Thursday, 11 June 2009

A NEW MANIFESTO: STUDENT ROUNDTABLE REPORT

By ELISA AROND, Research Assistant for the Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto project

A group of students and Visiting Fellows gathered at the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton on May 27 for the second of our Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto roundtable events. Although the event was local, for the Brighton-based STEPS Centre, it was global in the scope and backgrounds of its participants. Participants came from across the Sussex University campus, with diverse disciplinary approaches, originating from across the globe.

Students from SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research, the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) and IDS, grappled with each others’ perspectives and the vocabulary and ideas of the STEPS Centre.

Among the questions that arose were: What do you mean by governance? What do you mean by innovation systems? What are sustainable pathways? What does that mean for policy? Who chooses, designs, or implements these pathways and policies? What is meaningful participation? How can bureaucracy be re-designed to not just nominally take into account but authentically empower local knowledge and contexts? Yet how to avoid participation from being romanticised? Should we be talking about sector-specific recommendations, or across sectors using other cross-cutting themes?

After a general introduction to the New Manifesto project and the day’s roundtable activity by project convenor, Adrian Ely, the group of about 15 divided in half, to discuss the first question: ‘What are your principle Sustainability/development objectives?’

Each individual approached the discussion from their personal experiences and interests. The group I joined began with a comment by Salena on problems with the provision of energy in Nepal, leading to regular blackouts. Hence she identified energy security as a basic sustainability objective. Another participant, Hloniphile, pointed out that improved agriculture, especially in Africa, was vital for meeting basic needs, requiring consideration of production technologies that rely on local capacity, while simultaneously keeping attention to environmental sustainability. Farah, from her work experience in India, highlighted the need to sustain and maintain incomes in rural areas and how improved livelihoods were closely linked to better health outcomes.

The discussion on how to rank such diverse objectives led to an observation by Ingrid, a Visiting Fellow from Norway, on the need to consider common threads in each example, to examine where there are interactions and inter-dependencies across sectors. Most participants agreed, acknowledging that the ‘sector’ approach might be partly blamed for a lack of more holistic thinking about development and sustainability problems. In conclusion, it was proposed that a broader, multi-sectoral approach embracing interlinkages, and with greater attention to governance might be the mainstay of sustainable development.

Leonard Joy from the UK, one of the founding members of IDS and current Visiting Fellow, argued that it was important to start from the point of identifying concerns precise to the context and moment in time. He suggested that the best way to do this was to create monitoring mechanisms which enable assessment at multiple scales, and that monitoring infrastructure would also create employment opportunities at various levels, requiring varying levels of skills, from basic technical skills to managerial.

This led to a discussion of the broader picture - that the task wasn’t just one of how to identify the concerns, but of who is identifying the concerns, and how this decision-making process might be made more democratic, transparent, and responsible to those whom decisions might impact most directly, and to encourage the decision-makers themselves to be reflexive.

Lastly, Hloniphile made a valuable self-reflective point about how as academic researchers, we often critique what major international organisations do in practice, but when we ourselves go to ‘practice’, we often do exactly what we recommend against! The discussion then led to why this occurs - perhaps because educational, funding, institutional, and personal constraints/opportunities reinforce these practices, while reflective practices are not rewarded. The question then remained: How can we restructure the institutions and incentives to allow and encourage reflective, effective practices at all levels?

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