fbpx Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development: Diagnosing Weaknesses and Identifying Interventions in the Transnational Arena | Harvard Kennedy School

HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Harvey Brooks Research Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development


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.


Diaz Anadon, Laura, Kira Matus, Suerie Moon, Gabriel Chan, Alicia Harley, Sharmila Murthy, Vanessa Timmer, Ahmed Abdel Latif, Kathleen Araujo, Kayje Booker, Hyundo Choi, Kristian Dubrawski, Lonia Friedlander, Christina Ingersoll, Erin Kempster, Laura Pereira, Jennie Stephens, Lee Vinsel, and William C. Clark. "Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development: Diagnosing Weaknesses and Identifying Interventions in the Transnational Arena." Sustainability Science Program Working Paper No. 2014-01, Sustainability Science Program and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2014.