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Co-designing science in Africa: first steps in assessing the sustainability science approach on the ground

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Uploaded by RRI Tools on 30 May 2022

UNESCO.  2019.  Co-Designing  Science  in Africa: First steps in assessing the sustainability science approach on the ground. C. Aguirre-Bastos, J. Chaves-Chaparro and S. Aricò, eds Paris, UNESCO

In accordance with its mandate, UNESCO, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), conducted a pilot project to develop and mobilize the capacities of five developing countries in Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) to participate in the Future Earth Initiative.

The Initiative was designed to promote global dialogue on defining coherent and inclusive research and innovation systems within the sustainability science paradigm, and working in partnership with developed countries.

The main findings of this project show:

1. The integration of various stakeholders and their cooperation with each other is of paramount importance in realizing the objectives of sustainability science 

◼◼ To tackle and resolve sustainability challenges faced by Africa, it is deemed necessary to broaden the understanding of innovation, not only as an engine for economic growth, but also as a driver for societal well-being and environmental sustainability.

◼◼ Adequate frameworks formulating stakeholder engagement in mapping out specific issues, outlining problems and discerning conflicts in sustainable resource use and preservation can  assist in the identification of stakeholders and development needs assessment.

◼◼ A proper review of knowledge transfer and community engagement, social impacts linked to innovation, and society’s role in demanding the adaptation and articulation of the proposed solutions requires: 1) defining suitable processes and parameters to measure sustainability; and 2) obtaining and accessing sufficient data, especially with regard to impacts on the physical  environment.

◼◼ Innovation strategies for sustainable development in the countries studied systematically neglect bottom up initiatives. Yet, when active citizens and strong local democratic institutions ‘own’  and embody sustainable development, the likelihood of successfully shifting the trajectory of development towards the desired sustainability goals is higher, as action at the local level generates socially embedded changes in behaviour. 

2. The relevance and value added of dialogues between diverse knowledge systems, and the need for transdisciplinarity

◼◼ Opportunities to pursue sustainability solutions are maximized when pathways for mobilizing existing diverse knowledge systems to generate contextually relevant knowledge are provided to address local sustainability challenges. Further progress towards understanding and tackling ‘wicked problems’ in the local and global context can be achieved by recognizing complementarities across these knowledge systems, while providing new insights for further testing sustainability science in action.

◼◼ Cooperation between indigenous knowledge systems and formal science is being fostered through ad hoc projects as well as policy instruments in several of the countries studied. Such cooperation faces inherent power dynamics and epistemological differences and challenges. In this regard, mapping and codifying indigenous knowledge may open up potential opportunities for collaboration with academics and industry practitioners.

◼◼ There is a need to mainstream indigenous knowledge by formulating R&D strategies. In fact, the impact of current home-grown initiatives on sustainable development could be greatly enhanced within a more ambitious research and innovation agenda. In addition, this requires new policy instruments promoting more inclusive and interdisciplinary STI settings. There is also the need to mainstream transdisciplinary research into the national education and research systems.

3. The adequacy of STI systems and their role in supporting the sustainability science approach

◼◼ In the countries studied, policies still follow a linear model of innovation that focuses on STI actors working in a relational manner of knowledge transfer, without recognizing the complex interactions that exist between these actors within the national STI system. In addition to suffering from a lack of proper coordination geared towards improved and sustainable outcomes, STI policy implementation is beset by weak intersectoral linkages, limited opportunities for business-level technology absorption and limited sharing of STI learning across the sectors.

◼◼Most of the objectives and goals of the ongoing national policies and plans for STI are geared towards meeting the economic elements of innovation and development and are lacking not only an in-depth view of sustainability and inclusion challenges, but also specific and effective implementation measures, and funding.  

◼◼ Against a clear and laudable increase in the body of theoretical, empirical data and knowledge on sustainability related issues in Africa, there is an urgent need for the African research agenda to be driven towards more transdisciplinary, collaborative and participatory science. There is also a need to integrate the viewpoints and needs of relevant stakeholders in the scientific and non-scientific communities, so as to ensure that research outputs will be more relevant and useful to practitioners and communities, and suitable to the development needs and priorities of the continent.

◼◼ The participation of women in science, research and the innovation agenda-setting process should be mainstreamed into all sectoral programmes and incorporated into the design of specific gender equality policy instruments. Gender issues are overlooked in national STI policies, and very few policy interventions have been explicitly planned to change this situation. Specifically, no operational policy instruments to promote gender equality within either scientific and technological research activities, or specific incentives to encourage girls and women into STEM, are in place.

◼◼ Despite the observed weaknesses in the socio-economic innovation relationship, there are examples of commendable progress in African countries towards harnessing sustainable solutions, such as malaria/mosquito and livestock disease control, and sanitary technology. These innovations are primarily drawn from knowledge that has been shaped through iterative interactions between the communities and their environment, which have facilitated sustainability and been integrated into mainstream science and technology platforms.

