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News / Symposium ’09: Session 1 – Themes, challenges and opportunities – international debates

This first session, chaired by Melissa Leach, introduced and contextualised the new manifesto project, outlining some of the assumptions of mainstream approaches and identifying opportunities and challenges for radical change.

Responses provided a historical perspective to the manifesto and outlined some of the aspects that speakers felt were missing from the current draft, or needed further thought.

– Dr Adrian Ely (Adrian’s slides)
– Prof Geoffrey Oldham (Geoffrey’s slides)
– Prof Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka
– Dr Tony Marjoram
Speaker biographies

The session began with an introduction to the manifesto project, and the primary arguments being put forward within the ‘new manifesto’.

Responses highlighted some of the changes that had taken place since 1970 when the original manifesto emerged, and contrasted the content of the new and old manifestos. A recurrent theme was that the simple categories of “developing” or “developed” countries no longer hold, and in considering innovation policy, as with other arenas, a more nuanced and contextually specific approach is needed.

Geoff Oldham highlighted the strengths of the original manifesto – its appreciation of a systems perspective and its recognition of the role that scientific and technological services, as well as pure research and development. He specified that the original manifesto had not focussed so much on distributional issues related to poverty alleviation, gender or the environment. Instead, he said, the new manifesto puts these at the centre of its recommendations.

He questioned the appropriateness of a document such as this being produced by a small group of Western academics and expressed a hope that the new manifesto would stimulate thinking and debate, and hopefully lead to the production of other manifestos emerging from different parts of the world.

Banji Oleyaran Oyeyinka reflected back to his time at Sussex 25 years ago, when there were healthy debates (and rivalry) between IDS and SPRU. His research since has, broadly, looked at what causes uneven paths of development, including between and within developing countries themselves.

Again referring to the question of categories, he put forward three groups for ease of analysis – frontier countries, first followers and late followers, but also highlighted that important inequalities occur within national borders down to the level of households.

Banji highlighted the neglect of innovation in mainstream initiatives, and in particular, within the MDGs, which have prioritised outcomes at the expense of the efforts and associated learning and knowledge creation vital to the innovation process. Eradicating poverty will be very difficult without taking these concerns more seriously. In addition, although the MDGs have recognised individual human capital, for example through health, primary and secondary enrolment, the ‘capacity to create’, and the systemic capabilities – including those within organisations and institutions that are shown to be important when analysing innovation in firms or clusters – are absent from these documents. He argued that the manifesto should highlight these points, and emphasise the ways in which they help to build up the productive sector and create a broader cross-section of enterprises.

Banji went on to discuss aid, debt-relief and trade, currently not explicitly addressed in the draft manifesto. Highlighting the fact that many developing economies have for decades remained focussed on natural resources, Banji argued that claims that developing countries can export their way out of poverty are misplaced, and indigenous innovation capacity needs to be a central objective. In moving forward, he argued that we must be very mindful of the negative role of inequality, avoid romanticising informalities and the manifestations of poverty and focus on eradicating them, as well as building the productive sectors.

Tony Marjoram highlighted several of the arguments in the original manifesto that are relevant today, and pointed to the 1970s as a golden decade for development, with initiatives around appropriate technology and other lessons that are usefully being revisited within the manifesto project.

The structural adjustment of the 1980s led to a decline in many of these initiatives, however UNESCO continued to try to foster collaboration and co-ordination through meetings such as CASTAfrica I and II and CASTAsia I and II, and in some cases the recommendations were taken up. Through the 1990s to the MDGs, the importance of innovation remained under-emphasised however began to be recognised again into the 2000s.

Tony questioned whether there are indeed any “mainstream models for science and technology for development” that the new manifesto hopes to challenge, and pointed to many initiatives outside the infrastructure and investment models. He also pointed to climate change debates that focus on adaptation, mitigation, technology and finance, stressing that innovation’s importance is still underplayed in current documents such as ‘Acting on climate change:The UN system delivering as one’, and arguing that climate change presents an important opportunity to kickstart more interest in innovation among policymakers through the provision of information, data, indicators and of course advocacy and lobbying.

Important points were raised by the audience – with Martin Bell asking whether we were talking to ‘the enemy’ (who saw innovation as solely the preserve of the most developed countries) and Brian Wynne arguing that we can potentially open up room for ‘Southern’ institutions to act more freely by focussing our recommendations at ‘Northern’ institutions.

Raphie Kaplinsky put forward a presentational point, arguing that the first Sussex Manifesto was in many ways a precursor to endogenous growth theory, and suggesting that the new manifesto should be described as asking what is the content of that endogenisation of science and technology. He also questioned whether there would be widescale acceptance of what he saw as the manifesto’s implicit emphasis on the precautionary principle, and downplaying of growth as an objective. Whilst a key challenge for global sustainability is for the north to stop “growth”, there are certain parts of the world where growth is vital.

Banji’s earlier points were to some extent reiterated by Ponge Awuor who asked whether, with the likely failure to achieve the MDG targets, there was a danger that goalposts would shift and, as there was no bottom-up element in the implementation of the targets, there were severe limits to the long-term sustainability of the initiatives to reach these targets. Indigenous knowledge was also comparatively neglected in the Millennium project.

It is clear that, whilst focussing on the role of innovation in poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability, the current draft of the manifesto does not explicitly address other development issues raised by some of the speakers – of trade, finance/debt-relief, aid, unemployment. It was suggested that these must either be brought in to the analysis or, more realistically, acknowledged for their importance before proceeding to the key focus of the document.

The STEPS Centre was also urged to engage with debates around the millennium development goals, highlighting the under-emphasis of innovation, innovation capabilities and indigenous knowledge in the efforts to meet them.

>> Full Symposium Report (PDF, 310KB)

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