On development, STI policy and knowledge democratisation

Thinking & Analysis

If it is possible to simplify, it can be said that during the second half of the 20th century Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies went through three stages. The first one, Science policies, was characterised by the linear model of innovation. The second one, Science and Technology (S&T) policies, assumed that technology is much more than applied science and focused on the contribution of S&T to economic competitiveness. In the third one, the age of STI policies started to be oriented by the Innovations Systems framework that sees innovation as an interactive, distributed and (potentially) systemic process involving several actors.

A branch of the Latin American heterodox development framework elaborated a unified approach to the science-technology-development-dependence issue. Since the 1960s it focused on the related problem of interactions between several actors, three in particular – the state, the academy and the productive sector – the set of which came to be known as the Sabato triangle. Such theorization antedated the Innovation Systems framework and is still fundamental for understanding the specificities of STI in underdevelopment.

In the first years of the 21st century the possibilities of a fourth stage in STI policies – STI policies for social inclusion, seen in particular as an opportunity for underdeveloped countries – were explored in the context of the Innovations Systems framework. It was remarked, particularly in connection with the GLOBELICS conferences, that little attention had been given to sustainability issues. A pioneering contribution in the 1990s by scholars from Costa Rica to the elaboration of the notion of Sustainable Innovation Systems did not become a central issue in the dominant STI framework.

Transitions to sustainability are of course a fundamental concern of the more recent Transformative Change framework. Its defining features need not be explained in a text submitted to the page of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC). Nevertheless at least two aspects of the framework should be remarked here: first, the relevance given to the interactions between technology and social relations; second, the role of niches in the emergence of changes. This is particularly important for underdevelopment, because it shows that new configurations of socio-technical power can emerge in the interstices of dominant configurations which are usually not very friendly to sustainability, equality and autonomous development.

Sustainable Development is scarcely feasible without Human Development. The last is characterized, to follow Amartya Sen, by the expansion of capabilities and freedoms of people to live lives they value. This defines not only the normative goal of development but is also the main guide for elaborating policies; it implies seeing people not as patients but as agents. Summing up, Sustainable Human Development is about expanding capabilities and freedoms in ways that enable people to live valuable lives today and more so tomorrow.

The Sustainable Development Goals give concrete content to development efforts, as stressed in the Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) framework. Both make evident that the main orientation of development can no longer be the idea that the South must catch up with the North; rather, deep transitions are needed all over the world.

But the end of the concept of “catching up” is not the end of underdevelopment. The latter is characterised by the combination of two traits: (i) a weak role of advanced knowledge and qualifications in the production of goods and services; (ii) external subordination, mainly economic and political. Such a combination makes it especially difficult to shift to a transition framework that emphasises sustainability and less inequality. What the classical theorists of development in Latin America called “the specificity of the peripheral condition” means that Transformative Change in underdevelopment needs specific strategies.

Generally speaking, powers that be may be worried by (un) sustainability and less so by (in) equality, but both are of upmost gravity and closely entwined. Actual dynamics of knowledge are the main causes of inequality. It will not be redressed without knowledge democratisation, a key component of the expansion of capabilities. It includes the generalisation of advanced lifelong learning and focusing the research agenda on the problems of deprived sectors with their active involvement in building solutions through interactive learning processes. This highlights the role of frugal and inclusive innovation.

In underdevelopment, without knowledge democratisation, STI policies will not have wide political support because they will not favour the majority of the population.  Knowledge democratisation challenges powers that be in both the South and North so it needs an active involvement of popular actors in more inclusive Innovation Systems. Transitions pose not only policy problems but political issues. Innovation Systems are sites of conflict.

When the Anthropocene poses threats to the quality of human life, perhaps the South has something to teach the North concerning new heuristics for frugal innovation in scarce conditions, with as less complexity as possible and as much knowledge incorporated as necessary. Backing collective agency in such types of innovation requires knowledge democratisation. That must be a main goal for future STI policies.

Rodrigo Arocena & Judith Sutz have also written a working paper for TIPC on TIP and underdevelopment which can be read here

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