Making technological innovation work for sustainable development.
This paper presents insights and action proposals to better harness technological innovation for sustainable development. We begin with three key insights from scholarship and practice. First, technological innovation processes do not follow a set sequence but rather emerge from complex adaptive systems involving many actors and institutions operating simultaneously from local to global scales. Barriers arise at all stages of innovation, from the invention of a technology through its selection, production, adaptation, adoption, and retirement. Second, learning from past efforts to mobilize innovation for sustainable development can be greatly improved through structured cross-sectoral comparisons that recognize the socio-technical nature of innovation systems. Third, current institutions (rules, norms, and incentives) shaping technological innovation are often not aligned toward the goals of sustainable development because impoverished, marginalized, and unborn populations too often lack the economic and political power to shape innovation systems to meet their needs. However, these institutions can be reformed, and many actors have the power to do so through research, advocacy, training, convening, policymaking, and financing. We conclude with three practice-oriented recommendations to further realize the potential of innovation for sustainable development: (i) channels for regularized learning across domains of practice should be established; (ii) measures that systematically take into account the interests of underserved populations throughout the innovation process should be developed; and (iii) institutions should be reformed to reorient innovation systems toward sustainable development and ensure that all innovation stages and scales are considered at the outset.