Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice, the new book in our Pathways to Sustainability series, highlights the problems of emergency knee-jerk responses to serious outbreaks of disease.

Of the many cases in the book, one is the story of the response to swine flu in Egypt. To address the disease, the government launched a nationwide cull on pigs. But the pigs had been a key part of an informal waste recycling industry - consuming much of Cairo's waste. The cull led to waste piling up in the streets, and destroyed the livelihoods of the Christian minority who had employed pigs as waste recyclers for generations.

Epidemics argues for the need to incorporate alternative understandings about the social, biological, environmental and technological causes of disease outbreaks. It also suggests how policy-makers can be alert to short-term and long-term factors when planning ahead for disease.

>> Epidemics: Science, Governance and Social Justice, edited by Sarah Dry and Melissa Leach (buy from Earthscan books)
>> Pathways to Sustainability book series
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Monday, 19 July 2010


We are working to challenge the prevailing concepts of “scaling up” in the health sector, along with our affiliate partner Future Health Systems.

Opinions on how to improve access to services vary. There's a long-standing debate on the relative merits of blueprint approaches - which involve the replication of a well-designed intervention in multiple settings - and locally driven approaches, which rely exclusively on local innovation. Both have limitations.

The latest event was a workshop at IDS on 24 May, with the following aims:

>> to explore approaches that have fostered innovation, rapid learning and large-scale impact in the health sector that incorporate context and social arrangements as central to learning and change
>> to identify practical approaches for collaboration between innovators, researchers, governments and funding agencies to strengthen the capacity of health systems to meet the needs of the poor.

On the website, we've got video interviews with participants at the workshop, the agenda and links to all the presentations to view or download.

Beyond Scaling Up: Pathways to Universal Access

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010


The latest in the STEPS Centre's Pathways to Sustainability book series is published today - Rice Biofortification: Lessons for Global Science and Development by Sally Brooks.

Biofortification, the enrichment of staple food crops with essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A - has been heralded as a uniquely sustainable solution to the problem of micronutrient deficiency or 'hidden hunger'.

By breeding or genetically engineering crop varieties with enhanced nutrient levels, proponents argue, the solution to this intractable global problem can be built into the seed itself, and so reach previously unreachable populations in remote rural areas of the developing world.

But is biofortification the 'silver bullet' that will succeed where other interventions have failed? With nutrition higher on donor agendas than has been the case for many years, is it an idea whose time has come? This new book engagemes critcally with the assumptions of this approach.

Sally has written a short piece about her new book on the Institute of Development Studies website, which can be ordered via the Earthscan website for £19.99.
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By Satchida Rana, MA Science, Society and Development student.

At the launch of the New Manifesto on 15 June, there were some great discussions about the future of innovation for development. But if the New Manifesto is to work for people who are in need, then these good intentions need to be translated into action in the coming days, in line with the Manifesto’s "3D agenda" (Direction, Distribution and Diversity).

So what is needed? Here are some of the key points that I took away from the day:

>> Voices and choices that are heard: we need bottom-up, participatory, pluralist and democratic approaches with increased transparency and better accountability.

>> For the people, by the people: The country’s science and technology research and innovations have to be firmly grounded to the grassroots reality in addressing the real social issues and challenges.

>> Think global, act local: Science & Technology must encourage and promote entrepreneurship and local knowledge. Research needs to target and harness community-based innovations for development.

>> Nurturing a new innovation politics: Research writing from community-based entrepreneurs on their innovations doesn’t always meet peer-review standards, or isn’t appealing to a Western audience. We need some measures or mechanisms to promote and reward these people and their innovations and writings, both at the national and at the international level.

>> Linking local to global: Science for excellence cannot be achieved until we harness and acknowledge local expertise, innovations and initiatives, along with creating local science centres.
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Monday, 5 July 2010


By Dr Adrian Ely, STEPS Centre member

How do we create more low-carbon societies? It's clear that "top down" and "bottom up" forms of innovation will both have a role to play, but what will be the balance between the two? A new report, “Game-changing China: Lessons from China about Disruptive Low Carbon Innovation” contains some surprising examples.

Dr David Tyfield (CeMoRe, Lancaster University), one of the authors, visited the STEPS Centre last Thursday to present the report (co-authored by Dr Tyfield, Jun Jin and Tyler Rooker, and published by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts).

"Game-Changing China" is a welcome contribution to the debate over the role that different forms of innovation can play in the quest for low-carbon development. It is clear that a mixture of approaches to innovation are going to be required, but what remains to be seen is how this balance will be struck in different countries. Especially interesting in the Chinese case is how "grassroots innovation", which has already played a huge role in China’s recent development, will or will not be harnessed in the search for environmental sustainability. This question also featured in a background paper to the STEPS Centre’s Manifesto project.

The NESTA report draws upon ideas of "disruptive innovation" (as originally put forward by Clayton Christensen) and "socio-technical transitions" (also used by colleagues at the STEPS Centre’s work). The authors argue that initially low-profile, and in some cases relatively low-tech, innovations can contribute - alongside social changes - to broader systemic changes that reach way beyond the newly-introduced technologies.

These systemic changes are widely seen as the kind of broad-scale "transitions" that will be required for us to move towards low-carbon societies. Most of the literature on "socio-technical transitions" sees an important role for the public and communities in bringing about these changes. One example is the Transition Network that is driving change from the community-level in the UK and beyond.

The audience at Dr Tyfield's presentation last Thursday, made up of researchers from SPRU and IDS, raised questions about how current "socio-technical transitions" ideas could be applied in different governance contexts. While most of the case studies that have adopted these ideas have to date focussed on Western countries (usually democracies, although the form of democracy varies with each historical study), the governance context in China is markedly different. What impact do alternative political conditions have on the ways in which "landscape changes" (in the terms used by transitions theorists) put pressure on socio-technical regimes? How can/do "niches" accumulate, and how can/do dominant socio-technical regimes become disrupted in the very different situations found in China and elsewhere? This was identified as an important question for further empirical investigation.

As well as putting forward a selection of informative case studies and important lessons from the Chinese case, the new report opens the door to further research investigating the relative importance of different forms of innovation and social change in diverse governance contexts around the world.

>> “Game-changing China: Lessons from China about Disruptive Low Carbon Innovation”
>> Redistribution: The Global Redistribution of Innovation: Lessons from China and India (Manifesto background paper)
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