Designing and implementing effective science policy for a developing country

Developing countries are faced with a host of problems but also with an abundance of opportunities for economic development. As democracy sweeps across many of them, these opportunities become evermore realizable. What has changed? The answer is simple: democracies are best at maximizing the “ultimate resource” that country has, namely its people.

People and their “mind power” is what can drive developing countries out of social injustice and poverty and into sustainable and equitable development. Creativity and innovation are the keywords that can shape their future. Science and technology are at the core of such aspirations.

But what kind of science? And what kind of technology? Surely, developing countries do not possess the same means that developed countries have. They lack research infrastructures, world-class universities, high-tech industries and, above all, generous funding for science. Is it then possible that a developing country can seriously contemplate using science and technology as the powerhouse for its economic development?

The answer is surely “yes”. The key to success is to design and implement the appropriate science policy for the specific country.

Feline Quanta have developed a methodology that is specifically suited for developing countries that share the vision of science and technology as instrumental for their future. Our methodology comprises five main areas: Strategic planning & management, training, capacity building, networks and public engagement.

Here is a brief summary of these four areas of work.

FQ Methodology for designing and implementing science policy

1. Strategic planning and management

Set specific goals taking into account the cultural and societal context. Goals should be geared towards (a) solving specific technical problems to the country; (b) getting knowledge-transfer and know-how from developed economies. In the former, the country can develop unique technical expertise. The latter, realized by means of investment incentives, is crucial to developing working standards and methods that will feed in the economic development process.

Determine metrics for evaluating and managing the implementation of the strategy. Science policy takes time to be implemented and it is imperative that the government commits long term resources and people to that end.

2. Training

Scientists, engineers and policy-makers must be trained in order to enable effective communication between them. Programs are unlikely to succeed if government officials and other decision-makers are not made aware of the importance of science. Science must inform policy at all levels, and scientists and engineers must be consulted before new legislation is passed. An effective working relationship such as this will be instrumental in policy-makers and legislators supporting science policy. Particular emphasis should be given to patent and business training, with relative support at national level for scientists and engineers who invent something new.

3. Capacity building

This is a fundamental step towards building a science and technology backbone for the country. Based on the defined goals managers should identify existing core competencies and invest in them. Further investment must go towards building from scratch research centres with specific scientific goals that complement existing core competencies. Particular emphasis must be given to university education. Incentives should be put in place that will entice expatriates or non-nationals scientists to consider moving in the country and setting up their labs there (“brain gain”).

4. Networks

Science is an international and collaborative process. Networks should be built, joined in and strengthened at local, regional and international level. Research teams should be encouraged and helped to join international research consortia and utilize international research funds. Involve the productive as well as the academic sectors in the development of a nation’s science programs. Linking businesses and research centers is imperative in successful science policies. Businesses can make innovative contributions to scientific goals along with those from the educational sector. For example, The National Council for Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACYT) has realized that science cannot be the exclusive province of academicians; its 2008 report, echoing the advice of UNESCO, states: “Private sector participation in funding of research is very low in most developing countries. There is a need to develop incentives to encourage private sector participation in research and involve the private sector.”

5. Engage society

The role of citizens and society is vital is the success of science policy. Citizens, NGOs, associations, groups, etc., must be constantly engaged in the implementation and indeed become a partner. Public engagement is two-prong. Its first goal is to cultivate and increase awareness of science and technology as means to solving real world problems. Its second, and equally important, goal is to enter into a productive dialogue with society about scientific aspirations and targets. This second goal is important to forge a mutually trusted partnership between scientists and policy-makers, and society. This partnership will not only support implementation but it will guide more effectively the science governance process.

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