Inclusive science policymaking needed for rapid tech change

13 February 2019

Inter-sessional Panel of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development meets in Vienna to discuss ssacling up inclusion.

The policy discourse on science, technology and innovation (STI) for sustainable development must take an inclusive approach and recognize the needs of social and cultural contexts of local communities, speakers said at the Inter-sessional Panel of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in Vienna from 15–17 January 2019.

Representatives of member States met in the Austrian capital to discuss the two priority themes on the agenda:

Bearing the brunt of rapid technological change – as well as building community resilience to economic, social and environmental shocks – will require engaging the poorest and most vulnerable in society, particularly women and young people.

Inter-sessional Panel 

Rapid technological change

Supporting the participation of local communities as co-creators of related innovations, including social innovations, may allow for more effective scaling and deployment of rapid technological change.

Although the global dynamics of technological change have the potential to increase socioeconomic divides, policies can support investments that spread capabilities more broadly and stimulate innovation with and for groups at the margins.

For example, the discussions heard that some machine learning and AI algorithms are biased, with higher inaccuracies on facial recognition tasks. In this respect, more inclusive and less biased algorithms are needed to focus rapid technological change on augmenting human intelligence rather than replace it.

There is also a need for coordinated solutions to mainstream ethical technologies within companies and across other organizations involved in bringing intelligent technologies to market.

The international community was encouraged to advance its collective understanding of how to navigate and shape new and emerging technologies in ways that “leave no one behind”.

Fortifying communities

Science, technology and innovation can play a critical role in building community resilience. It is also important to integrate community resilience-building activities into policy frameworks of governments.

For example, Japan’s Community Disaster Management Plan was established in 2014 to promote the development of community-based disaster management plans integrated into municipal level plans. More than 2,700 communities in Japan were active in developing these strategies.

The discussions also highlighted the importance of promoting indigenous knowledge for community resilience. Indigenous knowledge is often used by communities to cope with economic, political and environmental shocks, as well as being integral to community identity.

For example, indigenous and local communities have bred 2.1 million varieties of over 7,000 domesticated plants worldwide, domesticated at least 34 livestock species, and bred over 8,000 rare breeds of these species. People use these diverse resources for food, their resistance to pests and diseases, and broad agronomic traits.

A new development is “citizen science,” which uses new technologies to engage community volunteers in carrying out tasks such as data collection. Citizen science could be cheaper, quicker, more agile, accurate, and deliver datasets in greater detail than traditional methods. Delegates provided several national examples of public policy to promote citizen science and the engagement of communities in the production of scientific knowledge.

Gender lens

Both STI and gender equality are cross-cutting issues that underpin the socioeconomic progress envisioned by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will be impossible without developing new scientific and technological knowledge and deploying innovative solutions to development challenges, while lack of gender equality in STI leads to lost talent and potential, and so undermines the contribution of STI to the 2030 Agenda.

 A Workshop on Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation was organized back-to-back with the Inter-sessional PanelTo explore this issue further.

Participants examined the gender perspectives of the two priority themes of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development and discussed how to support women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

The findings and suggestions from the Inter-sessional Panel and the workshop on gender will be put forward for consideration by the commission at its 22nd annual session in Geneva, Switzerland, on 13–17 May 2019.