Saturday, 31 October 2009

Strengthening Agricultural Innovation Capacity: Are Innovation Brokers the Answer?

A UNU-MERIT working paper "concludes that innovation brokerage roles are likely to become relevant in emerging economies and that public or donor investment in innovation brokerage may be needed to overcome inherent tensions regarding the neutrality and funding of such players in the innovation system.

In agricultural innovation systems, networks of different players are transient and emerge around specific challenges and tasks at particular points in time. Public agricultural research is one of these players, but its value is as a responsive element of a network or system, rather than in its own right.

Other players such as the private sector or civil society organisations have a prominent
role — not just as passive knowledge users or transmitters, but as pro-active agents who are
interdependent in working towards effective socio-technical innovations in agriculture. Much of the literature on such networks or ‘coalitions’ deals with more formalised public-private partnerships (PPPs), but it is not only ‘high profile’ PPPs that matter for pro-poor agricultural development. “Rather mundane and less high-profile cases are going to be of the type that planners and policymakers are going to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis”. A number of questions remain unanswered when it comes to how everyday innovation capacity may be improved.
  • How can a production base made up of many farmers organise its demand for
    knowledge, technology and organisational change?
  • What mechanism will facilitate the search for information?
  • Who will coordinate the networks of interaction needed for innovation?

As public policy comes to grips with these new ideas it is becoming increasingly apparent that intermediary organisations, which sit between and connect different agents involved in innovation trajectories in developing countries are important as they fulfil boundary work and play a role in ‘bridging’, ‘bonding’ and ‘linking’ social capital. Third-party catalysing agents are necessary to bring partners together, motivate them, provide information, and organise space for negotiations.” The type of intermediary that is becoming increasingly important is not the ‘traditional’ third party in a one-to-one relationship, such as conventional agricultural extension, but a ‘systemic’ intermediary as an in-between in a many-to-many relationship.

The Dutch experience suggests that innovation brokers need to be contextually embedded, and are unlikely to become effective through a centrally-imposed design."

Reference: UNU-MERIT Working Papers 2009