Science and international development

Written evidence submitted by the ESRC Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre (Int Dev 02)

1. The STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement centre uniting development studies with science and technology studies. Our work addresses two vital global challenges: linking environmental sustainability with better livelihoods and health for poor people; and helping science and technology work for poverty reduction and social justice. The STEPS Centre is based at the Institute of Development Studies and SPRU Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex in the UK. We work with partners in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe and are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Further details are available at:

2. The STEPS Centre believes the UK Government can improve support for scientific capacity building for science, technology and innovation in developing countries in a number of ways and we welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. In summary, we believe investment and support for sustainable capacity building activities must move beyond a focus on elite science and so-called ‘centres of excellence’ to support science that works more directly for diverse social and environmental needs (STEPS Centre 2010 [1] ). To that end, the inclusion of groups outside of mainstream science, such as civil society organisations, local entrepreneurs and small businesses, in the scope of capacity building is vital , as is extending beyond technical to encompass social dimensions of innovation . We would particularly like to address points 1, 2, 4 and 5 in the terms of reference for this inquiry and have a number of recommendations to make.

3. Many recent policy statements concerning science, technology, innovation and development have emphasised the creation of ‘centres of excellence’ in developing countries as a key goal. These are seen as a means to enhance science and technology capacity in developing countries, and hence, so it is argued, promote linkages between science, technology and development (Leach and Waldman 2009 [2] ). Advanced countries provide support to the centres through funding and skill provision.

4. It is beyond doubt that developing countries need to build and retain scientific expertise and to foster top quality science through new partnership arrangements. And, in part, centres of excellence have been invaluable in shifting the centres of gravity in science, technology and innovation capacity from north to south. But, a universalised, a-political notion of capacity and excellence which responds to globalised ideas of economic progress has been fostered. We believe a notion of capacity which responds to the diversity of development needs and contexts would be preferable. To do this, there is a need to go beyond – or at least to complement - centres of excellence with a range of principles and actions

5. We believe the transformative power of science and technology can be harnessed more effectively to address social justice and poverty alleviation. But first the benefits of innovation need to be shared more widely and equitably; innovation must be organised in ways that are networked, distributed and inclusive, involving diverse people and groups, including those that are poor and marginalised; effective models and mechanisms for supporting sustainable research capacity are needed; and government activities must become more aligned with the local needs and priorities of diverse groups. Capacity building for science, technology and innovation must begin to focus on supporting science that works directly for diverse social and environmental needs, and in relation to specific sustainability goals.

6. It is worth investigating what is meant by the phrase ‘capacity building’. In the development context, ‘Capacity development...seems to have become a catch-all that incorporates just about any form of technical assistance, and which appears to be a rather neutral, value-free form of engagement between development actors’ (Taylor and Clarke 2008: 6 [3] ). There is often little specification of ‘capacity of whom to do what, to what ends?’ – I.e. little consideration of the directionality of science and innovation (towards sustainability goals) - and its particular distributional effects – that capacity building might assist. We believe the introduction of this focus is urgently needed. However, what one person sees as scientific excellence another may see as, at best, irrelevant or, at worst, misconceived and damaging. Science, technology and innovation have tremendous potential for development, but there are also pitfalls and unexpected consequences. Dealing with these, in conjunction with the types of problems experienced by today’s society and influenced by globalisation, climate change, and other unprecedented processes, requires a broadening of the notion of excellence and a re-evaluation of who the experts are.

