The Global South as test-bed for innovations
In this Knowledge File showcases CFIA's preliminary study 'The Global South as test-bed for innovations' which aims to provide first insights into both the potential benefits of faster adoption of New Digital Economy technologies, as well as the risks involved in downplaying ethical and regulatory safeguards of test-beds in the Global South for (not) realising particular Sustainable Development Goals.
The New Digital Economy
New Digital Economy technologies are expected to change the way people work, do business, and socially interact with each other. This includes digital platforms; new manufacturing equipment (e.g., 3D printers, laser-cutting); Artificial Intelligence (AI); blockchain; and the Internet of Things (IoT). As it is expected that these technologies offer great opportunities towards the Sustainable Development Goals, western businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and research institutes increasingly try out New Digital Economy technologies in innovation projects in the Global South. While opportunities towards development such as reduction of poverty or technological leapfrogging are expected, these so called ‘test-beds’ may also encounter grand challenges. It has been argued that test-beds lead to negative impacts associated with issues like an increasing ‘digital divide’ and ‘digital colonialism’. In like manner, they may challenge the interactions between actors in the Global North and Global South. On top of that, New Digital Economy technologies often contest existing policy, regulations, and governance frameworks.
The potential risks and benefits of fast adoption of New Digital Economy technologies
This preliminary study aims to provide first insights into both the potential benefits of faster adoption of New Digital Economy technologies, as well as the risks involved in downplaying ethical and regulatory safeguards of test-beds in the Global South for (not) realising particular Sustainable Development Goals. The central research question of the research team is:
How do test-beds contribute to sustainable development in the Global South?
Concretely, the research team intends to analyse at least the following dimensions of test-beds in the Global South:
- Rationales (of participation and initiation);
- Timing (stages in innovation projects);
- Governance and policy (leadership, networks, regulations, institutions);
- Geography (global versus local level);
- Effects and mechanism that facilitate or hinder development processes.
Health and Agro-food case studies
Empirically, the team focusses on six case qualitative studies of test-beds in the Global South:
- Apollo agriculture;
- Frugal MRI scanner;
- Future Pump;
- Vodan Africa & Asia;
- WeRobotics & the Flying Labs Network.
These case studies are linked to CFIA’s thematic health and agro-food domains and are based on a typology of New Digital Economy technologies that cover three categories.
One extreme type is the category of products with a physical orientation, such as an MRI scanner (Frugal MRI scanner) and a water pump (Futurepump). New digital tools are added to these physical products to improve their performance or to deliver new digital services. The other extreme category includes digital oriented products, such as digital platforms (Apollo Agriculture) or new data governance concepts (Vodan Africa & Asia). The middle category encompasses physical products that are dependent on digital infrastructures, such as drones (WeRobotics & the Flying Labs Network) and 3D printers (Kijenzi). Via semi-structured in-depth interviews with a diversity of key stakeholders in the Global South as well as in the Global North, the data will be gathered. The team’s selection of interview partners includes project leaders and a variety of partners (in different project stages), including research, financial, implementation and communication partners as well as community representatives.
This study is part of the larger project “The Role of New Technologies in Addressing the SDGs: What is in it for the Global South?” that has been funded by the Dutch Science Organisation (NWO) within the programme Dutch Research Agenda Small projects for NWA (file number NWA.1418.20.005).