Orientation Failure? Why Directionality Matters in Innovation Policy and Implementation

Blog by Mariam Tabatadze and Benjamin Kumpf: “…In the essay “The Moon and the Ghetto” from 1977, Richard Nelson brought renewed attention to the question of directionality of innovation. He asked why societies that are wealthy and technologically advanced are not able to deal effectively with social problems such as poverty or inequities in education. Nelson believed that politics are only a small part of the problem. The main challenge, according to him, was further advancing scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Since the late seventies, humanity has laid claim to many more significant technological and scientific achievements. However, challenges such as poverty, social inequalities and of course environmental degradation persist. This begs the question: is the main problem a lack of directionality?

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked renewed interest in mission-driven innovation in industrial and socio-economic policy (see below for a framing of missions and mission-oriented innovation). The focus is a continuation of a “normative turn” in national and supranational science, technology and innovation (STI) policies over the last 15 years.

The directionality of STI policies shifted from pursuing predominantly growth and competitiveness-related objectives to addressing societal challenges. It brings together elements of innovation policy – focused on economic growth – and transition policy, which seeks beneficial change for society at large. This is important as we are seeing increasingly more evidence on the negative effects of innovation in countries across the globe, from exacerbated inequalities between places to greater inequalities between income groups…(More)”.

Building Data Infrastructure in Development Contexts: Lessons from the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge

Report by Stefaan Verhulst, Andrew Young, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Peter Martey Addo: “COVID-19 and other societal threats hamper the ability of development practitioners and stakeholders to address The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a number of unprecedented societal threats. While the effects of the crisis know no borders, the pandemic’s consequences have been felt in a particularly acute way in developing economies across the Global South. Indeed, while estimates of excess mortality show that many developing economies compare favorably to other parts of the world, the pandemic has still overburdened health systems and disrupted food supplies, increasing the risk of malnutrition. Economic estimates suggest that COVID-19 will reduce the GDP of African economies by 1.4 percent, with smaller economies facing contractions of up to 7.8 percent (Gondwe 2020).

Given that development agencies have limited resources to fight the effects of the pandemic, data can play an important role in bolstering decision-making processes. When data is available and used responsibly, it can generate important insights about what is happening, help organizations understand cause and effect, improve forecasting, and assess the impact of efforts (Verhulst et al. 2021). However, the major limiting factors are the amount of data and the expertise available in the ecosystem. These limitations are especially severe in least-developed countries, such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, datadriven challenges—short-term exercises where data and expertise is brought to bear on some pressing social challenge—can be useful tools for overcoming these limiting factors by, attracting data holders and practitioners to engage in rapid action to advance development goals…(More)”

Internet poverty: The next frontier in development

Article by Jesús Crespo Cuaresma, Katharina Fenz, Marianne Nari Fisher, Homi Kharas: “…people today also need to access a minimum package of internet services as part of basic human needs. To expand on the traditional method of poverty measurement, researchers at World Data Lab have identified and costed a “minimum internet basket,” which combines measures of quantity, quality, and affordability based on consultations with the Alliance for Affordable InternetOokla, and GSMA

Under this expanded definition (see below image), a person is considered internet poor if s/he cannot afford a minimum quantity (1 GB) and quality (10 Mbps download speed) of internet services without spending more than 10 percent of his or her disposable income on these services. This minimum package of internet services would allow a person to fulfill basic needs, such as accessing emails, reading the news, or using government e-services. The core methodology of internet poverty was initially presented in mid-2021 and has undergone additional enhancements to identify the number of internet poor in almost all countries. 

World Data Lab’s just-launched Internet Poverty Index can now adjust the actual cost of internet services in every country to estimate what a standard mobile internet package of 1 GB at 10 MB/second would cost in that country. It then computes how many people in the country could afford such a package. If the cost of the standardized package is above 10 percent of a person’s total spending, the person is considered internet poor. This allows us to create global estimates and share the number of people living in internet poverty globally, with disaggregations available by gender. 

As with the $1.90 threshold of extreme poverty, the key value added of the approach is not the threshold itself but its consistent measurement across countries and over time. There can be a legitimate discussion about the minimum package, just as there are now suggestions that higher poverty lines be used in lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries. For now, however, we use the same package in all countries, which would correspond roughly to $6 per month ($0.19/day; 2011 PPP)…(More)”

Data-Informed Societies Achieving Sustainability: Tasks for the Global Scientific, Engineering, and Medical Communities

Proceedings by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by all United Nations Member States, offers a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The Agenda outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which address a range of global challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation, among others. Advances in technology and the proliferation of data are providing new opportunities for monitoring and tracking the progress of the SDGs. Yet, with these advances come significant challenges, such as a lack infrastructure, knowledge, and capacity to support big data…(More)“.

