Manifesto calls for bottom-up science in poor countries

Science in developing countries must be more user-driven, says the manifesto Copyright: Flickr/CIAT/Neil Palmer

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[CAPE TOWN and LONDON] Global research and development spending has risen but it has failed to benefit or involve the poor, according to a ‘manifesto’ for developing world science launched yesterday (15 June).

Science in developing countries ought to be more user-driven and more reliant on democratic innovation processes, according to ‘Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto’, produced by the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre based at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

It follows the ‘Sussex Manifesto’, produced by the same university some 40 years ago, which called for global research to focus on problems affecting poor countries and for developing countries themselves to invest more in research and development (R&D).

Although R&D budgets have risen worldwide, the document argues that ordinary people have been locked out of the innovation process because the focus has been on the size of investment — and on increasing the rate of technological innovation — rather than on seeking equitable and sustainable outcomes.

The manifesto cites India, which has developed renowned high-technology sites such as Bangalore. Meanwhile, however, other parts of the country are as deficient as the poorest regions of the world in terms of investment in development and technology.

The report proposes a "3D" agenda, focussing on improving "direction, distribution and diversity". Countries should set up Strategic Innovation Fora — statutory bodies that would bring together a wide range of stakeholders to review spending decisions, debate controversial technology areas and evaluate the risks of various innovation pathways, says the manifesto.

Other proposals include providing businesses with financial incentives to target poverty alleviation and asking research funders to nurture science that meets the needs of the poor rather than aiming for Western-style ideals of excellence.

The aim of the manifesto is to "provide a platform for discussion" and to feed into development discussions, said Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS centre.

And Kevin Urama, director of the African Technology Policy Studies Network — which will publish a manifesto with similar aims, for Africa, later this year, said at the launch of the STEPS manifesto: "The politics of globalisation, both at an international and regional level, have shaped discussions about the direction of science, technology and innovation in a way that effectively excludes the African voice and Africa’s own knowledge communities".

Lidia Brito, a former minister of science and technology in Mozambique, and now director of science policy at UNESCO, said that the manifesto underlines the importance of people in the development agenda.

But she criticised the lack of reference to the importance of science communication.

Link to ‘Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto’