology and innovation in Africa.

From the flier: "Developing countries are increasingly recognizing the role of technological innovation in fostering economic growth, enhancing global competitiveness and protecting the environment. This lecture explores the implications of exponential growth in scientific and technological knowledge for economic development policy and international cooperation. It emphasizes the role of scientific advice to heads of state and government, with particular reference to Africa."

Full lecture (
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Tuesday, 3 November 2009


The Water Symposium's all over now - photos from the symposium are on our flickr - but we're still digesting some of the debates and discussions.

For now, some highlights from Day One, which was mostly taken up by a healthy discussion on climate change:

Kirsten Hastrup from Copenhagen University said that water is an "elemental" or "elementary" factor. (I'm not an anthropologist, so apologies if i've misunderstood the terms, but it makes sense to view water as an "element", where if problems arise, crisis ensues.) We need certainty to act in a responsible way - but in many places, local certainties are being undermined by the fear and uncertainty caused by climate change.

Declan Conway from UEA talked about variability and uncertainty too, but focused on the problems this causes for allocating climate change adaptation funding, among other things. Climate change messes around with thinking based on "stationary" management systems, because we can't fully predict how things will be in 5 or 10 years' time.

Merylyn Hedger (IDS) replied that the science was a bit more certain than that implied (we know dry places will tend to get drier, for example). But she also raised the subject of climate change adaptation funding agreed by developed countries, who may be paying out a lot in the near future. However, this money may well be separated - almost boxed away - from Overseas Development Aid. So the development money and the climate change adaptation money may be in different hands and not co-ordinated in some developing countries - that's not necessarily a good thing.

Finally, the "wicked problem" of the EU Water Framework Directive was used by Laurence Smith (SOAS) to illustrate how many conflicting (and valid) voices there can be in policy planning - farmers, consumers, academics, government, the water industry... There's a long time horizon for "cleaning up" water (loosely, what the WFD is for), but the goalposts will shift over time with climate change - not forgetting the changes in the agricultural market. The best way to involve experts is through a process which keeps coming back and checking what the needs are over time.

That's just one session. More to follow on urbanisation, sanitation, disease, access rights, and ways forward for research/policy/practice, though not necessarily in that order...

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Monday, 2 November 2009


By Julia Day

An opportunity to break out of conventional thinking and forge new alliances has enticed more than 40 water and sanitation development experts gather in Brighton today for the STEPS Centre's Water Symposium.

As part of our on-going research in the water and sanitation, Lyla Mehta and Synne Movik have convened this meeting to bring together people with different perspectives in a bid to bridge the divides that are evident in many of the global forums.

During the recent World Water Forum in Istanbul, water and sanitation debates continue to be framed in rather technocratic terms, disconnected from the everyday needs of poor and marginalised women and men. Discussions often tend to be polarised and charged, e.g. revolving around whether water should be considered as an economic good or a human right, whether to adopt private versus public service provision, etc.

How can we break free of such conventional framings and polarisations, and start thinking more creatively around issues of access, complexity, uncertainty and governance in water and sanitation, bearing in mind health and agriculture linkages?

We believe there is a need for more interdisciplinary engagement on current hot topics such as water/sanitation and climate change and the water and sanitation 'crisis'. We also need to encourage 'blue sky' thinking in terms of research, analysis and action as well as to explore avenues for future research areas and collaborative efforts.

By critically examining uncertain dynamics, governance and learning/appraisal challenges in key policy areas such as climate change, urbanisation and water and sanitation governance, we hope to collectively start to address how alternative pathways can be found that meet the needs of the marginalised in a sustainable and just way.
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Thursday, 22 October 2009


We've just published two new Working Papers: one on Water reform in South Africa, the other on polio vaccine development. Photo: Growing vegetables near the Driekoppies dam, Lomati river by Synne Movik

In policy discussions in post-apartheid South Africa, existing users were strongly protected, and redistribution to ‘historically disadvantaged individuals’ was seen as risky. The Water Reform paper looks at how that affected the redistribution of water use rights.

The other new Working Paper, on Vaccines, looks at what it takes to allow reliable knowledge to build up in developing a vaccine - and what's missing from current policy debates.