7. Issues of power and social relations should also be considered in relation to science and innovation capacity development. When building international partnerships for supporting science and technology capacity in the south, the imbalance of power between developing countries and highly-funded international institutions is rarely considered. However, ‘systemic’ approaches for understanding and supporting capacity – as outlined by the Institute of Development Studies-based Capacity Collective – attends to (a) individuals’ abilities to construct, share and apply useful knowledge; (b) organisations’ abilities to learn, adapt and manage change effectively, and (c) the dynamics of power that underlie relationships between individuals and organisations, and which shape access to and use of knowledge, learning and performance (Taylor and Clarke 2008:7)

8. If capacity is defined in terms of ‘useful’ knowledge, new avenues are opened up for exploring ‘usefulness to whom, and for what’. This would enable a diversity of need and context, and directionality (towards specific sustainability goals), to be addressed, and for the types of knowledge and learning that might be appropriate to be investigated. And those types of knowledge and learning might look very different to those promoted through existing ‘centres of excellence’.

9. Capacity building needs to move beyond technical elites in large international, state and commercial organisations in order to support and harness the energy, creativity and ingenuity of users, workers, consumers, citizens, activists, farmers and small businesses. For this to happen, the definition of scientific excellence needs to be broadened out to encompass interdisciplinary knowledge, practical expertise and users’ ways of knowing. Particular, normative directions of innovations and development pathways – directions towards specific sustainability objectives – need to be taken in to account.

10. The training of science and technology experts must continue. But alongside this, local entrepreneurs, citizen groups, small businesses and other players in the innovation system should be included in the scope of capacity building. These groups are often left out of the equation when thinking about expertise, excellence and innovation.

11. Capacity building investments should be focused on enhancing the ability of citizens and users to engage actively in innovation processes, not just as passive recipients but as active users, creators and inventors. It has become evident that citizens can innovate – on both local and larger scales - without centralised, top-down organisation. The practices, ingenuity and passion of citizen networks and social movements to innovate needs to be fostered. They should be supported to facilitate the sharing of technologies, practices and wider experiences and learning. Capacity support should be offered to civil society networks and social movements to allow them to engage with national and international political debates about science, technology and innovation.

12. Evidence is emerging of practical examples where approaches to innovation address these principles of direction, distribution and diversity, and harness poorer people’s own innovative capacity. Capacity-building efforts need to focus on creating the conditions in which this kind of process can flourish.

13. For example, recent approaches to Community-Led Total Sanitation highlight the role of bottom-up innovation in addressing local challenges. Sanitation, previously neglected in much development funding, is now enjoying increased support. In contrast to many top-down sanitation projects, community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is an example of an alternative approach that takes communities themselves as the point of departure . This originally began in South Asia and involves the facilitation of a participatory process in rural communities whereby residents come to analyze and reflect on their defecation practices and their consequences in terms of hygiene and health. In numerous cases, this has triggered a change in mindset in which villagers embrace the desire to eliminate open defecation completely. Thereafter, they have developed an array of locally appropriate, innovative, social and technological arrangements for sanitation to achieve this goal – for instance, combining low- cost, self-built latrines with peer pressure to ensure that people use them. CLTS has now spread throughout large areas of Asia and Africa, with varying degrees of success. A massive diversity of technological designs has emerged, adapted to local conditions. Widespread sharing of local innovations and experiences, and ongoing research, are paving the way for further improvement geared towards greater sustainability. This emerging second ‘wave’ of CLTS emphasizes greater diversity of CLTS pathways adapted to particular climatic, ecological and cultural settings and greater attention to distribution within as well as between communities . [4]

14. A second example highlights the role of innovative marketing arrangements in meeting particular technology distribution challenges . [5] The social enterprise Scojo designs and produces low-cost eyeglasses for people with age-related vision problems. In the vibrant markets of South Asia, it has established distribution systems or linked with other organizations that have a local distribution network. In Bangladesh, Scojo is working with BRAC, a very large non-governmental organization (NGO) with a major health program, which has trained an extensive network of village health volunteers. To motivate continuing involvement, BRAC also identified a need to ensure that this volunteering helps to maintain a livelihood in a context where there are increasingly other opportunities for the volunteers to earn a living. Thus, Scojo is filling an important need in rural populations for the distribution of low-cost eyeglasses whilst also providing income to BRAC’s health volunteers, effectively linking need and demand through an innovative organizational arrangement.

