STEPS Centre
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: STEPS Centre
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Data (3 hits),

Full Submission

Input to the compilation document to serve as basis for the preparation of the zero draft of the outcome document from the Rio+20 UNCSD

Contribution by the STEPS Centre (, 1st November 2011

The STEPS Centre on Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability ( is grateful for this opportunity to engage in the Rio+20 process. We are a global research and policy engagement centre, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, bringing together development studies with science and technology studies. We offer the following contribution to the outcome document of the Rio+20 conference, drawing on the products of our research over the past five years, which has focussed on the challenge of linking science and technology with poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and social justice. We see this as central to fostering a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

In particular, we draw on our project ?Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto? ( The project involved a seminar series, a collection of 13 background papers, and conducted 20 roundtables with partners around the world. The Manifesto, which was launched at the Royal Society, London, in June 2010, was not a representative synthesis of the diverse views encountered during the project, but rather puts forward the STEPS Centre?s perspective on these debates. It serves as the basis for much of this contribution, which is as a result largely confined to an account of the ?3D agenda? and the ?areas for action? discussed in the Manifesto document.

This contribution is organised based on the structure outlined by the co-chairs guidance note on the UNCSD2012 website:

General Content

a.What are the expectations for the outcome of Rio+20, and what are the concrete proposals in this regard, including views on a possible structure of the Outcome document?

- The STEPS Centre ( sees meeting the interlinked global challenges of poverty reduction, social justice and environmental sustainability as the great moral and political imperative of our age, and believes that science, technology and innovation of many kinds have essential roles to play in this. We hope to see a strong consensus emerging from Rio+20 that provides a global framework supporting different forms of innovation that address sustainable development challenges at local, national and global levels.

- In order to meet these challenges, we advocate a ?3D agenda? - involving increased attention to three currently under-emphasized themes within innovation policy:

- The first D is about the technical, social and political directions for change: ?what is innovation for??; ?which kinds of innovation, along which pathways?? and ?towards what goals??

- Taking these questions seriously requires us to examine much more sharply questions of distribution. For any given problem: ?who is innovation for??; ?whose innovation counts?? and ?who gains and who loses??

- In turn, this raises further questions about diversity: ?what ? and how many ? kinds of innovation do we need to address any particular challenge??

- We see an opportunity for the Rio+20 summit to recognise and enhance the role that science, technology and innovation can play in building a green economy at a global level, and to set a framework in which the questions associated with the 3D agenda above are discussed as matters for legitimate political argument.

- Scientifically-informed and democratically legitimate policy instruments are playing a vital role in forging a green economy, incentivising technological innovation towards sustainability goals. While governments, firms and scientific institutions can all contribute to the 3D agenda, civil society ? both in the form of organised public-interest groups and, more importantly, spontaneous citizen-led movements - is often the real source of change. Approaches for including such actors in policy processes, as well as supporting and protecting their innovative activities and practical contributions towards sustainable development, are discussed further below.

b. What are the comments, if any, on existing proposals: e.g., a green economy roadmap, framework for action, sustainable development goals, a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, or others?

- Whilst green economy roadmaps are useful planning tools, they must respect cultural variety, regional diversity and democratic accountability. In imagining, articulating and implementing such plans, attention must be paid to the multitude of possible pathways to sustainability and especially the potential contributions of marginalised communities.

- The STEPS Centre advocates a framework based around five ?areas for action? - agenda setting, funding, capacity building, organising and monitoring, evaluation and accountability. These focus on the inclusion of broader networks of actors in processes for making innovation policy, and are outlined in more detail in response to question d, below.

- Sustainable development goals in the model of the MDGs should not neglect the need to build distributed innovation capabilities that enable continual locally-driven improvements at sub-national and national levels, rather than setting static endpoints to be obtained as a result of externally-driven programmes.

c. What are the views on implementation and on how to close the implementation gap, which relevant actors are envisaged as being involved (Governments, specific Major Groups, UN system, IFIs, etc.);

- Governments, Major Groups, UN system, IFIs all have a vital role. Within the Major Groups, the scientific and technological community and those groups most often marginalised from policy processes ? women, children and youth, indigenous people, NGOs, and farmers - are particularly important in their contributions to a ?3D? innovation agenda.

d. What specific cooperation mechanisms, partnership arrangements or other implementation tools are envisaged and what is the relevant time frame for the proposed decisions to be reached and actions to be implemented?

