Frontiers of inclusive innovation: Formulating technology and innovation policies that leave no one behind

Science, technology and innovation (STI) can increase the efficiency, effectiveness and impact of efforts to meet the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The successful adoption of existing innovations has enabled many economies to sustain economic growth. Innovation can expand access to education and health-care services. Technologies, such as those supporting renewable energy, are also providing options for more environmentally sustainable development paths.

Nevertheless, STI have exacerbated inequalities and created new types of social divides and environmental hazards, establishing new and harder to cross frontiers between those that benefit and those that are excluded. In the context of increasing inequalities and a major pandemic, Governments need to look more seriously at harnessing STI for the Sustainable Development Goals and to leave no one behind. This may require shifting the focus from chasing frontier technologies to expanding the frontiers of innovation. Many promising technologies have already arrived. Economic growth does not have to be the only bottom line of innovation activities. Innovative business models are offering pathways that benefit society and the environment as well as the bottom line.

To maximize STI for inclusive and sustainable development, Governments need to intentionally expand the frontiers of innovation. STI policies must seek not just to explore emerging technologies, but, most importantly, to ensure that more citizens, enterprises and countries can benefit from such technologies and innovations.

CH1This report on Frontiers of Inclusive Innovation: Formulating technology and innovation policies that leave no one behind highlights the opportunities and challenges that policymakers and development partners have to expand the frontiers of inclusive innovation. When inclusion is the next frontier of technology, STI policies are designed differently.

They are designed with broader objectives than just economic growth, with social development and sustainable economies in mind; and they are inclusive in terms of aspiring to enable everyone to benefit from – and participate in – innovative activities.

Governments can add an inclusive lens to STI policies by considering the following questions:

1. Do the overall aims of innovation policy involve more than economic growth?

2. Whose needs are being met?

3. Who participates in innovation?

4. Who sets priorities, and how are the outcomes of innovation managed?

This report explores how these four dimensions of inclusivity are addressed in several innovation policies: national STI policies; digital economy strategies; initiatives supporting grassroots innovations; and policies promoting inclusive business. The analysis provided in this report is based on the experience of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and on the insights of stakeholders engaged in this work.

CH2Chapter two discusses the opportunities and challenges to formulate inclusive national STI policies. It examines how the process to co-create the national STI policy of Myanmar in 2020 supported more inclusive outcomes by deliberately using an inclusive lens both in the design of the process and in the content of the policy. The policy formulation process was designed with inclusivity in mind. It combined training sessions with co-creation sessions and engaged a group of 16 policy champions to bring in a diversity of views, generate greater understanding and encourage collaboration among key stakeholders. In terms of content, the analysis and the discussions conducted to inform the policy formulation process focused on inclusion. This chapter also highlights the challenges of prioritizing limited resources and broadening participation in the policymaking process.
CH3Chapter three explores the experience of Digital Pathways at Oxford and ESCAP in implementing a Digital Economy Kit to deliver digital transformation for inclusive growth in Bangladesh and Mongolia. The chapter emphasizes the importance of having data that explain inclusion gaps and of organizing multi-stakeholder conversations that incorporate the perspectives of marginalized communities into a national digital strategy that also responds to the needs of these communities. Introducing an inclusive lens in the objectives, analysis, dialogues and governance resulted in policies with greater focus and support for using digital platforms to connect those in the informal economy to financial and protection services, for delivering last mile digital connectivity and for addressing gender disparities.
CH4Chapter four explores how Governments can promote grassroots innovations based on the experiences of India, Malaysia and the Philippines. By its very nature, grassroots innovation (where communities innovate to develop solutions to address local problems) is inclusive in terms of the objectives, direction and who participates. However, augmenting grassroots innovations requires more coordinated public support.
CH5Chapter five discusses the experience of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in promoting inclusive business models. There are market opportunities for inclusive businesses. That is, there are market opportunities for enterprises to provide goods and services to low-income and marginalized populations to address unmet social needs (such as access to affordable energy and housing or financial services). Members of ASEAN are promoting inclusive business models through the adoption of national strategies and regional guidelines. The development of enabling environments for inclusive businesses in South-East Asia is still in its early stages. To magnify inclusive growth, it will be critical to establish formal and funded support structures to promote inclusive business, to articulate these efforts with other development plans, to move into the implementation stage and to monitor and evaluate the impact of these measures.
CH6Promoting inclusive innovation requires continuously expanding its frontiers. It is a challenging task.

The initiatives presented in this report provide insights on what is needed to promote more inclusive innovation. In particular it highlights the following:

  • Inclusion does not happen automatically; it requires deliberate efforts.
  • Promoting inclusion entails addressing trade-offs: dealing with opposing priorities (e.g. between private stakeholders and social goals) and making decisions about different alternatives (e.g. investing in the center or the periphery).
  • Given the numerous needs, a dose of pragmatism is required.
  • Designing for inclusive outcomes requires a sound basis for formulating STI policies, additional skills (on designing for inclusion) and different mindsets (openness to experimentation and critical analysis).
  • Involving a broad range of stakeholders in the policymaking process will help enhance understanding and generate greater support for inclusive outcomes.
  • Disaggregated quantitative and qualitative data are critical to inform innovation policies, but also to monitor and evaluate the impact of the policies.
  • Further attention must be paid to the more challenging issues: financing for inclusion; the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies; and mechanisms to share the benefits and risks of innovation.

Development organizations, academia and civil society organizations can also contribute to expand the frontiers of inclusive innovation. The report makes five concrete suggestions:

  1. Establish an online observatory of inclusive technology and innovation policies.
  2. Develop and provide training on designing inclusive technology and innovation policies.
  3. Establish a community of practice to support the formulation of inclusive STI policies.
  4. Provide specific financial support to advance inclusive innovation.

Support research on inclusive innovation policies, in particular to address knowledge gaps on how to promote inclusive innovation.

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