Landing spacecraft on a comet but still not enough development

Since the landing of the Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko yesterday I have been asked a few times times by readers and friends why this is possible, yet we struggle with development, inequality, racial transformation in RSA, exclusion, inclusion and poverty.

I have two answers. Firstly, landing a spacecraft is by now no longer complex, it has become merely very complicated. I mean that once you can figure out the questions, many answers are self-evident. For the parts that are not self-evident you can conduct research and development, and choose between alternatives based on the results. You still have a huge problem with sequencing, but this is why these space missions are so expensive. That is why India can put a spacecraft in space (it is complicated) but still struggle with gender and poverty issues (it is complex). That is why South Africa can host the SKA (very complicated) but not deliver water to communities (complex, as it involves politics, competencies and competing priorities). We just don’t know in which order to solve all the problems in our developing countries, and everything seems to affect everything. Development is complex. In fact, we are not even allowed to fully unpack or discuss the problems because we have become overly sensitive, making things even more complex.

The second answer is about science. For space, we have science. Once politicians allocate funding to an agency, technocrats and scientists take over. We have scientists and engineers arguing about principles, about facts and about theorems. Experiments are conducted. Tests are run. Data recorded, processed and compared. There is a lot of debate allowed and even if criticism is never nice to receive, it helps to refine results, arguments and propositions. There is also the scientific method which means that even if I think I am right I must still convince editors and reviewers and funders with evidence in the form of data and experiments that can be repeated.

Our problem in development is that we do not appreciate criticism, never-mind not relying on proper research. If I question black economic empowerment policies in South Africa I am labelled a racist, even if I believe some kind of redress is needed but I am merely questioning the current modalities. If I question the way donors select value chains based on preferential impact on women I am described as being against inclusion and social justice. If I question the focus on low skilled jobs I am thrown out as a market liberal or capitalist. We just don’t allow sufficient debate backed by proper research. In many countries where I work criticism is not welcomed or appreciated.

I am afraid that the same can be said of the climate change debate, where any person that questions the prevailing consensus is quickly dismissed as a a person in denial.

Linking – Posts on innovation and science

Somewhere in December I started to rest and neglected reading some of my favorite blog sites. I have now caught up and here are some important posts that I would like to share with my readers.

One of my favorite authors on innovation, Tim Kastelle, made the following posts:

  • Innovation: Are you a gardener or an architect? You can guess that architects plan their innovations, while gardeners are sensitive to what emerges from their environment. When we deal with economic development, we have too many architects and too few gardeners.
  • Failure is ALWAYS an option. This post is also relevant for practitioners working in economic development. We must use our resources to assist our counterparts to experiment. Their resources are often to scarce or expensive for them to experiment with things that might just fail!

One of my other favorite authors, Duncan Green, posted an excellent summary of research on what White House Policy Makers want from Researchers? This is an important question for practitioners working on promoting science to industry and to government. He provides some interesting comments on the original research that is available from his blog article.

In future I will post articles on systemic thinking and complexity on the Systemic Insight Blog that I co-author with Marcus Jenal

Posted in Links. Tags: , . 1 Comment »

Sharing links: Scidev.net and the new manifesto

I frequently receive requests for more links, papers and ideas around how science can be related to development. Add Scidev.net to your favourites.  (Thank you, Lucho for bringing the website to my attention.)

At the same time you might want to look at “a new manifesto” that deals with new ways of linking science and innovation for development.  This is an update of the 70’s publication of a radical and controversial document that helped shape modern thinking on science and technology for development. It was called The Sussex Manifesto: Science and Technology to Developing Countries during the Second Development Decade.

Let me know what you think!

Shifting towards innovation and technology application

Have you also noticed that increasingly local economic development is captured by the public sector, often from a governance perspective, while the role of the private sector and its own development gets reduced to a consultative stakeholder? I find this amusing, as the private sector is the acknowledged driver of growth and increased wealth. I have already shifted my attention to the stimulation of technology use and innovation in the private sector, as I cannot imagine a more strategic way to create a new future for our region.

But strangely, the private sector, at least at an organised level, has only in a few places in Southern Africa taken the lead in its own development. While the media and government complains about job losses, firm closures and the increased uncompetitive performance of the industries, industry itself seems to be waiting for government to bail them out!

At the moment I see only a few ways out of the hole that our industries are in. Firstly a more pro-active approach towards the use of technology and innovation is required. Government is not going to donate the machines, and nobody will give a firm the research. Firms need to invest in new technology. Secondly, at a collective level, industry bodies need to move from advocacy towards a more proactive approach of building value chains and industrial networks. Many famous developmental fads like value chains, incubators, clusters etc have their origins in the private sector, even if these instruments are often widely used and abused by the public sector. Why are we seeing so little investment in these instruments by the private sector for the benefit of a specific industry? Thirdly, industry needs to realise that both increased competition and increased globalisation have changed the rules. Just as governments have to deal with immigration and passport issues, business should become a bit more obsessed with shaping the economic, education and science policies of their countries.  If industry does not as a collective become more vocal about education standards, research missions or industrial support then we are in for a tough 20 years!!

Hey, what do you think we can do to inspire our industries in Southern Africa to become better organised and more involved?

How can we get businesses to start investing in the latest technology?

How do we get business to not only innovate in marketing and advertising (we are good at that) but also to invent new business models, new technologies and new solutions to the problems of the world?

Any ideas or proposals are welcome!!

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