Our vision is a world where science and technology work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and the environment. What this means for particular contexts, places and people will be enormously varied ? as will be the means to achieve it. Nevertheless, the following broad recommendations are offered in order to catalyse and provoke specific concrete actions in different places. They are organised around the different areas for action identified in the New Manifesto: agenda setting, funding, capacity building, organising, monitoring, evaluation and accountability. Each set of actions addresses contrasting dimensions of innovation systems. They are therefore targeted towards different people and organisations who bear responsibility in each of these areas.

Agenda setting

The setting of agendas for science, technology and innovation policy and investment needs to be informed by an explicitly political consideration of innovation direction, distribution and diversity. The institutional architectures for the setting of innovation priorities at national and international levels therefore need reworking to enable diverse interests and new voices, including those of poorer and marginalised people, to be involved in inclusive debate. In some countries and settings this will involve building on existing institutional arrangements; in others it will require establishing new fora.

Within countries, we recommend that governments establish and support ?Strategic Innovation Fora'. Whatever they are called, these statutory bodies should be mandated to review funding allocations, debate major investment decisions, deliberate on controversial areas of science and technology options and audit the distribution of risks and benefits from potential innovation pathways. These fora should also be inclusive: constituted by ? and bringing together ? diverse stakeholders with interests in science and technology futures, including citizens? groups and social movements representing the most marginalised interests. These fora would address both public and private sector innovation activity, holding legal powers to call evidence. They would report to parliaments (and through these, to wider civil society) on an annual basis.

At the international level, we recommend the establishment of a ?Global Innovation Commission?. Breaking the conventional model of a ?commission?, this would be a broadly-constituted deliberative body, widely networked (among other areas) into global civil society and holding itself accountable to the most disempowered communities worldwide. It would operate under a United Nations umbrella, but with a formal role in trade bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. The Commission would facilitate open, transparent political debate about major investments with global or trans-boundary implications, north-south technology transfers, and public and philanthropic international aid geared to science, technology and innovation. In addition to annual reporting, each year a series of focused enquiries would be conducted on specific topics, including in response to national Strategic Innovation Fora or concerted representations by global civil society networks.


The funding of science, technology and innovation ? whether from public, private or philanthropic sources ? needs to be geared much more strongly to the challenges of poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability. This requires that the needs and demands of poorer and marginalised women and men as potential users of technologies, as well as the outcomes of innovation, are addressed in funding allocations.

We recommend therefore that all science and technology funding agencies (individually or collectively), regularly review their portfolios to ensure that a significant and increasing proportion of their investments are directly focused on these challenges. Such agencies should also progressively improve the balance in investments across basic science, technology, engineering, design and science services. They should demonstrate a shift towards increasing support for the social, cultural and economic dimensions of innovation systems. Transparent accounts linked to these criteria should be produced and made available to public scrutiny, including by relevant Strategic Innovation Fora.

In order to encourage diversity in innovation pathways, we recommend specific funding allocations to support experimentation in niches, and networking and learning across these, involving the private sector, community groups and individual entrepreneurs. In order to help democratise the process of innovation we recommend that procedures are established directly to involve end users of science and technology ? including poorer and marginalised people ? in the allocation of funding. And we recommend that incentives for the private sector to invest in forms of innovation geared to poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and social justice ? such as advance purchase agreements, technology prizes or tax breaks ? are enhanced. Achievements of this kind should be more deliberately recognised and widely publicised: nationally, regionally and globally.

Capacity building

Capacity building for science, technology and innovation must move beyond a focus on elite science and so-called ?centres of excellence? to support science that works more directly for diverse social and environmental needs. As a vital complement to training scientists and technology experts, this means extending the scope of capacity building to other players in the innovation system, including local entrepreneurs, citizen groups, small businesses and others. A key challenge in improving innovation processes is linking between groups, and facilitating inclusion of otherwise excluded people.

