Innovation for Sustainability: Enhancing Global Public Goods

Fall 2011 research seminar

Goal of the seminar: The seminar was part of an ongoing collaborative research project to advance understanding of the processes governing innovation in provision of the global public goods (GPG) that are required to support a transition toward sustainability. The project was coordinated by the Sustainability Science Program and the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School on behalf of several collaborating organizations. We used the term GPG in the sense increasingly used in global policy discussions: goods with benefits that extend to all countries, people and generations. GPGs essential to sustainability range from early detection systems for pandemic disease, through technologies and institutions to enhance food security in the face of globalization, to development and deployment of affordable systems for carbon capture and storage. We worked to integrate into a new conceptual framework recent -- but currently independent -- advances in the understanding of innovation itself, the place of innovation in sustainable development and the nature of global public goods.

Strategy of the seminar: The seminar served as a venue for reconceptualizing innovation of global public goods for sustainability. We sought to inform this reconceptualization process through a comparative look at the record of GPG production in a cross-section of sectors central to a sustainability transition: health, energy, agriculture, and information. Each session focused on one of these sectors, and queried experience there to inform a common, but evolvingset of cross-cutting questions:

  • What are the candidates in each sector for GPGs essential to sustainability? And more generally, what are the general criteria that make something a GPG in each sector?
  • How have they come to be framed as GPGs?
  • What are the most illuminating examples of efforts to enhance the provision of essential GPGs in each sector (both in terms of improving innovation and ensuring widespread access/dissemination/uptake of the innovation)?
  • What have proven to be the greatest barriers to success of GPGs in each sector? How have these barriers been overcome?
  • What options for policy interventions to improve the provision of essential GPGs are or should be on the table?

Website for the seminar: Background materials for the seminar are available at:

Seminar co-hosts:

William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, Kennedy School of Government

Laura Diaz Anadon, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government

Suerie Moon, former Special Advisor to the Dean, Harvard School of Public Health

Kira Matus, former Lecturer in Public Policy and Management, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Government