Tuesday, 26 January 2010


From the wonderful blog BoingBoing, some footage of an ingenious solution to a lack of electricity.

BoingBoing: Human powered ferris wheel in Nepal

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Following the previous post about the book "Science and Development", Guy Collender from the London International Development Centre has interviewed Calestous Juma (who wrote the book's preface) for a new podcast, Development Matters, which "explores today’s major international development issues through in-depth interviews with leading scholars from across the globe."

Development Matters - Episode 1 Read more

Monday, 25 January 2010


By Elisa Arond, STEPS Centre

Last Tuesday evening was the launch of the book "Science and Innovation for Development" by Prof Sir Gordon Conway (Imperial College, and former chief scientist at the UK Department for International Development), Prof Jeff Waage (Director of the London International Development Centre – LIDC), and Sara Delaney (graduate of the MA in Science, Society, and Development at IDS). They keynote speaker at the launch was Calestous Juma (Harvard University), who wrote the book's preface.

The book is beautifully laid out like a textbook, with lots of examples, references, colourful tables and figures (marvellously, you can read it online in PDF format). A large part of the book consists of reviews of different technologies relating to development. The reviews use the Millenium Development Goals as a starting point, and focus on agriculture, environment and health (with an unsurprising emphasis on scientific/technical aspects, given the authors’ backgrounds).

The authors of "Science and Innovation for Development" have views which complement the ‘New Manifesto’ project – as well as some important differences of emphasis.

The book’s first 3 chapters are on 'The Nature and Science of Innovation'; 'Appropriate Innovation', and 'Building Partnerships for Innovation’. At the launch, Gordon Conway and Jeff Waage both talked about the need for focused policies that recognize the vital role that S&T plays in development – particularly, building scientific capacities.

The launch event last Tuesday was chaired by Scotland’s Chief Scientist and UK Collaborative on Development Sciences Chair, Professor Anne Glover, and the panel included Professor Alan Thorpe, Chair of Research Councils UK and CEO of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of Research at DFID and Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Guy Collender of the London International Development Centre has also written about the book launch.

In his presentation, Jeff Waage said we need to "change the way we do science for development – a model of science created in the North, with a slow transfer to the South". He suggested focusing on building personal and institutional capacities. Training should focus on empowering scientists, building skills and careers in developing countries, and British scientists must learn to collaborate better, by improving incentives.

According to the book's authors, development can be strengthened through better innovation systems, as well as support for new technologies and research, including the private sector (if it makes technologies available for development needs). Science and innovation aren’t just a search for technical solutions – they’re also about improving scientific understanding. Policymakers need a better understanding of science and its potential for addressing societal needs.

Other presentations dealt with "appropriate technologies" – that is, technologies which are effective, sustainable, equitable, cheap, and with "no side effects". Neither high-tech silver bullets nor traditional technologies alone can meet the varied development needs across the globe. Both authors pointed out that 'traditional', 'intermediate', 'conventional', and technology-intensive 'new platform technologies' can be part of the mix.

Oddly, there was a notable absence of comments on issues of risk and governance, here and throughout the evening’s presentations. How can you have "no side effects"? When you say "appropriate" technology, who should decide whether or not it’s appropriate? However, the approach of using a mix of technologies and approaches to address development needs does remind me of the "diversity" strand of our New Manifesto project.

Interestingly, the questions from the floor focused on issues of policy with regard to governance, building innovative and institutional capacity, and critiques of general insufficient government support for innovation (at least in the UK) - not all topics within the full focus of the book.

Mark Collins, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, said he sees the book as an evidence base for a programme of action. The UK and Commonwealth are both falling short on supporting the governance of science in both developed and developing countries. We could do more to understand the impact of S&T on society – both in terms of moral and ethical dilemmas, and a need to recognize the different effects of S&T on different societies.

Keith Lewin, of the University of Sussex’s Institute of Education, brought up the point of educational access and brain drain – and the need for fresh thinking to change that consistent problem.

Ken Banks, of Kiwanja.net, which helps non-profit organisations to apply mobile technology, said that there are major barriers to institution-building (such as lack of resources). There’s a lack of innovation funding in the UK, especially compared to the US.

Calestous Juma pointed out that donors aren't often particularly interested in institution-building: when he started the (now flourishing) African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the Mennonite Central Committee were the only donor who would commit funding. The Victoria Institute of Science and Technology (VIST), an exciting new initiative based in Western Kenya that focuses on fostering enterprise, is having similar challenges, since it’s a "high-risk" endeavour and doesn’t fit with donor priorities.

What’s exciting is to see an engaged audience struggling with these issues – the kind of debates the New Manifesto project aims to encourage further. For me, the comments at the launch underlined that the New Manifesto can make some useful contributions to the governance discussions of 'who decides' and 'how' – areas where this book may be missing out.

What do those governance arrangements actually look like? That's challenging! I look forward to seeing what comes out in the forthcoming roundtables and, eventually, the final draft of the STEPS New Manifesto.

