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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By Sara J Wolcott

One knows one has a good symposium when the participants are not afraid to ask challenging questions. Such as, what is the point of the New Manifesto? Did the original Sussex Manifesto really do that much – and can the new one do even as much as the first? And how does one influence socio-political change, anyways?

Sheila Jasanoff raised the ‘radical disconnect’ between dominant public policy voices such as Barak Obama’s vision for a future that includes ‘science diplomats’ who might not necessarily consider the rich knowledge bases that already exist in those other cultures, on the one hand, and the visions in the STEPS manifesto which lifted up the innovative capacity of people on the ground to respond to environmental change. How can documents such as this Manifesto effect the more dominant visions and voices? Check out Jasanoff’s recent piece in SEED magazine for a longer (and more eloquent) exploration of these tensions.

The bright minds behind the Manifesto are well aware that documents are only one step in influencing political change. But the participants challenged them (and perhaps all of us) to go further. As several who were experienced with the struggle to change politics said, you don’t change politics by coming up with better ideas. Its much more difficult - and confrontational. Even getting science policies to be explicit about their political stance (much less changing or influencing those politics) does not look to be an easy struggle.

The New Manifesto is still in its early draft stages. And the process of drafting the document includes taking it to ‘unlikely partners’, as well as the ‘choir’. Can the STEPS Centre take on board these critiques, and successfully struggle with how a document can influence socio-political change? I believe so, but we will see.

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

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By Sara J Wolcott

Brian Wynne wasn’t the only one who pointed it out, but he was particularly eloquent: he felt that when he analyzed and critiqued Northern institutions, he was, in a way, doing work for international development. He helps open the space and the possibility for researchers, intellectuals and citizens from developing countries to critique their own institutions and assumptions, and challenge the models from the north that work for neither the North nor the South. Photo: Brian Wynne by Lance Bellers

His comments reflect an undercurrent in the Symposium: that the North-South divide that has defined international development are no longer fully applicable. Working in the North can influence the south and vice versa.

While not assuming that poverty – or wealth – is identical in developed or developing countries, increasingly, global challenges and increasingly mobile people and ideas suggest that new models of international development are needed that go beyond these overly simplistic divisions. Increasingly, we see convergence of interests and ideas around the global challenge of climate change.

There were different ideas of what that meant. Some argued for a ‘3 pole’ approach: ‘West’, China/India and the South (Africa and South America – excluding, I assume, Brazil). Others argued for a people-centered perspective, one that suggests as many ‘poles’ or points of reference as there are people. I hope that the ‘new’ vision of international development includes the humility to recognize that all countries, and all people, are developing, with no one ever obtaining a state of ‘full’ development.

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

While not surprised that innovation was a major theme at the 2009 STEPS Centre Symposium, I was surprised to learn how little innovation is mentioned or critically understood in either the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) or in global responses to Climate Change. Photo: Anil Gupta by Lance Bellers

The MDGs only mention innovation in regard to information technology. The UNFCCC emphasizes mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building. Little emphasis is put on the need for developing countries to innovate. Innovation, if talked about at all, is in the context of developed countries innovating and then transferring that technology to developing countries.

In short, as one participant pointed out, there exists a common assumption that poor countries don’t need to innovate. And too often, imposed innovation can become yet another form of imperialism.

Of course, innovation happens in poor countries all the time. Anil Gupta, founder of the Honey Bee Network, pointed to dozens of practical innovations by poor people for poor people that scientists in labs have never dreamed about.

In considering the lack of innovation in major international discussions from the MDGs to Climate Change, I wondered, are we afraid of innovation? For all that innovation pervades Western public policy discussions as a silver bullet for future growth, this distinct avoidance of innovation for developing countries hints at a darker shadow to those discussions.

Perhaps the better question is, whose innovation are we afraid of? Innovation hinges upon that fundamental human capacity to be the Creator, shaping and transforming objects, patterns of living, and even peoples lives. To be a Creator is to have power. When innovations are taken to the marketplace, that power of creation can turn into financial power - a domain that many wish to keep for themselves.