We therefore urge an extension of capacity-building support towards ?bridging professionals? who are able to link technical expertise with particular social, ecological and economic contexts. We additionally recommend capacity building investments focused on enhancing the ability of citizens and users to engage actively in innovation processes, not just as passive recipients but as active users, creators and inventors. We recommend also the support of civil society networks and social movements to facilitate the sharing of technologies, practices and wider experiences and learning. Capacity support should further enable such groups to engage with national and international political debates about science, technology and innovation ? for instance through memberships of Strategic Innovation Fora and the Global Innovation Commission.

This, in turn, will involve investment in new priorities for training, including key reforms to tertiary, further and higher education in the area of science, technology and development. These will require new institutions (or refashioned old ones) that actively link science and technology to located needs and demands, and the building of new learning platforms, virtual and face-to-face. They will also include greater provision for local community engagement in tertiary, further and higher education as well as wiki spaces for innovation support of a kind that enable more inclusive, networked and distributed forms of innovation.


Organising for innovation requires identifying and supporting social and institutional arrangements that enable technologies to work in particular contexts, and to meet the needs of poorer and marginalised women and men. We recommend that firms, public and philanthropic organisations developing specific technological innovations invest in concrete plans to ensure that these social, cultural and institutional aspects of application are addressed. Further, local experiences with these organisational aspects of innovation need to be shared and learned from more widely. This requires an open, distributed and networked approach, with active investment in linkages between public, private and civil society groups.

We therefore recommend that future investments ? by the public and private sectors ? should especially highlight bridging functions, connecting formerly separate organisations and linking upstream and downstream research and development activity. While in many cases, new organisations will not be required, strategic investment in facilitating and coordinating bodies may be needed. Such bodies must be complemented by support for local organisations, networks and movements, and the ability for informal, lateral sharing of innovation. Overall, investment should extend its focus from basic science, to emphasise other aspects of the innovation system, including engineering, design, science services, and social entrepreneurship. Further, we recommend that support be increased for open source innovation platforms, with limits placed on narrowly-defined property-based systems which impede competition and constrain innovative activity.

We propose that at national level, and led by Strategic Innovation Fora, a broad framework for science and innovation policy is developed which puts poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability at its core. The legal underpinnings, regulatory rules and investment priorities that emerge from such a policy must explicitly reflect such priorities, and be overseen, reviewed and audited in a transparent and accountable way.

Monitoring, evaluation and accountability

Increased accountability and full transparency must be at the centre of democratised innovation systems ? across public and private sectors and at local, national and international levels. This requires active engagement by citizens in priority setting, monitoring and evaluating innovation activities.

We recommend that in all countries benchmark criteria, relating to the priorities of poverty alleviation, social justice and environmental sustainability, are set and so become the basis of indicators for monitoring innovation systems. At the international level, overseen by the Global Innovation Commission, similar criteria should be established for monitoring and annual reporting. Further, we recommend the improvement of Data collection systems and methodologies, switching the focus from indicators such as publications, patents and aggregate levels of expenditure, to assessments of the wider development outcomes of innovation efforts. All organisations ? whether government departments, philanthropic foundations, non-government organisations and private sector firms registered in a particular country ? investing in research and development above a certain amount should be required to report on expenditures in relation to these criteria. Such Data should be freely available and open to public scrutiny.

Finally, we propose that the Strategic Innovation Fora (or similar bodies), should have a statutory obligation to report publicly both to national parliaments and the Global Innovation Commission on a regular basis concerning innovation direction, distribution and diversity, presenting full Data from all research and development organisations.

For further information on the above, or about the ongoing activities of the STEPS Centre, please visit our website ( or contact:

Melissa Leach, Director ?

Adrian Ely, Head of Impact and Engagement ?

Harriet Dudley, STEPS Centre co-ordinator ?

Press enquiries:

Julia Day, Communications Manager ?

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