"The single most important reason why prosperity spread, and why it continues to spread is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them" Sachs, J.D. (2005)
An understanding of the global context is vital as a basis for developing a rationale for policy influence for the new technologies programme. Technology has often been placed at centre stage as a driver of economic growth. In the long history of mankind technology has been used to derive a surplus to enable society to advance in terms of welfare. In the current global society, high income countries gain much of their competitive advantage from the development and innovation of new technologies.
Low income countries are not only poor in terms of measures of human wellbeing but also are poor in terms of indicators of technology. They spend a small proportion of GDP on research and development: less than 1% compared to high income countries that spend around 2.5%. The number of scientists in low income countries is less than 50 per 100,000 people compared to over 3,000 in high income countries. Not surprisingly these statistics are also reflected in the low number of patents filed.
In any area that can warrant the description, "new" there is, by definition, a presumption of rapid change. Understanding the drivers of change and the potential ways they interact with ways of life where poverty is prevalent is a pre-requisite for the strategy to fulfil aim 4. Practical Action is working on three areas of policy influence: open access to knowledge, regulation of nanotechnology, and pro poor innovation systems.
"Information technology, together with the ability to use it and adapt it, is the critical factor in generating and accessing wealth, power and knowledge in our time." Manuel Castells.
Access to knowledge depends on a whole range of things, including the copyright and patent system, the availability of scientific knowledge, and ownership and access to computer technology. Read more »
"Decision makers worldwide need to work towards a system of risk governance for nanotechnology that is global, coordinated, and involves the participation of all stakeholders, including civil society." International Risk Governance Council (2007)
Nanotechnology is an important field of scientific endevour which has the potential to transform our understanding of how materials and devices interact with human and natural environments. The benefits to society may include water and air pollution monitoring, solar photovoltaic energy, and water and waste treatment systems. There may also be serious risks. The social, economic, political and ethical implications are significant. Because nanotechnology raises issues that are more complex and far-reaching than many other innovations, the current approach to managing the introduction of new technologies is not up to the challenges posed by nanotechnology. Read more »
Many topical issues - for example sustainable development, climate change and democracy - are all influenced by the role of science and technology in society. A major challenge is to release public value from science and technology and to channel that public value into developing countries to help reduce poverty. The concept of public value used here refers to value generated by science and technology that is not solely reaped by the market. Releasing public value from science in a global context is one of the most significant and challenging issues facing societies worldwide. The challenge might be re-framed as 'how do we enable new science-led technologies to deliver products which fulfil human needs rather than consumer wants?'. Read more »