Sustainability Science Program

Sustainability Science Program Working Paper No. 2014-01

Sustainability Science Program Working Paper No. 2014-01

Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development: Diagnosing Weaknesses and Identifying Interventions in the Transnational Arena

Laura Diaz Anadon (Harvard Kennedy School), Kira Matus (London School of Economics), Suerie Moon (Harvard School of Public Health), Gabriel Chan (Harvard Kennedy School), Alicia Harley (Harvard Kennedy School), Sharmila Murthy (Suffolk University Law School), Vanessa Timmer (One Earth), Ahmed Abdel Latif (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development), Kathleen Araujo (Harvard Kennedy School), Kayje Booker (Forward Montana), Hyundo Choi (Chosun University), Kristian Dubrawski (McKinsey), Lonia Friedlander (Stony Brook University), Christina Ingersoll (MIT Sloan), Erin Kempster (Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities), Laura Pereira (University of Cape Town), Jennie Stephens (Clark University), Lee Vinsel (Stephens Institute of Technology), and William C. Clark (Harvard Kennedy School)

Abstract
Sustainable development – improving human well-being across present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – is a central challenge for the 21st century. Technological innovation can play an important role in moving society toward sustainable development. However, poor, marginalized, and future populations often do not fully benefit from innovation due to their lack of market or political power to influence innovation processes. As a result, current innovation systems fail to contribute as much as they might to meeting sustainable development goals. This paper focuses on how actors and institutions operating in the transnational arena can mitigate such shortfalls.

To identify the most important transnational functions required to meet sustainable development needs our analysis undertook three main steps. First, we developed a framework to diagnose blockages in the global innovation system for particular technologies. This framework was built on existing theory and new empirical analysis. On the theory side, we drew from the literatures of systems dynamics; technology and sectoral innovation systems, science and technology studies, the economics of innovation, and global governance. On the empirical front, we conducted eighteen detailed case studies of technology innovation in multiple sectors relevant to sustainable development: water, energy, health, food, and manufactured goods. We use the framework to analyze our case studies in the common language of (1) technology stocks, (2) non-linear flows between stocks substantiated by specific mechanisms, and (3) characteristics of actors and socio-technical conditions (STCs) which mediate the flows between stocks. We identify blockages in the innovation system for each of the cases, diagnosing where in the innovation system flows were hindered and which specific sets of STCs and actor characteristics were associated with these blockages. Figure E.1 displays the components of our framework and how they relate.

Keywords: innovation system, technology, sustainable development, energy, health, agriculture, water, manufacturing

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