Thursday, 31 January 2013

What the new Ahmedabad Declaration means for grassroots innovation

by Adrian Smith, STEPS Grassroots Innovation project

NOTE: A new article on grassroots innovation has just been published on the website of the Journal of Cleaner Production, authored by Adrian Smith, Mariano Fressoli and HernĂ¡n Thomas.

Smith, A., Fressoli, M. and Thomas, H. (2013) Grassroots innovation movements: challenges and contributions, Journal of Cleaner Production (in press)

The Honey Bee Network has issued a Declaration for grassroots innovation. It draws upon a quarter century of experience in the field, and the Network’s increasing profile and influence. A draft Declaration was debated at conferences convened in Ahmedabad in India and Tianjin in China in December 2012. The conferences provided space for grassroots innovators, people working in support agencies, and researchers to feed their experiences into the Declaration.

The resulting Ahmedabad Declaration has now been issued. Given the experience it draws upon, this is an important document.

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The battle over evidence-based approaches to development

11-16-10 Evidence, from iampeas on Flickr (cc)
If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth looking at the debate over evidence-based approaches to development assistance that ran over three days on Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power blog.

In the first post, Rosalind Eyben and Chris Roche suggest that evidence based approaches, along with results and best value for money, distract attention away from the politics and power relations involved in development assistance. Does the framing of initiatives as ‘laboratories’ (Millennium Villages are given as an example) mean that people are seen as subjects of an experiment?
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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

3 challenges for science and democracy after Rio+20

Rally to Restore Sanity, from Steve Rhodes' photostream on Flickr (by-nc-nd)
By Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre director

When sustainability poses complex and often tangled questions, how do we answer them?

In international circles before, at and since Rio, we’re seeing strong arguments for a science-led agenda – from Earth System Science and planetary boundaries, to climate science, to the uses of biotechnology to tackle the challenges and opportunities of food production. With initiatives such as Future Earth and the UN’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, we are seeing important arguments that science needs to play a central role in debating and shaping planetary futures.

However, all too often, this translates into a view where expert scientists should be providing the evidence to counter the short-term, electoral cycle driven interests of national politicians – and the ignorant, ill-informed or self-interested publics who vote for them – in order to drive policies to save the planet.

In the arena of food, according to this view scientists need to work against the ‘march of unreason’ that raises concerns about technologies such as GM crops, in order to feed 9 billion people by 2050.

As a complex world attempts to move towards a post-2015 agenda and set of SDGs, will this simple view of ‘expert science’ and science vs. politics get us there? I believe not, and that we need to democratise science in 3 fundamental ways.

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

The limits of ‘evidence’: Evidence-Based Policy-making for African agriculture

By James Sumberg, Martha Awo, John Thompson, George T-M Kwadzo and Dela-Dem Doe Fiankor, Researchers, STEPS Centre Livestock project

Agricultural policy makers in Africa are now being dragged into the era of ‘evidence-based’ policy (EBP) making. But the quality and availability of evidence in some countries - and debates about what even counts as evidence - create some interesting challenges.

Globally the proponents of EBP have been criticised for adopting a simplistic, linear understanding of the relationship between evidence and action, and for their normative approach to the desirable relationships between research-based knowledge and policy formulation. However, the literature on EBP, and particularly that associated with the ‘realist synthesis’, increasingly recognises that there are in fact different ‘evidence bases’; that the notion of evidence can be quite slippery and contested; and that different kinds of evidence can be interpreted and valued differently by different groups and individuals. (That’s a theme that will be explored in detail at the STEPS Centre's symposium on scientific advice in a couple of weeks' time.)

Despite the varied view of evidence in the literature, the idea that policy makers should take more account of ‘evidence’ (e.g. of what worked where, for whom and under what conditions) is now generally accepted. Many governments and donor agencies emphasise the central importance of EBP in improving development interventions and outcomes and in holding the policy actors to account. Of course, before the point of evaluating the impacts of various policy options, ‘evidence’ is also critical for establishing basic trends, constraints and dynamics within a sector or around a particular problem of interest.

But do African policy makers have access to good evidence? The challenges around the availability and quality of baseline data relating to food and agriculture in Africa (e.g. crop areas, yields, livestock populations and offtake levels) are long-standing and well recognised. More often than not, policy analysts, advocates and programme and project developers rely on national data series available through government statistics offices and FAOSTAT from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization because it is ‘the best data available’ (or more often because it is ‘the only data available’).

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