As always, you can download both papers and the summary briefing from our Publications page.

The Dynamics and Discourses of Water Allocation Reform in South Africa

Reforming Water Rights: Dynamics, Discourses and Risks (Summary Briefing)
Knowledge Accumulation and the Development of Poliomyelitis Vaccines

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Thursday, 15 October 2009


By Lyla Mehta and Melissa Leach

After a surprising Nobel Prize week, Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize award in Economic Sciences, shared with Oliver Williamson, is to be welcomed and celebrated. Photo: Elinor Ostrom courtesy of McGill University

The Prize has been awarded for her analysis of economic governance, especially of resources held as commons, and we are pleased to see public recognition for these 'non-mainstream' economics perspectives.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the economics prize not only to the first woman, but also flagged the importance of cooperation and collective action to safeguard the local and global commons, something urgently required by our planet currently in peril.

Elinor Ostrom has provided transdisciplinary perspectives in the study of institutions and co-operative resource management. Her groundbreaking work on Common Property Resource (CPR) theory has been built up from field studies with communities in Africa and Asia. It takes its theoretical grounding from game theory – looking at collective action dilemmas and focusing on the ways in which institutions or rules can be purposively crafted to produce collective action. It has been central in establishing the significance of local institutions in resource management.

The importance of Elinor Ostrom’s work

Refuting Hardin’s (1968) pessimistic 'tragedy of the commons', her publications have highlighted a variety of conditions under which collective action in resource management operates effectively, such as clear resource boundaries and relative socio-economic homogeneity among users – sometimes presented as 'design principles'. Through the meticulous study of local institutional arrangements in irrigation management, rangelands, fisheries, forests and other CPR regimes around the world, Ostrom and her collaborators at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University have shown us that CPR management neither has to be private nor state driven to be successful. The importance of this analysis in refuting Malthusian and neo-Malthusian thinking about overpopulation, Hobbesian anarchy and resource scarcity has been tremendous, and the credit for this must largely go to Elinor Ostrom. Her work has inspired generations of researchers and students to value and explore local institutional responses to environmental challenges, while giving theoretical underpinning to policy approaches in community-based sustainable development.

The challenges from Elinor Ostrom’s work

Despite her training as a political scientist, Elinor Ostrom draws on the tenets of new institutional economics. Her work is underpinned by economistic perspectives on human behaviour and the notion of a universally rational, self-interested actor. Her approach and messages about the advantages of community control – together with the broader CPR work she has pioneered – have inspired key strands of work within the Knowledge, Technology and Society team (KNOTS) at IDS, but her perspectives also raise challenges which we have sought to address.

The KNOTS Team is working to understand and influence the institutions and power-knowledge relationships that link technology, ecology and society – connecting global debates with local realities through interdisciplinary research, networks and partnerships. Institutional arrangements for natural resource management have been a key concern, drawing on field research on water, rangelands, forests, biodiversity and agricultural livelihoods. Our approaches, bringing together disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, ecology and science and technology studies, complement the CPR literature in exploring how questions of knowledge, power, culture and history shape resource governance. We have also been particularly interested in the implications of dynamic and uncertain contexts for natural resource management.

By not paying enough attention to the nuances of community dynamics, CPR work has often underplayed questions of social difference and the diverse – and sometimes conflicting – interests of resource users. In addition the focus on collective action has tended to direct attention away from the fact that, while institutions can enhance co-operation, they can also be beset with conflict, factional divisions and power politics. The design principles, while very useful, can also appear to be a 'blueprint' for collective action, something that risks ignoring uncertainty and unpredictability, both in terms of human action and in the ecological world.

Elinor Ostrom’s recent work has attempted to engage more fully with some of these issues, moving away from the early rigid approach to design principles and embracing questions about the learning and resilience needed for successful collective action in today’s rapidly changing societies and environments. We look forward to continued fruitful and challenging debate with her and her colleagues, looking across disciplines and perspectives. Notwithstanding these issues, there is much reason to be pleased with the Nobel committee’s decision. The planet urgently needs cooperation, not conflict, in resolving compelling issues such as water shortages and climate change, and in safeguarding our common heritage. Elinor Ostom’s work provides us with the optimism and assurance that this is possible.

