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The role of innovation in development policy

While wholeheartedly agreeing with the important points made by Keith Bezanson and Geoffrey Oldham in their editorial (see Rethinking science aid) they are wrong to suggest that the UK parliamentary select committee on science and technology came to a different conclusion about the need to move from research to innovation. 

They did not. 

For instance, in paragraph 13 of its report, the committee explains that: "Research is one element of a wider process of innovation. The effectiveness of research is now seen to be dependent on the capacities and resources of a range of actors, in both the public and private sectors, and the links that enable them to communicate effectively with each other, both within a country and with the outside world."

Furthermore, it recommends that: "Investment to strengthen the whole system of innovation in developing countries is required to make research more effective" [Recommendation 51]

The committee also states: "The [Department for Trade and Industry] has invested significant resources in strengthening its understanding of, and ability to promote, innovation in the United Kingdom. This knowledge could also be profitably utilised for informing the UK approach to development." [Recommendation 62]

Great minds think alike?

A response from
Keith Bezanson and Geoff Oldham follows:

We understand and appreciate fully the concern you raise, but hope it is clear that we did not say that the committee's report had missed the point on innovation. 

Rather our aim was to point to the fact that the seminal lessons of history had neither been sought out nor reflected in the (really quite strident) report's recommendations to the Department for International Development.

And our aim was also to underscore that the more linear and simplistic propositions affirming the centrality of scientific research needed to be subjected to the rigorous test of what we should learn from the efforts and experiences of the past 50 years.

Our underlying point is that donors function like sheep 'herding' around the latest 'flavour of the month' and that there is now a significant danger that science and technology policy approaches will be the newest flavour.

Thus, while we urge them to examine carefully what can be learned from the history of efforts to link science and technology to development before they promulgate the newest flavour, we do not suggest that the committee's report completely missed the centrality of an approach based on innovation.

Rather, we try to encourage a much more nuanced focus on priority strategic choices for poor countries, including issues of the most developmentally effective sequencing of science and technology investments for development.