A New Manifesto for Innovation, Sustainability and Development

June 17th, 2010

Earlier this week the new Sussex Manifesto was launched at the Royal Society in London…and Practical Action made one of the key responses at the platform.   The original Manifesto was launched 40 years ago and earned a reputation for being rather radical in the way it approached science and technology for development.   The updated Manifesto has been revised after much work by the STEPS Centre and partners like Practical Action who hosted workshops in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

The new manifesto sets out a vision for “a world where science and technology work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and the environment”.   In many ways this is similar, but does not go as far as the vision of the new technologies programme at Practical Action: “a world where science-led new technologies deliver products which fulfil human needs rather than consumer wants.”   The main difference is that Practical Action is saying something about “how?”  and “why?”   Nontheless the vision is to be welcomed.

Further positive messages in the new manifesto are the recognition of direction, distribtuion and diversity as key to innovation.    This 3D agenda needs to be supplemented by 3V’s: vision, values, and vulnerabilities.   The vision is now in the manifesto but could be expanded to say something more about the “how?” and the “why?”    Values are an important way of being transparent about the basis for action.   Perhaps the best know example of how this can lead to positive action is the now well established fair trade movement which was established with very clear values.   Do we need a fair technology movement?   Schumacher, who founded Practical Action over 40 years ago also was clear about the values of what he called intermediate technology.   One example is that technology should use local materials and be capable of local adaptation.   Also challenged by Schumacher was the notion that economic growth should be the driver of development.   We now have ample evidence that growth does not lead to prosperity (Jackson 2010) yet it is often the driver of science and technology.

Vulnerabilities of resources, people and markets should be recognised.   With population growth and climate change pressures there is a need to recognise the finite nature of resources.   Many people live with high levels of vulnerabilities and science and technology should be harnessed to meet their needs.   Markets, as we have seen recently in the financial sector are vulnerable.   There is an opportunity to harness market mechanisms to help poor people.   Recent use of advanced market directives by the Gates Foundation, DFID and others provide examples of how innovative business models can be aligned with technological innovation to provide lasting benefits to those in need.

Finally, there is a question about what kind of organisations need to be developed to realise the vision of the new manifesto.   Some new organisations are well placed, for example, in the UK there is a group called MATTER that aspire to make new techologies work for all.   Using 21st century ICT’s we might envisage a network of affilitted organisations worldwide but locally based.

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