Nobel Prize for Economics 2009
The International Association for the Study of the Commons

KNOTS team publications

Mehta, L et al, 1999 'Exploring Understandings of Institutions and Uncertainty New Directions in Natural Resources Management', IDS Discussion Paper 372, Brighton: IDS

Mehta, L, Leach, M. and Scoones, I. , ‘Editorial. Environmental Governance in an Uncertain World’, IDS Bulletin 32: 4, Brighton: IDS

Leach, M., I. Scoones and A. Stirling, forthcoming 2010, Dynamic Sustainabilities: technology, environment, social justice. London: Earthscan

Fairhead, J. and M. Leach, 2003, Science, society and power: environmental knowledge and policy in West Africa and the Caribbean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lyla Mehta is a Research Fellow at IDS with the KNOTS team and Professor II at Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Melissa Leach is a Professorial Fellow at IDS and Team leader of KNOTS; she also directs the ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Following Adrian's post on his journey to Argentina, he's added a new presentation from the trip to our Slideshare. If your Spanish isn't up to scratch, it includes some great pictures from the history of the alternative technology movement.

Nichos de tecnología alternativa: una perspectiva Europea

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Thursday, 8 October 2009


By Adrian Smith

It is imperative, in my view, that grassroots innovation does not become ghettoised into ‘technologies for the poor’.

Last week I enjoyed a fascinating trip to Argentina, where I talked about grassroots innovation.

The trip was made possible by the Argentine government’s Institute for Industrial Technology (INTI), whose new Quality of Life Programme is just beginning to develop support for grassroots innovations that address problems of poverty and social inclusion in the country. I learnt that ‘social technology’, as they called it, was also of interest in Brazil, where a much larger programme to support social technologies is helped by finance from Bank of Brasil and PetroBras.

But the invitation also came about because my own research on grassroots innovation today and the history of the alternative technology movement in the 1970s and 1980s intrigued STS researchers at the University of Quilmes in Buenos Aires. The team, led by Hernán Thomas, are involved in an IDRC funded research project on ‘social technologies’ in a variety of South American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Perú, and Chile). The Quilmes team were hosting a conference for regional STS scholars on the topic of Technologies for Integration and Development in Latin America, and at which I spoke.

So in the same week, I found myself talking to grassroots innovation activists from across Argentina, and with South American academics debating whether and how social technology could directly address social inclusion and poverty.

On the academic side, there was a lot of debate about concepts and core fundamentals:

- what we meant by social technologies,
- what political economic contexts were required to make them flourish,
- whether current initiatives were palliatives that failed to address the real problem, which was the capitalist order
- or whether social technology programmes provided the necessary, finer grained details and capabilities for the shifts in economic power underway or aspired for by governments like those in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Much of this felt a long way from the UK context. In the UK, grassroots innovation is also about social transformation, but about transformation away from patterns of over-consumption, to put it crudely, and social inclusion is concerned with making sure this move nevertheless improves the lot of our hardest-pressed communities. The instrumental aims of public programmes of support can be limited to nurturing social legitimacy for larger-scale sustainable technologies and economic change.

Obviously, the starker inequalities in Latin America provide grassroots innovation for social transformation with a totally different meaning and purpose. And the current politics in some of the countries, as well as histories of colonialism and experiences with neo-liberalism, meant some pretty core fundamentals were being aired in ways different to policy circles in a UK context.

But at the same time, there were similarities and familiarity. One similarity was a historical resonance. The debates about whether progressive technologies were possible in non-progressive settings reminded me of the debates around Appropriate and Alternative Technology in the 1970s. Taking care not to be anachronistic in the historians’ sense, it nevertheless seemed to me that revisiting and updating those debates, whilst reflecting on the experience of attempts back then, might inform our thinking about grassroots innovation today. In my view, this would result in a more sober consideration of the real possibilities for grassroots innovation, and how its great potential nevertheless needs to be considered as one strand in a broader political programme for democratising technologies of both grassroots and high science varieties.

Another resonance with my experience in the UK was that, whilst some people (mostly academics) were debating all this at the high conceptual level in the conference in Buenos Aires, there was a growing network of people in Argentina just getting on with it, and trying as best they could to grasp some control over the development of technologies and (more accurately) socio-technical practices that they thought might help them improve their immediate situations.

