The Role of Networks in Innovation Systems

My colleagues at the ISNAR (International Service for National Agricultural Research) Division of IFPRI have done a lot of research into the role of networks in agricultural innovation systems in such diverse settings as Bolivia and Ethiopia. So I’m excited that David Spielman (ISNAR) and Regina Birner (also IFPRI, Development Strategy Division DSG) asked me to join them to explore the use of Net-Map as a tool to get a better understanding of innovation systems in the cropping and/or livestock sector in Ethiopia. They want to find out: Who are the organizations or individuals involved in research, development, dissemination, and use of new knowledge and technologies?

What I am especially eager to explore when in Ethiopia, is the multiplex nature of innovation networks. While it is obvious that you need information flow to stimulate innovation, there are other flows (funds for example, maybe political pressure or others) that are needed so that the information is actually turned into action and innovation can take place.

As researchers, we often focus on the information flow and think: “As long as I tell them (the policy makers, the farmers etc.) how to do things better or how to do better things, and I make my argument convincing and understandable enough, innovation can start.” I am convinced that a lot of our frustration as researchers with a cause (we want to improve the lot of the poorest of the poor) comes from the fact that we don’t understand what else, beyond better information, is needed to make it more likely that our findings can bear fruit and are turned into actual benefits for the poor.

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