15 June 2010

A New Manifesto for Innovation, Sustainability and Development

Today the Royal Society hosted the launch of the STEPS Centre Manifesto on Innovation, Sustainability and Development. STEPS is supported by the ESRC and hosted by IDS and by SPRU at the University of Sussex.

The Manifesto draws on work that STEPS has done over the past 4 years and over the past year it has been co-developed in over 20 roundtables from around the world, a process convened by Adrian Ely of SPRU. The Co-Directors of STEPS are Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones of IDS and Andy Stirling of SPRU.

The starting point for the Manifesto is the massive disconnect between ever expanding volumes of research and development in science and technology (S&T) and the persistence of poverty, social injustice and environmental damage. How can these resources be made to work for goals that go beyond commerce, beyond economic growth and beyond simple private gain?

The Manifesto focuses on the 3Ds of S&T processes:

Direction – often we think that the dominant pathway of innovation is the best one. But often this is simply a reflection of path dependence in investments or a manifestation of the power held by those who support the pathway. In reality there are many candidate pathways if we can only open up spaces for them.

Diversity – this has to be deliberately constructed – otherwise the most powerful will drown out the rest. Diversity is important because it is a hedge against an uncertain future and it can throw up creative and previously unimaginable questions, pathways and options.

Distribution – diversity, yes, but what kind of diversity? The poorest and most marginal are those excluded from choices about which science and technology is prioritized. These voices must enter the debate in ways that give them some chance of influencing the debate.

The 3Ds generate an action agenda in 5 areas that shape science and technology processes:

• Agenda setting—who decides what are the key questions to address through S&T?
• Funding—what are the institutional incentives to align public and private S&T spending towards poverty alleviation, social justice and environment?
• Capacity development—in particular of “bridging professionals” that can connect science and society
• Organising—invest in organizational arrangements that promote bridging
• Monitoring, Evaluation and Accountability—measure the effect of S&T on things we really care about, report funding allocated towards development goals, report back to national parliaments on the 3 D impacts of investments in S&T.

Comments from the conference participants were very positive:

• The emphasis that there are choices in S&T and that they are as much political as technical
• The emphasis on diversity of pathways to innovation and the creation of deliberate portfolios of innovation
• The ambition of the manifesto was much appreciated—here was a clear break from business as usual

There were words of warning too:

• Watch out for the over-reliance on jargon
• Learn from past experiences (good and bad) such as the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment
• Don’t let engagement with policy detract from the content

Overall, the Manifesto team was commended for its vision, energy and inclusiveness. Many opportunities for influencing were noted (ranging from the UK’s Research Excellence Framework to DFID’s Emerging Technologies funding window to the new Government’s focus on transparency and accountability).

The key question for me was “does the Manifesto action agenda rely on a powerful actor seeing the light?” If it does, how will this happen? Can it be accomplished by mobilizing civil society? Or will the action agenda have to bypass the powerful status quo organizations and rely on change from the emerging voices who are at the margins now?

The STEPS team knows that these kinds of changes don’t come quickly and they were clear that this report is just one moment in a longer process.

The Chair of the ESRC, Alan Gillespie, reminded us how long change processes can take. In reflecting on the original Sussex Manifesto from 1970 he noted that the report called for the UN to establish clear outcome orientated development goals. The MDGs were established 30 years later.

I encourage you to keep tabs on this important social change process at http://www.anewmanifesto.org/

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