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010


A month after the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and the disappointment and frustration that many participants and observers around the world felt is still raw. Our colleague Fatema Rajabali was in Copenhagen and captured some of the thoughts of developing country participants during the final days of the event. Have a look at her blog. Read more

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


David Milliband spoke at the Royal Society yesterday on Science, Diplomacy and the Modern Age.

"...international relations has long been premised on the idea of a ‘balance of power’. The international system tended towards equilibrium and self-correction, as states sought to balance each other’s economic or military strength; an echo of the world of Newtonian Mechanics. But today, a defining feature of our world is the tendency towards imbalance and asymmetry, mirroring the world of Quantum Mechanics."

Transcript - A call for convergence: Science and Diplomacy in the modern age

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010


by Adrian Ely, STEPS Centre

The past years have seen several African countries beginning to invest in satellites for defence, communications, and other objectives. Nigeria is one example (see an interview with Turner Isoun, the man behind Nigeria's space race, after the jump). In some cases, these technologies have been applied in agriculture or environmental protection.

The first day of the TWAS-ROSSA Young Scientists’ Network meeting in Nairobi ended with a welcome reception co-hosted by the STEPS Centre. Part of the programme saw the presentation of awards (funded by Microsoft) for researchers working in Africa who had excelled in computer science, with some of their applications reaching into space.

The end of the evening saw a strong call for Africa to invest further in exploratory research (including space science), rather than being constrained to investment in research with direct applications. Can this kind of expenditure be justified?

The next day I managed to talk to Professor Turner Isoun, former Minister of Science and Technology under President Olesegun Obasanjo, who takes the credit for driving Nigeria’s move into space, following the national space strategy in 1999. Nigeria has collaborated with partners in both the UK and China to place 3 satellites in orbit, using some of the enormous revenues from its oil resources.

Prof Isoun previously wrote in a special supplement of Nature that other African countries should join Nigeria in the space race. Responding to criticisms that funding should be better spent on more immediate concerns (half of Nigeria’s population remained in poverty in 2007), Isoun argues that space science and technology can make significant contributions to a country's most pressing social and economic needs, and catalyse industrialization.

But will Nigeria really be able to apply this new-found knowledge to address its development challenges? I asked him how Nigeria had used its international collaboration to build its own innovation capabilities to adapt and apply space science to locally-defined problems, and what policies had been put in place to ensure that the benefits from the investment were equitably distributed throughout the Nigerian population.

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by Adrian Ely, STEPS Centre

The African Academy of Sciences' vision is to be the engine driving scientific and technological development in Africa. It was established by prominent scientists, and the membership is still focused around the ‘hard’ sciences, especially physics and mathematics. But from our recent trip to Nairobi it's obvious that the contribution of the applied and social sciences, and other forms of knowledge, is increasingly recognised.

Interdisciplinarity was an obvious theme in the presentations on the first day of the 4th TWAS-ROSSA Young Scientists’ Conference in Africa on “Science and Technology (S&T) Enterprises in Africa”. There is also a growing appreciation within the academy for different forms of knowledge, as illustrated by the first day’s presentation by Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole from Nigeria. Toyin spoke on the question: "Intersecting knowledges: What appropriate model for science & local technologies in sub-Saharan Africa?"

Toyin’s presentation touched on various issues, including the processes through which formal or informal knowledges are included or excluded from political debate and support, the attrition of certain forms of local knowledge as a result of ‘dominant’ forms.

Discussions were vigorous, linking to the role of intellectual property in protecting informal knowledge, and the challenge of linking formal science and technology to the informal sector that was reported to make up 80% of Africa’s economy.
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By Adrian Ely

The first day of the 4th TWAS-ROSSA Young Scientists’ Conference in Africa on "Science and Technology (S&T) Enterprises in Africa" provided a platform for some great examples of applied scientific research being carried out on the continent. Much of this was problem-focussed, interdisciplinary research, rather than "ivory tower" science.

However, several speakers mentioned the continuing need for the outputs of the research to be communicated effectively to policy makers, or alternatively to go on to strengthen enterprises in Africa.

The opening presentations focused on the application of science and technology through entrepreneurship - which involves risk-taking, flexibility and business skills as well as technical scientific knowledge.

To give you an idea, here are a few titles of the presentations by young scientists:

Medicinal plant & drug development in Africa: The health and economic implication in a global arena of knowledge based economy
John Francis Antiabong [Nigeria]

Cocoyam based enterprises in rural households: Implication for food security in Nigeria
Patience Ifeyinwa Opata [Nigeria]

Making smallholder agriculture profitable - science and technology enterprises
Thomson Sanudi [Malawi]

Is agro-processing the forgotten link towards economic development in Africa? A focus on mango fruits in Kenya and Cassava in Mozambique
Penina Ngusye Muoki [Mozambique] (video above)

Certain factors influencing disadoption of maize production technology among farmers in Ashanti region, Ghana through the lens of extension agents
Joseph Adomako [Ghana]

Food or Jatropha for biofuels? Farmers’ dilemma in the coast province of Kenya
Violet Moraa Mogaka [Kenya]

An overview of small-scale cage culture enterprise development – A case for Malawi
Chikondi Manyungwa Pasani [Malawi]

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