Innogen

Innogen · Research · Current projects
Exploring the Power of Knowledge and Technology Flows in Developing Countries

Joanna Chataway   James Smith

Affiliated staff:   Kalpana Chaturvedi   Matthew Harsh   Norman Clark

October 1 2002 – October 1 2005

Background

The central focus of Innogen research in developing countries is on the role partnerships play in driving research, innovation, technology transfer and development embedded within crosscutting themes of governance and globalisation and public engagement with science. This section reports on two projects funded under the Innogen programme, (i) in Africa and (ii) in Asia and Latin America. Several other small projects have also been added in this area:

  • Examining partnerships and processes within the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda
  • Examining institutional change, partnerships and governance within the new Biosciences Initiative for East and Central Africa, a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) joint initiative
  • An ethnographic approach to the dynamics and politics of innovation systems in East Africa. Case studies include tissue culture banana, the East Coast Fever vaccine project, and transgenic sweet potato initiatives
  • Xiaobai Shen has carried out case studies of public-private partnerships around GM rice and the development of the SARS vaccine in China, working with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
  • Working with Lea Velho from UNU INTECH, two agricultural biotechnology case studies have been conducted in Brazil - one on a partnership between Monsanto and EMPRABA, a major Brazilian state agricultural research institute, the other on Brazilian public-private partnerships working on AIDS/HIV vaccines and their relationship to the major international partnerships working in the same area.

Aims and objectives

  • How are research partnerships constructed? What processes of politics and power underpin them? How do they create new knowledges?
  • How is R&D capacity being built? What processes and initiatives produce sustainable knowledge and what do not?
  • What linkages exist between smallholders, the poor, scientists, institutions and donors? How do these relationships shape innovation and dissemination of products? What discourses define these relationships?

Research methods

Our methodology is fieldwork led. Methods include in-depth interviews with senior scientists, institutional managers, NGOs, policymakers, farmers and users. We have also used participant observation and other ethnographic techniques when working with smallholder farmers.

Key findings

Our overriding concern has been to interrogate the conceptual apparatus of ‘innovation systems’ as a tool to analyse and to shape policy in developing countries. We have sought to move beyond an innovation systems approach and look more deeply into the politics and power of innovation itself. Our research has underlined that innovation systems approaches provide a sound framework for analysis and remedial policy action. Weaknesses are apparent, however, ‘everything is important’ and a lack of methodology highlights a lack of analytical precision. There is a further risk that innovation systems accrue ‘normative weight’ and become valued as a concept for their own sake.

To this end we have sought to use our case studies to seek conceptual clarification of innovation systems. We have sought to interrelate key concerns from development studies, including ‘power’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘participation’ with innovation systems analyses. We have further sought to inject place, space and locality within innovation systems. A further concern has been to examine the dynamics between firm or initiative level actions/capacities and broader system.

More specifically, projects 3 and 4 have enabled us to more precisely conceptualise North-South product-based R&D partner ships as complex, differentiated and context specific.  The emergence of this new breed of partnerships operating with large degrees of autonomy from multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, are the outcome of an interaction between local and international political and economic contexts.

Second, these partnerships merge the public and the private in some important respects and force us to think about the ways in which we use those terms and what is conveyed by their use.  The ‘privatisation’ of the public, with public sector organisations behaving in very similar ways to firms, and the emergence of organisations which have good claim to be serving the public interest but which behave as firms point to the need to develop new typologies and understandings of public and private.

Third, the issue of access is key. Our work on agri-biotech demonstrates clearly that ‘linear models’ fail to deliver access to new technologies even when science and technological capabilities are improved. But the relationship between improved technological capacity and improved innovation in the South and access are poorly theorised. Hence, our research has focused on moving beyond innovation systems, away from understanding how things should work, towards understanding why things do not work. This will be the starting point for our work in Innogen phase two.

Theoretical contributions

First, this research has enabled us to more precisely conceptualise North-South product based public private partnerships (PPPs) as complex, differentiated and context specific. The emergence of this new breed of PPPs, operating with large degrees of autonomy from multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, are the outcome of an interaction between local and international political and economic contexts. Is international relations theory developing concepts appropriate to these new developments? Are emergent theories such as cosmopolitan democracy helpful in conceptualising this new approach to addressing the needs of the `neglected majority' and capacity building?

Second, product based PPPs merge the public and the private in some important respects and force us to think about the ways in which we use those terms and what is conveyed by their use. The `privatisation' of the public, with public sector organisations behaving in very similar ways to firms, and the emergence of organisations which have good claim to be serving the public interest but which behave as firms point to the need to develop new typologies and understandings of public and private.

Third, and related to the last point, our analysis of PPPs, particularly the large vaccine producing PPPs, raises questions about whether they represent a new institutional form operating according to a set of different principles or whether they are modified `firms' operating according to more conventional criteria. Fourth, one of our main case studies is of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). We have analysed IAVI as a communication and advocacy led organisation and this has led us to develop new theoretical frameworks for looking at the ways in which advocacy and public relations informs innovation.

Fourth the issue of access is key. What is the relationship between creating scientific and technological capabilities in health innovation and creating better health services? Different political and social contexts and different approaches to capacity building mean that innovation `sub-systems' or trajectories incorporate access and equity issues in a variety of ways. Our work on agri-biotech demonstrates clearly that `linear models' fail to deliver access to new technologies even when science and technological capabilities are improved. But the relationship between improved technological capacity and improved innovation in the South and access is poorly theorised. The relationship needs to be looked at from a number of angles. For instance, in order to better conceptualise these relationships we suggest that there is a need to bring together innovation perspectives on capabilities (capacity building) with a more Senian approach (looking at development in terms of capabilities).

Further information

For further information, contact James Smith, james.smith@ed.ac.uk