By keeping developing country’s ability to innovate off the agenda, dominant powers consciously or unconsciously keep at least some of that power to themselves. Or at least, they try to do so. Humans are inherently creative and innovative, no matter where they are. People will continue to innovate, creating and re-creating their lives. But the longer such basic human nature is ignored, the longer it will take for us the rest of us – no matter where we are – to learn from and benefit from everyone’s innovations.

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

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By Julia Day

We live in a time of transformations. The collapse of the Washington “consensus”, the financial crisis, the rise of China and other emerging economies and, of course, the threat of global climate change call for a rethinking of existing institutions, structures and paradigms. Photo: Lance Bellers

At the same time a renewed democratic spirit is mobilising sections of global civil society with hopes of radical reform. However, the agenda for the Copenhagen climate talks seems to fall short of this goal, and the G8 declaration from Abruzzo leaves many unanswered questions.

Especially unclear is the precise role of science, technology and different forms of innovation in tackling the multitude of challenges, and the ways in which they can be co-ordinated to respond to urgent needs at different levels of society.

In this time of change, the STEPS Centre focused its Annual Symposium on the emerging themes, challenges and opportunities that current reconfigurations present for innovation, sustainability and development. You can have a look at the programme here and the participants list.

We drew together academics, policy-makers, civil society and private sector representatives together to discuss positive reforms at international, national and local levels that will link innovation to the goals of poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability.

The Symposium forms part of the STEPS Centre project, Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto

We thought we would take advantage of having so many interesting people in the same place at the same time and colelct a variety of materials on the day. So we recorded video vox pop throughout the day, and have posted the presentations on our Slideshare site, and photos on our Flikr page.

We also had some bloggers at the event - Julian Pineres Ramirez, Sara Wolcott and Oliver Johnson - thier posts will appear here on The Crossing.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009


By Julia Day

Our New Manifesto project is now live, with 13 new papers, a new microsite and a wiki-timeline mapping over 50 years of science and innovation for development.

Contributions are most welcome to the project, which is an attempt not just to devise recommendations for future policies that allow environmentally sustainable and pro-poor innovation pathways to flourish, but to build an alliance of networks intersted in this area.

It is quick and easy to contribute key publications or events to the wiki-timeline - you just have to fill in a form and press 'send' - we will do the rest. So there is no grappling with time-consuming registration. Hopefully the timeline will be a useful resource - there are already over 70 key dates on it.

Also on the new microsite is information on how to organise a Manifesto round table event. We have several events taking place around the world this autumn, and have produced a convenor's pack to make staging an event, big or small, as easy as possible.

You can also find multimedia material from the New Manifesto seminar series - video and audio clips and presentations. Have a look, and do join in the debate, either here on the blog or by emailing
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By Julia Day

As December's UN conference on climate change creeps ever closer, an exclusive story in today's Guardian reveals that a dispute bewteen the US and Europe over treaty rules is threatening progress and weaken a deal at COP15.

The story by environment correspondent David Adam, reveals: "Differences have emerged over the structure of an international treaty on global warming.

"Sources on the European side say the US appraoch could undermine the treaty and weaken the world's ability to cut carbon emissions." The US, according to the Guardian's sources, intend to replace almost all of the Kyoto architecture with a system of its own design.

Adding a note of extreme urgency to proceedings ahead of Tuesday's climate change meeting of 100 world leaders in New York, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general tells the Guardian "that negotiations had stalled and need to "get moving".

Meanwhile, The Independent reports on a warning to politicians from a group of doctors that the poorest people in society will be hit first by a global health catastrophe if climate change is not effectively tackled at COP15.

Malaria, dengue fever and other tropical diseases would increase, say the doctors whose concerns were voiced in letters to The British Medical Journal and The Lancet.
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In developing countries, debates around transgenic crops have tended to focus on biosafety and its regulation at the risk of ignoring broader ethical concerns. A new project by the STEPS Centre, is exploring how to open-up these debates among civil society actors.

The Institute of Development Studies has featured an article by Sally Brooks, convenor of the Beyond Biosafety project, talking a little bit about the project and the issues it hopes to address.
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