In this Sussex Development Lecture we present the results of the Steering Research and Innovation for Global Goals (STRINGS) project – a major global study into the alignment of sciences, technologies and innovations (STIs) with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We highlight glaring mismatches between ‘globally’ and ‘nationally’ mapped directions of STI development and the SDGs. Not addressing them, will undermine progress for the SDGs. We conclude by making recommendations to address these imbalances.
STIs can contribute to addressing the interconnected challenges central to the SDGs. However, depending on the directions taken, STI developments also undermine progress for sustainability. Just doing more R&D is unlikely to contribute to achieving the SDGs.
How can STI activities be democratically steered towards alleviating, rather than exacerbating, SDG challenges?
To address this question, we used quantitative data from scientific publications (Web of Science: WoS) and patents (PATSTAT), to analyse how scientific research and innovation priorities across countries align with SDG challenges. We conducted a ‘global’ survey of stakeholders to explore the types of STIs that are needed in the future to help achieve the SDGs, and how these compare with STI priorities mapped using PATSTAT and WoS. Finally we described diverse STI pathways in three regions – Odisha (India), Lake Victoria (Kenya), and Argentina, while mapping actors’ (plural) perspectives on how each STI pathway can contribute to sustainable development objectives.
We find that:
- STI priorities in public and private R&D organizations (based largely in higher income countries), as revealed in WoS- and PATSTAT, are poorly aligned with the SDGs;
- the directions of these STIs differ from future priorities identified by surveyed stakeholders: even scientists and technology developers indicated that techno-scientific developments alone are not sufficient to achieve the SDGs;
- while many relevant STI pathways exist to tackle each SDG challenge, a couple of pathways dominate in terms of funding and policy attention, even where they are not the most supported by wider society.
Our analysis highlights several opportunities for policymakers, national and global funders, citizens and NGOs to steer STI activities for SDGs. We provide specific recommendations to:
- increase funding to support SDG-related research and innovation, especially in lower income countries, and improve alignments between national STI portfolios and SDG priorities;
- promote a rich diversity of STI pathways to address each SDG challenge;
- design accountable initiatives that strengthen STI governance and support open and inclusive processes of deliberation and prioritization;
- empower stakeholders to express different perspectives on what counts as SDG-related STI.
For more information, please check out the full report.
- Tommaso Ciarli, UNU-MERIT, United Nations University & Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex Business School
- Saurabh Arora, Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex Business School
Anabel Marin, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)