It was great talking with activists at the workshop organised by INTI. These smart people were aware of their limitations, but had an impatient hopefulness and irrepressible urge just to get on with developing socio-technical practices that would address their currently unmet needs. They were busy setting up low-cost housing, local organic food networks for supplying Buenos Aires, co-operatives for developing agricultural technologies for family farms, improving worker safety at wood mills, experimenting with low cost techniques for stripping arsenic from naturally contaminated water supplies, mobilising for better cycling infrastructures, and so on.

There was lots of sharing of ideas at this event. The recurring message was that everybody needed more resources (tinged in some cases with unease about some forms of market-based resource provision). But discussion of broader innovation processes that might help develop these ideas, and the institutional designs that might redistribute resources to those processes, and which could help diffuse, scale-up and translate activity into mass forms, was much less developed. Databases describing the specific ideas, activities, socio-technical practices will not help here (though they are useful).

Databases, case studies, exemplars etc do not indicate what the grassroots and community-based analogues should be to all the institutions that facilitate more conventional, firm-based technological innovation. What programmes are needed to provide the grassroots with the Innovation Centres, Technology Parks, Technical Assistance Services, Innovator Clubs, Scientific Support Services, Education Programmes, and National Innovation Systems? Here I think analysis and some of the reflection coming from the academic conference could help. But those fundamental academic debates need to be mediated and made practical at an intermediate, programmatic and political level.

Programmatically, the challenge is to learn how to support, diffuse, scale up and translate grassroots activities and the inspiring ideas they have. Personally, I think niche theory from the socio-technical transitions literature (combined with social movement theory) is promising; which is why I continue working in that area (when funding permits!). I think it might be able to mediate between the activists and the political economists. The challenge is to flesh out the political processes that will give programmes for grassroots innovation greater legitimacy, resources, and weight in economic development than currently is the case.

I talked about this in my presentation at the STEPS symposium last month.

Some people are way of ahead of me in this kind of thinking. My trip to Argentina, engaged me with people who have some fascinatingly potent ideas. But I do think it is at the intermediate programmatic level - between enthusiastic projects and favourable high-level changes in political economy - that we need to be working.

It is imperative, in my view, that grassroots innovation does not become ghettoised into ‘technologies for the poor’. Grassroots innovation is one strategy in a portfolio of programmes aimed at democratizing technology and directing innovation for greater social equality. In my view, this means that intermediate programmes for grassroots innovations cannot be limited to supporting specific projects and networks. It needs also to articulate the grassroots innovation experience into more dominant and conventional innovation policy programmes. What I call translation processes are important here: Grassroots innovations might provide ideas for how to democratise high-science innovation, e.g. articulating demand for different end-uses, alternative kinds of expert-practitioner-citizen-politician relationship. So, our analysis cannot restrict its focus on a single (grassroots) pathway for STI, but rather seek to understand how empowered grassroots pathways might enable their more symmetrical role in national and international innovation agendas.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2009


By Julian Pineres Ramirez, PhD student, CENTRIM, Brighton University

"What opportunities are presented by the global redistribution of innovative activity?" was the title of Session 3. The questions of how knowledge can be spread around the world, and how less advantaged regions could capture part of its economic and social benefits, remain a concern for policy makers, academics and companies. Photo: Anabel Marin by Lance Bellers

There is still an assumption that regions or nations which produce knowledge systematically, and who therefore are able to create value through innovations, are wealthier than the ones which do not.

These days, it seems that most innovation, as well as the resultant benefits, is highly concentrated in MNCs (Multinational Corporations) and developed regions (the US, Japan and some European countries). This is perhaps explained by the fact that there is more competence in those markets, making the speed of technological change faster day by day. And organisations, MNCs or regions which have developed capabilities (eg infrastructure and skilled human resources) are more capable of responding to market opportunities. This creates a larger gap with those that stay behind.

Who is responsible, then, for creating the circumstances in which the opportunities arising from innovation can be appropriated, not just for the most competent bodies, but also for the ones who are left behind? On the one hand, MNCs prioritise their own economic interest over all else, and governments in developed regions need to keep their own development on track; on the other hand, governments in less developed regions have urgent priorities, fewer resources and institutional problems, and companies within those regions have to concentrate on surviving in the market. Under these conditions, promoting sustainable development and long term technological strategies seem to be low on the list of concerns of less developed regions.

