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News / Symposium ’09: final session – Responses from the international community, government, media, civil society and the private sector

The last session, chaired by Melissa Leach, invited various participants to feed back on the preceding discussions.

– David Dickson
– Dr David Grimshaw
– Joachim Voss
– Christine Drury (Christine’s slides)
Speaker biographies

Pointing to initiatives such as the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (several of the founder members of which were in the room), and a range of controversies from Silent Spring to the Vietnam War, David Dickson challenged the assertion (in the draft manifesto) that the 1960s was a time of techno-optimism. The mid-late sixties, he said, was already a time when people were realising that science and technology was political, and since then various strands of work, including SciDev.Net have emerged that have tried to enable and stimulate more debate.

The challenge for the manifesto project is to recognise these different activities and reflect and support them in its recommendations. It is necessary to build capacity throughout innovation systems to discuss and challenge the existing politics of technology, and journalists are particularly important here.

Change will not come from new institutions or just from taking better decisions, but through challenging the power lying within existing institutions – this is already happening in many of the debates around innovation systems throughout the world.

David Grimshaw challenged the manifesto to include 3 Vs – more on vision, more on values, and more on validation. Both IDS/SPRU and ITDG (now Practical Action) have 40 years of intellectual heritage, but we need to keep updating ourselves.

Firstly, David suggested we start with visions and dreams – what is the manifesto’s one-line vision that gets the message across to the public? Secondly, having taught in business school about targets and managerialist approaches he can recognise that the MDGs may have taken the world in the wrong direction. Economic growth is not delivering happiness, so it is important to base the manifesto’s message on a set of ethical, philosophical and explicit values.

In addition, David pointed to validation and process thinking, and challenged the manifesto project to use more modern, high-tech methods e.g. open source, open collaborative methods in order to get validation of the manifesto outputs.

Joachim Voss suggested that more attention needs to be paid in the manifesto to the rapid rise of inequality, including to the new philanthropists and how they influence the innovation agenda.

At the same time, he suggested a more nuanced view as to the role of the state, highlighting that in many cases it has been those governments that have made large investments in education and human capital development have become the most successful in terms of building innovative and dynamic societies. Pointing to the increasing levels of donor aid (and decreasing private investment) in Africa, he highlighted the lack of accountability of donors to their supposed beneficiaries as a challenge to the manifesto.

Christine Drury pointed to the challenges facing the private sector at present: both in terms of resilience (in terms of economic sustainability and strength against take-overs) but also concerns over corporate social responsibility, safety policy and practice, company missions, identity, knowledge and brand strength.

Climate change is currently driving a huge amount of this change (e.g. carbon disclosure requirements), but these pressures are also crowding out many of the other sustainability objectives and agendas. The manifesto should turn this to an opportunity and focus more on the regulatory context in which firms act. In addition, it should be aware of the time that it takes corporations to move from product quality to organisational excellence – the public policy frameworks facilitating this shift therefore need to be consistent and predictable.

Christine suggested that the manifesto’s target audiences should include the corporate strategy gurus. She argued that corporate social responsibility was becoming more visible, and brand’s “social missions” were becoming more central in corporate practice. The world is therefore less polarised than the manifesto currently suggests – and partnerships present exciting opportunities for the future.

Melissa Leach responded by thanking each of the speakers, and reiterating that the manifesto draft, and the day’s discussions were part of a process involving the symposium participants and many other organisations. STEPS is not arguing that this particular Sussex group is unique or the only people putting forward these arguments, but rather part of a growing groundswell of opinion and discussion. Part of that process is trying to involve more information technology tools, including the wiki timeline, multimedia manifesto and roundtables, as far as our expertise and resources allow.

>> Full Symposium Report (PDF, 310KB)

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