Open Data for Social Impact Framework

Framework by Microsoft: “The global pandemic has shown us the important role of data in understanding, assessing, and taking action to solve the challenges created by COVID-19. However, nearly all organizations, large and small, still struggle to make data relevant to their work. Despite the value data provides, many organizations fail to harness its power to improve outcomes.

Part of this struggle stems from the “data divide” – the gap that exists between countries and organizations that have effective access to data to help them innovate and solve problems and those that do not. To close this divide, Microsoft launched the Open Data Campaign in 2020 to help realize the promise of more open data and data collaborations that drive innovation.

One of the key lessons we’ve learned from the Campaign and the work we’ve been doing with our partners, the Open Data Institute and The GovLab, is that the ability to access and use data to improve outcomes involves much more than technological tools and the data itself. It is also important to be able to leverage and share the experiences and practices that promote effective data collaboration and decision-making. This is especially true when it comes to working with governments, multi-lateral organizations, nonprofits, research institutions, and others who seek to open and reuse data to address important social issues, particularly those faced by developing countries.

Put another way, just having access to data and technology does not magically create value and improve outcomes. Making the most of open data and data collaboration requires thinking about how an organization’s leadership can commit to making data useful towards its mission, defining the questions it wants to answer with data, identifying the skills its team needs to use data, and determining how best to develop and establish trust among collaborators and communities served to derive more insight and benefit from data.

The Open Data for Social Impact Framework is a tool leaders can use to put data to work to solve the challenges most important to them. Recognizing that not all data can be made publicly accessible, we see the tremendous benefits that can come from advancing more open data, whether that takes shape as trusted data collaborations or truly open and public data. We use the phrase ‘social impact’ to mean a positive change towards addressing a societal problem, such as reducing carbon emissions, closing the broadband gap, building skills for jobs, and advancing accessibility and inclusion.

We believe in the limitless opportunities that opening, sharing, and collaborating around data can create to draw out new insights, make better decisions, and improve efficiencies when tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges….(More)”.

When Launching a Collaboration, Keep It Agile

Essay by the Stakeholder Alignment Collaborative: “Conventional wisdom holds that large-scale societal challenges require large-scale responses. By contrast, we argue that progress on major societal challenges can and often should begin with small, agile initiatives—minimum viable consortia (MVC)—that learn and adapt as they build the scaffolding for large-scale change. MVCs can address societal challenges by overcoming institutional inertia, opposition, capability gaps, and other barriers because they require less energy for activation, reveal dead ends early on, and can more easily adjust and adapt over time.

Large-scale societal challenges abound, and organizations and institutions are increasingly looking for ways to deal with them. For example, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has identified 14 Grand Societal Challenges for “sustaining civilization’s continuing advancement while still improving the quality of life” in the 21st century. They include making solar energy economical, developing carbon sequestration methods, advancing health informatics, and securing cyberspace. The United Nations has set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve by 2030 for a better future for humanity. They include everything from eliminating hunger to reducing inequality.

Tackling such universal goals requires large-scale cooperation, because existing organizations and institutions simply do not have the ability to resolve these challenges independently. Further note that the NAE’s announcement of the challenges stated that “governmental and institutional, political and economic, and personal and social barriers will repeatedly arise to impede the pursuit of solutions to problems.” The United Nations included two enabling SDGs: “peace, justice, and strong institutions” and “partnership for the goals.” The question is how to bring such large-scale partnerships and institutional change into existence.

We are members of the Stakeholder Alignment Collaborative, a research consortium of scholars at different career stages, spanning multiple fields and disciplines. We study collaboration collaboratively and maintain a very flat structure. We have published on multistakeholder consortia associated with science1 and provided leadership and facilitation for the launch and sustainment of many of these consortia. Based on our research into the problem of developing large-scale, multistakeholder partnerships, we believe that MVCs provide an answer.

MVCs are less vulnerable to the many barriers to large-scale solutions, better able to forge partnerships and a more agile framework for making needed adjustments. To demonstrate these points, we focus on examples of MVCs in the domain of scientific research data and computing infrastructure. Research data are essential for virtually all societal challenges, and an upsurge of multistakeholder consortia has occurred in this domain. But the MVC concept is not limited to these challenges, nor to digitally oriented settings. We have chosen this sphere because it offers a diversity of MVC examples for illustration….(More)”. (See also “The Potential and Practice of Data Collaboratives for Migration“).

