Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development
By Calestous Juma | January 2005
The aim of this report is to share lessons learned from the past five decades of development practices. It is not a collection of recommendations of what countries should do but a source of ideas on how to approach development challenges. It emphasizes the need to create space for policy experimentation and learning in developing countries. Development is largely an expression of local initiative and international partnership; it cannot be sustained without local ownership and champions.
The Task Force on Science, Technology, and Innovation is part of the UN Millennium Project commissioned by the UN Secretary-General to advise on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals arising from the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000. It is one of 10 task forces charged with addressing sectoral and thematic areas.
The task force's work focused on Goal 8, target 18, which charges the international community "in cooperation with the private sector, [to] make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication." The task force interpreted its mandate broadly to include all forms of technological innovation and the associated institutional adjustments. The report outlines the significant role that science, technology, and innovation can play in implementing the Goals. It questions the conventional view that holds that countries that belong to the same income group should share the same policy strategies. Instead, it suggests that policymakers draw from the global pool of lessons and avoid artificial classifications of countries, which tend to reduce the scope for policy learning. Policymakers do not mechanically adopt and implement recommendations, they are engaged in a process that involves continuous learning. The report stresses the need to create international partnerships that allow for mutual learning.
The task force members believe that development is a learning process that involves considerable experimentation. The report therefore presents experiences and ideas that can help communities, countries, and regions pursue their development strategies. While the focus is on new technologies, the report synthesizes many lessons learned in applying science, technology, and innovation to development over the past five decades.
The report draws on the experiences of developing countries that dramatically alleviated poverty and grew their economies in past few decades, especially those in the Asia Pacific region. In every case, scientific and technical information was a crucial factor in their success. These countries and economies could and should help other developing countries meet the Goals by sharing their best practices and experiences in the spirit of South-South cooperation. These lessons are not offered as recommendations that can be readily adopted but as sources that can generate new ideas and evidence. (National governments have already used earlier versions of this report to carry out local assessments to identify specific actions.) Developing countries must have the courage to break with traditional approaches and explore the role of science, technology, and innovation in their development strategies. Doing so will demand a degree of intellectual courage that would resonate with the words of the Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (1632–77): "I do not know how to teach philosophy without being a disturber of established religion."blog comments powered by Disqus