This makes for a complex situation. What’s needed is an alignment and convergence of purposes, which doesn’t seem to have happened yet. We still need suitable mechanisms which would allow a balance between the economic and social interest produced by innovation activities.

But, more than the social situation described above, an understanding is needed of what “innovation” means within different contexts. Can innovative activities only be high-knowledge and scientific ones, or can they also be those that respond to local needs? In other words, there should be a recognition of indigenous knowledge, giving it the true value it deserves, especially in less developed regions.

So the distribution of innovation should not be understood just as a transfer process from highly developed regions to less developed ones; but as a process of mutual understanding and acknowledgment of difference and cultural constructions. Otherwise, the commercial model of distributing innovation will prevail: one where those with fewer resources are paying for innovation without receiving or producing any value themselves. This increases even more the levels of inequality, poverty and so on.

There are however some examples of where this situation has changed and some opportunities have been created for those countries who have taken the risk of making more systematic and sustainable political decisions. This is perhaps the case in China, India, and to some extent a few Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina and Chile), where the government encourages and supports indigenous innovation, and companies understand the opportunities available through networks and capacity building.

It follows that the Manifesto should include an accurate conception of what is meant by the distribution of innovation. Some ideas raised from the Symposium could be: first, that there should be a recognition and mutual understanding of indigenous knowledge within a globalised context; second, that responsibilities should be shared but come mostly from each country; and third, that in the long term, a sustainable development is only possible if innovative activities come from a systematic construction, over time, of local capabilities, where local actors are involved – rather than just the transfer of technology through conventional commercial activities or the allocation of multinational subsidiaries.
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Monday, 5 October 2009


By Katharina Welle, STEPS Centre PhD student

The New Manifesto, presented by Adrian Ely on day one of the STEPS Centre Symposium, argues for three crucial shifts in thinking about innovation for development and sustainability: directions, diversity and distribution. But, how can these conceptual arguments be applied to address the realities faced by poor people today? Photo: Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka by Lance Bellers

In a nutshell, the 3-D agenda argues for:

Directionality – moving away from a linear, uni-directional and dominant model of progress towards recognising that alternative directions may be relevant depending on the context.

Distribution – shifting focus towards innovations that address the concerns of the poor rather than those of the rich.

Diversity – upholding a diversity of knowledges from which to innovate.

In his response to this agenda, Oyebanji Oyeyinka, UN-Habitat, argued that there is a disconnect between current innovation debates and the big UN agendas of alleviating poverty i.e. the Millennium Development Goals. Innovation, according to him, is largely glossed over in the MDGs although science and technology advances bear important challenges and opportunities towards achieving poverty reduction that need to be reflected upon.

This is clear in Tanzania, where the Ministry of Water and Irrigation is currently holding its yearly sector review. The new and exciting innovation in the sector is the use of mobile phone technology to report non-functional water points. In many countries of Sub-saharan Africa, the average non-functionality rate of water points is around 30% thus substantially reducing access to water to prospective users.

However, follow-up has been very poor in many countries, not last (but not only) because of a communication breakdown between water point committees and district water officers and failures in reporting non-functionality upwards in the sector. Now, the ministry intends to remedy this by equipping district water officers with mobile phones that allow them to directly report the status of water points to a centralised government database. At the same time, citizens will be able to text (hopefully toll-free) reports of non-functional water points to a publicly available and independent website.

While the technical side of this innovation is very exciting, there are many open questions with regard to directionality and distribution – who will benefit and how is not clear. For example, what implications arise for local level governance when water officers and citizens alike text failure reports to a website and a central data base? Will this have positive or negative implications for the downward accountability of district water officers and the district government? Who will respond to a text coming from a rural area somewhere in Tanzania? Will there be a polite customer reply like “Thank you, we have received your report and will deal with it in due course”? In a nutshell - is this innovation debilitating or strengthening government accountability for service provision in Tanzania?