◼◼ Promotional efforts are underway to increase private sector participation in innovation processes, through the establishment of a conducive and attractive environment for public-private partnerships or joint ventures. In addition, the nature of knowledge production is changing and becoming more evenly distributed as, in addition to research institutions, the knowledge and experience from industry and civil society also have a major role to play.

◼◼ Resource gaps, both human and financial, are recognized as key challenges constraining the ability of national innovation systems to address sustainability problems in a comprehensive way. Public finance for STI initiatives is unstable; researchers’ participation in policy advice, either directly or through their scientific findings, is insufficient; and the short-term profit orientation of the private sector also hampers their involvement in STI. Other factors include limited infrastructure and equipment in research and higher education institutions; poor assessment of STI impact 
indicators and data availability; and a lack of implementation instruments in existing science and technology frameworks.

◼◼ Common transformation factors and recommendations for putting into practice sustainability science in Africa involve formulating and implementing education, research and innovation policies, through capacity-building and intraregional cooperation, in order to harness the potential of science to co-design and co-produce the knowledge and solutions required to address  regional − and global − sustainable development agendas. The pilot project undertaken in the five African countries has shown that they are setting the stage to improve the performance of their national innovation systems, but need new policies to focus on the economy-environment nexus and inclusion within the sustainable science paradigm

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Table of contents

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Lists of figures and tables 
  • Bios of authors and editors 
  • Acknowledgements 
  • Executive summary 
1. Sustainability science: Where and how? 
  • 1.1. Sustainability science and its approaches 
  • 1.2. Key challenges for the sustainability science approach
  • 1.3. UNESCO’s contribution to sustainability science 
  • 1.4. Aim and scope of the book 
  • 1.5. The target countries 
  • 1.6. Structure and content of the book 
2. The role of sustainability science in addressing Africa’s sustainable development challenges and priorities: A bibliometric survey 
  • 2.1. Introduction 
  • 2.2. Study methods and data sources 
  • 2.3. Results and discussion 
  • 2.4. Comparison matrix of three different literature sources 
  • 2.5. Interlinkages between SDGs 
  • 2.6. Identifying overarching themes 
  • 2.7. Conclusions 

3. Multistakeholder engagement in innovation for sustainability in Ethiopia 

  • 3.1. Introduction 69
  • 3.2. Ethiopia’s social, economic and environmental context
  • 3.3. Key sustainability challenges in the use of natural resources 
  • 3.4. National strategies and policies addressing sustainability 
  • 3.5. Ethiopia’s national innovation system 
  • 3.6. Sustainability science in Ethiopia
  • 3.7. Co-designing science and innovation in Ethiopia 
  • 3.8. Conclusions and recommendations 

4. Co-designing knowledge systems for sustainable development in Kenya 

  • 4.1. Introduction 
  • 4.2. Kenya’s socio-economic landscape 
  • 4.3. Main sustainability challenges facing Kenya 
  • 4.4. National policies that address sustainability problems 
  • 4.5. Mapping Kenya’s national research and innovation system and policy framework 
  • 4.6. Knowledge systems in Kenya 
  • 4.7. Success stories of collaborative interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • 4.8. Science, technology and innovation policy gaps 
  • 4.9. Conclusion and recommendations 

5. Home-grown initiatives for sustainable development in Rwanda 

  • 5.1. Introduction 
  • 5.2. The socio-economic situation 
  • 5.3. Main sustainability challenges 
  • 5.4. National policies addressing environmental problems 
  • 5.5. The National Research and Innovation System 
  • 5.6. Research and innovation for sustainable development 
  • 5.7. Conclusions 

6. Constructing sustainability science in Tanzania 

  • 6.1. Introduction 
  • 6.2. Socio-economic overview 
  • 6.3. Main sustainability challenges 
  • 6.4. Policies addressing sustainability problems 
  • 6.5. Science, technology and innovation policy and governance 
  • 6.6. Building capacity to face sustainability challenges 
  • 6.7. Conclusions 

7. Harnessing science and technology knowledge for sustainability in Uganda 

  • 7.1. Introduction 
  • 7.2. The socio-economic situation 
  • 7.3. Main sustainability challenges 
  • 7.4. National policies addressing sustainability 
  • 7.5. Science, technology and innovation for development 
  • 7.6. Research and innovation for sustainable development 
  • 7.7. Conclusions 

8. Conclusions: Towards sustainability science in Africa 

  • 8.1. Introduction 
  • 8.2. The multiple and interlinked dimensions of sustainable development 
  • 8.3. An integrated approach to environmental challenges
  • 8.4. The measurement of sustainable development 
  • 8.5. UNESCO’s principles of sustainability science: A recollection 
  • 8.6. Specificities of sustainability science in Africa 
  • 8.7. Policy responses and the sustainability science approach 
  • 8.8. Co-designing science in Africa: Policy recommendations 
  • 8.9. A vision for the region: Africa leading the way in sustainability science 
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