Innovations systems: concepts, approaches and lessons from RNRRS. RNRRS synthesis study No. 10


This study on \"innovation systems\" is one of a group of cross sectoral synthesis studies that examine a set of common issues within the ten research programmes of the RNRRS with a view to distil the experiences and lessons learned. The RNRRS programme has been operating from 1995 to 2005, with ten individually contracted research programmes, and over 1600 research projects. The RNRRS framework has been characterised by significant changes and evolution over its life. This was largely driven by DFID, as the donor, which initially stressed \"research\" and \"scientific publications\" but increasingly laid greater emphasis on the poverty impact of research on poverty. DFID did not use the language of innovations earlier (although they were implicit) but have been made more explicit recently.

This synthesis report shows that many of the elements that make up the 'innovation systems (IS) approach' have been increasingly incorporated within the different RNRRS programmes as they evolved. A number of key elements, such as capacity development, communications, participatory and action research became standard practice (and are being analysed in the other synthesis studies that have been undertaken in parallel with this one). But this report suggests that the developments of these elements have been largely unsystematic across the programmes while individual programmes developed and incorporated many elements on their own with some taking a more deliberate and formal approach.

The document discusses the principal elements of the innovation systems (IS) approach and the methods used for this study. It cautions that without indicators of impact it is particularly difficult to demonstrate that one approach to research fund management has more impact than another. It points to impacts that they are often diffuse, cumulative over long periods of time, and difficult to attribute to particular research inputs. This quick synthesis of a vast range of materials and activities meant that much has to be inferred and the conclusions are largely qualitative.

The report discusses the evolution of different programmes, at differing speeds, to differing degrees and with differing effectiveness along a number of common dimensions suggested by the IS approach. Then the report discusses special features that were exhibited by some of the programmes and states that these differences arose from their different history, their internal capacities (e.g. social and other science perspectives), and the nature of the problems they were addressing. There appears to have been little systematic 'institutional learning' between the various RNRR programmes. Much of that appears to have been due to the inability of DFID to manage several functions.

Finally, the report draws some lessons for the future. The main lessons are (a) the IS framework provides a useful framework to guide research managers wishing to achieve innovation.(b) an initial \"system diagnosis\" in particular are crucial and can be simple or complex (depending on the resources available). (c) innovation projects can have impacts in reducing poverty but if they are also to provide it is necessary to invest explicitly in this learning process to extract the higher level generalisation both about the process (programme management and innovation) and the content of the innovation process.


The Policy Practice Limited, 30 pp.

Innovations systems: concepts, approaches and lessons from RNRRS. RNRRS synthesis study No. 10

Published 1 January 2005