Discussing grassroots innovations in India

Last week I participated in a conference in Delhi, focusing on Innovation, Sustainability and Development, writes Adrian Smith. The event brought together researchers and activists from across India, and included sessions on grassroots innovations.

I was there under the auspices of the STEPS Centre at Sussex, and debates about a ‘new manifesto’ for science and technology for development. More specifically, I wanted to learn more about grassroots innovation movements in India, and to provide some contrast with a presentation about our work in the UK (under the auspices of a UK-India network which funded my trip).

It was a fascinating event. Information about the conference, video of the presentations and discussions can be found here.

Obviously, the settings and purposes for grassroots innovations in India are profoundly different – most notably poorer communities using their knowledge, skills and capabilities to improve their immediate economic situation, compared to communities in the UK seeking more sustainable lifestyles and services. The consequences of set-backs and failures are clearly different too.

And yet, generic dilemmas between informality and formality, the institutionalisation of activist-inspired initiatives, the dilemmas of conforming to top-down policy agendas and so forth that are emerging in the UK are present there too. At heart, this is about contrasting approaches to innovation at the grassroots and in more mainstream innovation policy; recognising and crediting things as innovative, the processes to support it, and desired outcomes. The contrasts between the two countries means they cast one another very interesting light – particularly around this question of the politics of innovation policy.

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