15. The example of participatory plant breeding in marginal environments highlights the value of bringing technology users centre stage in shaping innovations . [6] In contrast with the convention of breeding for optimal environments, the innovative CIMMYT-led African Maize Stress (AMS) project, for instance, developed new methodologies for diverse ‘managed stress’ conditions. The research team employed a participatory varietal-evaluation methodology popularlyknown as ‘mother and baby’ trials and went on to instigate a second stage of farmer participatory field research. Starting with the concerns of the most routinely marginalized groups such as women and resource-poor farmers, involving them centrally in designing and implementing the selection and testing of different plant varieties, can enable context-sensitive adaptation and shaping of technologies – paying attention to their social as well as technical dimensions.

16. One way of helping to foster the inclusion of citizens and local groups is to extend capacity-building towards 'bridging professionals’ who are able to link technical expertise with particular social, ecological and economic contexts. Bridging professionals try to marry ideas of scientific excellence with other development challenges. There are a number of initiatives and centres emerging in developing countries that respond to this new challenge of capacity-building; one example is the Victoria Institute of Science and Technology established by Calaestous Juma in Kenya. There are also roles for overseas training. For instance there are several new masters’ degrees in the area of science and technology which look at how science and technology can be developed to meet the requirements of marginalised people. For instance, the Institute of Development Studies, at the University of Sussex, runs a Masters in Science, Society and Development and Maastricht University, in Amsterdam, offers a one year MA programme entitled Governance and Cultures of Innovation. Both courses recognise the needs to: (a) produce experts who are ‘able to deal with the science-technology-society relationship in a reflexive and politically conscious way’; (b) combine different disciplinary approaches in order to grapple with – and ultimately bring together – diverse perspectives, historically-bounded disciplines, theoretical insights and practical experiences; and (c) direct science, technology and innovation towards addressing questions of poverty, social justice and environmental sustainability.

17. New priorities should be set for training – including key reforms to tertiary, further and higher education in the area of science, technology and development. New or reoriented existing institutions are needed that actively link science and technology to located needs and demands. And those institutions should greater provision for local community engagement in tertiary, further and higher education, as well as building new learning platforms, virtual and face-to-face, and wiki spaces for innovation support that enables more inclusive, networked and distributed forms of innovation.

18. Informing, developing and assessing capacity-building policies of this kind – that foster innovation for sustainability and development – must extend beyond the current role played by DFID’s Chief Scientific Adviser. The latter has proved effective in emphasising, and helping to chart a course for, capacity building that focuses on excellence in technical dimensions of science. However greater integration of social, citizen-led and ‘bridging’ perspectives could benefit from expertise from a range of others, including social development advisors within DFID, and a range of civil society organisations and interdisciplinary research institutions both in the UK and internationally.

ESRC Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

5 December 2011

[1] STEPS Centre (2010), Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto, Brighton: STEPS Centre

[2] Leach, M. and Waldman, L. (2009) Centres of Excellence? Questions of Capacity for Innovation, Sustainability, Development , STEPS Working Paper 23, Brighton: STEPS Centre

[3] Taylor, P. and Clarke, P (2008) Capacity for a Change , report based on outcomes of the Capacity Collective workshop, Dunford House, 25-27 September 2007

[4] Kar, K., & Pasteur, K. (2005). Subsidy or self-respect? Community led total sanitation. An update on recent developments (IDS Working Paper 257). Brighton: Institute of Development Studies (IDS); Mehta, L., & Movik, S. (2011). Shit matters: The potential of community-led total sanitation. London: Practical Action.


[5] Bloom, G. (2009). Science and technology for health: Towards universal access in a changing world (STEPS Working Paper 28). Brighton: STEPS Centre.


[6] Millstone, E., Thompson, J., & Brooks, S. (2009). Reforming the global food and agriculture system: Towards a questioning agenda for the New Manifesto (STEPS Working Paper 26). Brighton: STEPS Centre.


Prepared 22nd December 2011