It is these kinds of issues that the New Manifesto ought to be able to address. Its success depends on whether it is able to engage with debates surrounding the new, exciting innovations occurring in countries like Tanzania today.

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Wednesday, 30 September 2009


By Julia Day

We had a great Symposium last week, with an engaged audience who were game enough to participate in some video interviews, answering one question: “If you had to make one recommendation to the UN, or another global body, about the future of innovation for sustainability and development, what would it be?”

More than 20 delegates gave us a recommendation, including Xiulan Zhang, Sheila Jasanoff, Anil Gupta, Suman Sahai (below), Raphie Kaplinsky, Hiroyuki Kubota, Des Turner MP and many more.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to have a look at the new website for the Manifesto project, then now is your chance. All of the material from the Symposium is online. Including:

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Tuesday, 29 September 2009


By Oliver Johnson

The penultimate session of the STEPS Centre symposium - Democratising innovation: towards more accountable institutions - threatened to be a rather tired affair: afternoon slots are always at risk of hypnotising participants in their post-lunch drowsiness. Photo: Des Turner MP by Lance Bellers

However, enthusiastic responses by the panel of Des Turner MP, Richard Jolly and Brian Wynne to an energetic ‘provocation’ by Andy Stirling made for a lively debate culminating in some thoughtful recommendations.

The discussion began with Manifesto’s recommendations for institutional reform as a way of addressing the vector properties of innovation paths (the which way and who says and why) – or as Andy Stirling put it “performing institutional judo at a constitutional level”.

The debate that followed centred on the question of whether the Manifesto should seek to propose more radical changes to the existing power structure or new actions within the existing structure. I was immediately transported to an episode of the BBC comedy Blackadder Goes Forth in which the proletariat Private Baldrick offers to marry into aristocracy to save his colleague. When asked what has happened to his revolutionary principles, he replies “I'm working to bring down the system from within”.

The arguments for and against working within existing power structures crop up time and time again in a variety of different debates. Consistently running through my mind was the limited - at this early stage - ‘Southern’ or ‘developing country’ input into the design of the Manifesto – a manifesto intended to benefit those parts of the world. I appreciated Brian Wynne’s suggestion that by focusing on Western institutions space can be created within which poorer countries can have more freedom to determine the direction, distribution and diversity of their responses to the problems they face.

But that merely opens up another set of concerns. Will they use that space, and if so how? At what point, if at all, do we have the right to get involved if the space is not used in a way we think it should be? These are tricky questions, but this is not a simple issue.

Perhaps the drafters of the Manifesto should look to their own advice on how to proceed. When faced with the food for thought generated by the symposium it might be pertinent to ask which bits to eat, who says so and why?

Oliver Johnson is a DPhil student in the Sussex Energy Group at SPRU

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By Sara J Wolcott

Hardly surprisingly, the implications of the Financial Crisis of 2008 was a sub-theme of the Symposium. Several participants noted that there seems to be less money than there used to be – funding for the cutting edge projects that advance alternative knowledge systems is harder to come by than it used to be. Photo: Xiulan Zhang by Lance Bellers

Xiulan Zhang, Dean of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University in China, discussed how first the Asian financial crisis and now this current one is presenting the opportunity to reshape social policy and create a new welfare state agenda, including making cities attractive places to live, investing in children, greater safety nets and giving skilled rural migrants greater access to loans.

There are, however, other ways that the Financial Crisis of 2008 is relevant to a discussion of innovation. First, financial innovations are, themselves, sites of technological innovation – and quite influential on the lives of people around the world, as recent events reminded us. Second, and in some ways more important but harder to tease out, are the ways of thinking that pervade the financial system. Finance is often called the ‘brain of economy’. This ‘brain’ has a certain way of thinking, of making decisions and determining values. That way of thinking influences the rest of the socio-economic system. Shifting how this ‘brain’ interacts with the world whose destiny it so often influences is vitally important.

Right now, the New Manifesto does not include or emphasize financial innovations –a field few have true expertise in. I certainly don’t. But if the Manifesto can find ways to connect science and finance, it will take some important steps towards enabling that ‘brain’ to be critiqued; and to enable multiple ‘brains’ to direct and shape the socio-political-economic system.

Sara is an MA student in Science, Society and Development at the Institute of Development Studies
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