Accepted paper:

Innovation in development cooperation: current narrative, conceptual definitions and implications for inclusive sustainable development


Ana Luisa Silva (ISEG, Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

How does innovation appear in development discourse and how are different development actors approaching innovation? What does the innovation narrative mean for inclusive sustainable development? This paper aims to situate the innovation for development cooperation narrative in the literature.

Paper long abstract:

For the last twenty years, innovation has become increasingly present in development cooperation discourse and practice. This trend is strengthened by the ambitious UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda: without new ideas and innovative solutions, solving the current global development challenges in a sustainable and inclusive way will not be possible. While the number of initiatives dedicated to innovation in the sector has multiplied since the Millennium Development Goals agenda, academic research on this topic remains limited. This leads to a lack of conceptual and theoretical clarity, which in turn makes studying innovation in development cooperation challenging.

What is innovation in development cooperation, how does it appear in development discourse and how are different development actors approaching innovation? In the mainstream literature, innovation is still largely understood in the classical Schumpeterian sense, equivalent to technological change: one of the key contributors to technological progress, industrialization and economic growth. In development cooperation discourse and practice, innovation generally departs from this mainstream definition but there is no unified use of the concept. Innovation is used by different actors to describe different types of innovation, such as organisational innovation, systemic innovation and social innovation.

This paper aims to situate the innovation for international development discussion in the literature, by reviewing the innovation studies literature, social innovation literature and existing development cooperation grey literature. The goal is to establish a working definition, to develop frameworks for empirical work on the topic and to understand the implications of the current innovation narrative for inclusive sustainable development.

panel B1
Inclusive innovation for development: what inclusion for a fairer future?