Science, Technology and Development: Emerging Concepts and Visions (Luc Soete)


When discussing Science and Technology for development, it has often been tempting to talk about the radical nature, the paradigm shift, of new scientific breakthroughs or technological inventions which appear to offer new windows of opportunity for economic development and might eradicate at once world poverty, diseases and decades of lack of development in many less developed countries. Despite the caution of Sanjaya Lall in warning that such “miracle” growth opportunities warrant quite explicit industrial policies, there has been a tendency, certainly within the new global era of digital communication and world market transparency, to take those new technologies catching up opportunities for granted, waiting so to say as “technology transfer manna” from the
North to be implemented in the South.

As argued below, the analytical shift from science and technology to innovation which has occurred over the last ten to twenty years brings in a new vision on development: one which now acknowledges the fully “endogenous” nature of innovation, rather than the old, neo-classical external view of technological change and technology transfer. That process of innovation is actually much more complex and challenging in a developing country context than in a developed country one. As has only recently become recognized in the endogenous growth literature, and vindicating many of Lall’s earlier writings on technological capabilities, the appropriate innovation policy challenge for a country will be closely associated with its level of development.

In a high income country context, the innovation policy challenge will increasingly become directed towards questions about the non-sustainability of processes of “creative destruction” within environments that give increasingly premiums to insiders, to security and risk aversiveness; ultimately to the maintenance of income and wealth. In an emerging, developing country context, by contrast, and as argued by Lall already thirty years ago, the innovation policy challenge appears first and foremost more directed towards “backing winners” industrial science and technology policies. How to further broaden an emerging national technological expertise in the direction of international competitiveness and specialisation. Such broadening will have to involve a strong recognition on the part of policy makers of the importance of engineering and design skills and of accumulating “experience” rather than just Research and Development (R&D) investments.

Working Paper