ASKIA 2.0: African Science meets Open Innovation

Later this month I’ll be presenting at the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s CODIST (Committee on Development Information Science and Technology) Session on “Scientific Development, Innovation and the Knowledge Economy”. My presentation will address the role of social networks and innovation in science and technology in Africa. Some of the challenges that African scientists face are legacies of colonial era knowledge systems that have emphasized networks between single countries and European/North American donors where much of the knowledge of Africa is archived, that is, outside of Africa. There are also linear innovation systems that create bottlenecks in moving promising scientific advances and technologies from the lab to the market where they may have significant social, economic, environmental benefits. Abdallah Daar and Peter Singer have argued for “convergence platforms” (pdf) to address the problem of linear innovation systems. Furthermore, there are now quite a few insights from failed ICT programs out there that we think the time is ripe to mobilize open innovation platforms and concepts into the African science networks to try to address these problems. The challenge is not just about technological connectivity and creating platforms wired to the lowest common denominator of African connectivity, but rather building platforms on existing infrastructures (where we need to think about “people as infrastructure” too) that are organized around the values of sharing, co-creating, for dynamic, collaborative science and technology systems across the continent. I’ll be taking a look at the multitude of existing science 2.0/open science platforms that have largely arisen in Northern contexts in recent years and strategizing with African colleague on how we can build a Science Commons with Africa using some interesting social networking technologies/mobiles and existing science networks that UN ECA and others have been growing for years. In essence, this is social innovation in the sciences and we think a lot can be done by framing the problem in these terms and deliberately working to move knowledge out of silos and bring together African scientists, technologists, citizen scientists, policy-makers, funders and entrepreneurs with the tools of user-led innovation, open innovation and what I’m calling “recombinant innovation” (ie. juxtaposing disciplines, old/new technologies and social practices) and re-valorizing cooperation in science. What would a Nobel Prize in Science for Africa look like? It wouldn’t be given to an individual, but rather for the most innovative network of practitioners whether scientists, citizen scientists, entrepreneurs and savy funders who brought the right elements in line to make a difference in the lives of millions of Africans, poor and better-off. We’re working on a platform (ASKIA 2.0) that can be the catalyst (the definition of a catalyst is one that sparks off a reaction but doesn’t get consumed in the process) for these types of things to happen more frequently and to scale them up where possible. We’ve already put together a proposal and are looking for funding to launch so if you have any suggestions please contact me here. Below I’ve linked to the draft of the presentation. I’ll be blogging more about the details of how we’re working to rethink innovation systems in the weeks to come.

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