Theory of Change Workbook: A Step-by-Step Process for Developing or Strengthening Theories of Change

USAID Learning Lab: “While over time theories of change have become synonymous with simple if/then statements, a strong theory of change should actually be a much more detailed, context-specific articulation of how we *theorize* change will happen under a program. Theories of change should articulate:

  • Outcomes: What is the change we are trying to achieve?
  • Entry points: Where is there momentum to create that change? 
  • Interventions: How will we achieve the change? 
  • Assumptions: Why do we think this will work? 

This workbook helps stakeholders work through the process of developing strong theories of change that answers the above questions. 

Five steps for developing a TOC

A strong theory of change process leads to stronger theory of change products, which include: 

  • the theory of change narrative: a 1-3 page description of the context, entry points within the context to enable change to happen, ultimate outcomes that will result from interventions, and assumptions that must hold for the theory of change to work and 
  • a logic model: a visual representation of the theory of change narrative…(More)”

The committeefication of collective action in Africa

Paper by Caroline Archambault and David Ehrhardt: “Over the last century, Africa has witnessed considerable committeefication, a process by which committees have become increasingly important to organise collective action. Throughout the continent, committees have come to preside over everything from natural resource management to cultural life, and from peacebuilding to community consultation. What has been the impact of this dramatic institutional change on the nature and quality of collective action? Drawing on decades of anthropological research and development work in East Africa – studying, working with and working in committees of various kinds – this article presents an approach to addressing this question.

We show how committees have surface features as well as deep functions, and that the impact of committeefication depends not only on their features and functions but also on the pathways through which they proliferate. On the surface, committees aim for inclusive and deliberative decision making, even if they vary in the specifics of their missions, membership, decision-making rules, and level of autonomy. But their deep functions can be quite different: a façade for accessing recognition or resources; a classroom for learning leadership skills; or a club for elites to pursue their shared interests. The impact of these features and functions depends on the pathways through which they grow: autonomous from existing forms of collective action; in synergistic cooperation; or in competition, possibly weakening or even destroying existing local institutions.

Community-based development interventions often rely heavily on committeefied collective action. This paper identifies the benefits that this strategy can have, but also shows its potential to weaken or even destroy existing forms of collective action. On that basis, we suggest that it is imperative to turn more systematic analytical attention to committees, and assess the extent to which they are delivering development or crippling collective action in the guise of democracy and deliberation…(More)”.

Trust with integrity: Harnessing the integrity dividends of digital government for reducing corruption in developing countries

Paper by Carlos Santiso: “Does digitalization reduce corruption? What are the benefits of data-driven digital government innovations to strengthen public integrity and advance the Sustainable Development Goals? While the correlation between digitalization and corruption is well established, there is less actionable evidence on the effects of specific digitalization reforms on different types of corruption and the policy channels through which they operate. This paper unbundles the integrity dividends of digital reforms that the pandemic has accelerated. It analyses the rise of integrity-tech and integrity analytics in the anticorruption space, deployed by data-savvy integrity institutions. It also assesses the broader integrity dividends of government digitalization for cutting redtape, reducing discretion and increasing transparency in government services and social transfers. It argues that digital government can be an effective anticorruption strategy, with subtler yet deeper effects. There nevertheless needs to be greater synergies between digital reforms and anticorruption strategies….(More)”.

UN chief calls for action to put out ‘5-alarm global fire’

UNAffairs: “At a time when “the only certainty is more uncertainty”, countries must unite to forge a new, more hopeful and equal path, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Friday, laying out his priorities for 2022. 

“We face a five-alarm global fire that requires the full mobilization of all countries,” he said, referring to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a morally bankrupt global financial system, the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and diminished peace and security. 

He stressed that countries “must go into emergency mode”, and now is the time to act as the response will determine global outcomes for decades ahead…. 

Alarm four: Technology and cyberspace 

While technology offers extraordinary possibilities for humanity, Mr. Guterres warned that “growing digital chaos is benefiting the most destructive forces and denying opportunities to ordinary people.” 

He spoke of the need to both expand internet access to the nearly three billion people still offline, and to address risks such as data misuse, misinformation and cyber-crime. 

“Our personal information is being exploited to control or manipulate us, change our behaviours, violate our human rights, and undermine democratic institutions. Our choices are taken away from us without us even knowing it”, he said. 

The UN chief called for strong regulatory frameworks to change the business models of social media companies which “profit from algorithms that prioritize addiction, outrage and anxiety at the cost of public safety”. 

He has proposed the establishment of a Global Digital Compact, bringing together governments, the private sector and civil society, to agree on key principles underpinning global digital cooperation. 

Another proposal is for a Global Code of Conduct to end the infodemic and the war on science, and promote integrity in public information, including online.  

Countries are also encouraged to step up work on banning lethal autonomous weapons, or “killer robots” as headline writers may prefer, and to begin considering new governance frameworks for biotechnology and neurotechnology…(More)”.