Science and Innovation for Development
May 3, 2011
By Gordon Conway, Jeff Waage, and Sara Delaney
We have written this book to help people understand how science can contribute to international development. People interested in international development often have very different views about the value of science. At one extreme, some see science and technology providing the principal means for reducing poverty, eliminating disease and improving well being. At another extreme, science is seen as part of an imposed, external regime, associated with industrial exploitation and suppression of indigenous knowledge.
Fluctuations over recent decades in perspectives on development create a similar diversity of roles for science. When development theory and practice have focused on generating economic growth, as in the days of the Washington Consensus, we have seen support for programs that extend technological advances to poor countries which would make a workforce more efficient, raise GDP and improve incomes. When, instead, theory and practice swing towards the view that development is being prevented largely by social and political forces, e.g. education, social exclusion, poor governance and corruption, we see the agronomists, engineers and health specialists vacate their development advisor's offices, to be replaced by social scientists. Development policy makers seem to listen to social scientists or natural scientists, but rarely both.
Today the issue of the role of science could not be more alive, as we sit between cycles of development thinking. Having pursued a welfare-oriented agenda in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we now face a global economic crisis which is focusing attention again on economic growth. Foundations, businesses and civil society organizations are becoming more important development players, and we are seeing them take very different views on the role of science. One needs only to look at recent dialogue on genetically modified (GM) crops to see how polarized communities have become, in both rich and poor countries, about the value of science and innovation in a development context.
We hope that this book will give anyone who is interested in international development a clearer picture of the role that science and innovation can play. We firmly believe that science is only one of many factors which can contribute to development, but we want that factor to be well understood, particularly as science is often presented in a way which is not easily accessible to the non-specialist. We have used the MDGs as a framework for our exploration, because they address a wide range of development issues where science is particularly active: agriculture, health, and the environment.
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