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The British government has launched an online consultation to seek guidance on how it should support science and innovation as part of its international aid programme.

The consultation was launched this week by Gordon Conway, the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who was appointed chief scientist at the Department for International Development (DFID) earlier this year and is currently drawing up a science and innovation strategy for the department.

According to Conway, developing the new strategy is one of his "highest priorities". It is intended not only to describe the current activities of the UK government in this area, but also provide a "scientific lens" for DFID thinking, and for its future policy development (see Six components for science in poor nations).

"I am keen to seek views on the strategy, and learn from the wealth of knowledge, experience and new and exciting thinking that exists, not only in the international community — and in DFID itself — but particularly among our partners in developing countries," Conway said in a statement issued on Tuesday (28 June).

The Science and Innovation Strategy is expected to be published by the end of 2005. In addition to influencing DFID's own thinking, it will also contribute to the delivery of the UK's ten-year investment framework for science and development, launched by finance minister Gordon Brown last year.

Earlier this year, DFID was criticised by a UK parliamentary committee for not making a greater contribution to the initial design of this ten-year framework, which lays out a plan for significantly increasing government support for science and technology in Britain — but has relatively little to say about how much of this should be aimed at helping developing countries.

DFID officials say that the consultation is intended to pose a range of questions about how the department engages with science and innovation, whether internally, as part of the international community, or in developing countries.

"By 'science' we refer to the full spectrum of natural and social sciences, engineering and technology. 'Innovation' refers to the successful application of new ideas, from cutting edge research to the application of established technologies to meet the challenges faced by the very poorest," says a statement issued by the department.

Officials say that the online consultation is intended to help the department increase its effectiveness, and to establish future priorities for supporting science and innovation for development.

However, they add that although the strategy will be used "to inform and influence resource allocation processes", the consultation "is not an opportunity to bid directly for DFID funds".

Contributions should be submitted no later than 19 September 2005. To contribute, please visit the consultation website at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/consultations/.

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