Bringing science and development together through original news and analysis

Science & Innovation Policy: Introduction

Science and technology are crucial for development. Properly harnessed, they can boost growth and reduce poverty. But they are not sufficient in themselves.

Science and technology must be combined with several other factors that, grouped together, determine the innovation process and can thus be described as an 'innovation system'.

Many developing countries are recognising the importance of investing in science to build their economies, but face a number of challenges to do this.

A sound infrastructure of research institutions, laboratories and hospitals is crucial to building a strong science base.

Just as important is education — institutions are only as effective as the individuals who populate them, and skilled professionals are vital to translate scientific advances into economic advancement. Well-run universities with access to up-to-date research and information are key.

Some developing countries are notorious for neglecting the education and careers of women — gender inequality needs to be tackled urgently.

And having invested in the scientific education of their people, developing countries must also offer secure and well-paid employment, or risk losing their best and brightest in a brain drain to wealthier nations.

Science is a communal enterprise, since research builds on the work of peers. Communicating and discussing issues enable researchers to keep tabs on new developments and informs their own studies, so scientific networks and regional partnerships are important.

Developing countries need to start to work with each other. South-South collaboration can enable nations to share knowledge gained from environments more like their own.

Technology transfer from more developed countries also has a role in fuelling development. But simply transferring technology is not enough — countries receiving the knowledge must be able to usefully apply it and combine it with domestic technology advances.

Few of these requirements are possible without reliable funding and strong policies. The latter must not view science as an isolated sector but attempt to embed scientific aims into fiscal, educational and financial policies.

In developing countries, government policies for science and technology to encourage growth must also be 'pro-poor' — that is, they must be designed in a way that allows the poor to benefit and increase their incomes.

And Innovation also requires entrepreneurship to invigorate local markets. As countries develop, their intellectual property systems become particularly important in protecting the results of scientific innovation.

Harnessing science, technology and innovation for development is a challenge. This topic gateway brings together news and features articles, combined with background analysis and opinion, that highlight the most important aspects of that challenge and the policy choices that need to be made.

The merits of the gateway depend entirely on its usefulness to our readers, so we welcome feedback on how to improve its content.