Sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, and Vi­sion 2030

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Martin Henry

ANATIONAL re­search and de­vel­op­ment fund will be es­tab­lished by the Gov­ern­ment of Ja­maica. Pub­lic pol­icy will be guided by sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. And the Gov­ern­ment ex­pects to pro­mul­gate a new national sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, and in­no­va­tion pol­icy by the end of the 20172018 fi­nan­cial year.

These an­nounce­ments were made by the min­is­ter for sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, Dr Andrew Wheat­ley, a PhD-trained bio­med­i­cal sci­en­tist with an ex­ten­sive track record in re­search. He was de­liv­er­ing the key­note Dis­tin­guished Lec­ture at the 4th Bi­en­nial National Con­fer­ence on Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and In­no­va­tion hosted by the Sci­en­tific Re­search Coun­cil and part­ners last Monday and Tues­day.

Draw­ing upon his own ex­pe­ri­ence while he was a lec­turer and a mem­ber of a very ac­tive re­search group at the UWI, Mona, Min­is­ter Wheat­ley un­der­scored the im­por­tance of sci­ence tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in achiev­ing the de­vel­op­ment goals of the coun­try. “Sci­ence tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion,” he said, “must be at the cen­tre of the econ­omy and de­vel­op­ment.” And, “re­search should sup­port in­no­va­tions lead­ing to wealth cre­ation.” The Gov­ern­ment, the min­is­ter said, will be mov­ing to ra­tio­nalise and con­sol­i­date re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions to op­ti­mise their func­tion­ing.

It’s im­por­tant to lock the min­is­ter into these com­mit­ments by putting them loudly and boldly into the pub­lic do­main.

We have long ad­vo­cated for a national re­search fund. More than that, we have shown how it can work with­out ei­ther bust­ing the Bud­get or grov­el­ling for pri­vate-sec­tor sup­port, which has not been forth­com­ing.

POL­ICY INI­TIA­TIVES

I have had no in­vi­ta­tion to work on the new sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, and in­no­va­tion pol­icy as I had for the very first one at the crack of the 1990s. There has been a whole heap of S&T-re­lated pol­icy ini­tia­tives since then. I prob­a­bly would have turned down an in­vi­ta­tion for fresh pol­icy work. There’s enough pol­icy clut­ter around get­ting in the way of real ac­tion on the ground. And we, in fact, have a pretty ro­bust ex­ist­ing ST&I Pol­icy.

Say what? Yes, man. It is em­bed­ded in Vi­sion 2030, the long-term national de­vel­op­ment plan that has been limp­ing along since 2007 across two PNP and two JLP ad­min­is­tra­tions.

The three young women, lec­tur­ers at UTech and UWI, who were vy­ing for the Young Sci­en­tist Award, had all worked on health prob­lems of im­por­tance to Ja­maica and the world: di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion, uri­nary tract in­fec­tions, and can­cer.

Vi­sion 2030 sets out S&T ‘Is­sues and Chal­lenges’ and ‘National Strate­gies’ for over­com­ing those is­sues and chal­lenges and in­te­grat­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy into all ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment. And the plan promised in its pub­lished ver­sion copy­righted 2009 ex­actly what the min­is­ter promised last Monday as still future: “A draft National Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy is be­ing fi­nalised to strengthen the frame­work gov­ern­ing STI.”

Pol­icy for­mu­la­tion is an ev­er­last­ing end in it­self, not a means to get some­thing done. In­deed, a way to avoid get­ting any­thing else done.

Last week, I said I’d come to the con­clu­sion that S&T in Ja­maica suf­fers from two fun­da­men­tal

prob­lems. Those prob­lems are fi­nanc­ing and fo­cus. Wait! There is a third. It is iso­la­tion­ism and want­ing spe­cial treat­ment as a spe­cial sec­tor. Vi­sion 2030 has as­signed ST&I, and very prop­erly so, the in­te­grated role of de­liv­er­ing knowl­edge-based tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions to the crit­i­cal prob­lems of de­vel­op­ment in achiev­ing the four national goals.

What’s needed now is an op­er­a­tional plan to de­liver on this role so clearly set out, chap­ter and verse, in Vi­sion 2030, Goal 3, Out­come 11. Not an­other round of use­less pol­i­cy­mak­ing that ‘caan’ done.

Many peo­ple are smit­ten with Min­is­ter Wheat­ley’s tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence as a re­search sci­en­tist who un­der­stands the needs

of this spe­cial and spe­cialised field. But I sound a note of cau­tion and warn­ing for min­is­ter. To a child with a ham­mer, the say­ing goes, ev­ery­thing is a nail. The min­is­ter, as a political leader, must look af­ter de­vel­op­ment for the up­lift of the Ja­maican peo­ple, with ST&I be­ing just one of the sev­eral tools avail­able to the Gov­ern­ment and which must be made to demon­strate the re­turn on in­vest­ment in it, be­gin­ning with a clear op­er­a­tional plan.

VI­SION 2030 FRAME­WORK

Now, that’s some­thing I’d be happy to work on. It’s easy. Within the frame­work of Vi­sion 2030 which is al­ready there, ev­ery S&T agency, pro­gramme and bud­get line must be called upon to jus­tify its ex­is­tence and to demon­strate its con­tri­bu­tion to out­comes.

The strate­gic power of the promised National Re­search Fund is to di­rect re­sources to pri­or­ity ar­eas and to pro­duc­tive agen­cies and per­sons through struc­tured com­pet­i­tive bid­ding.

The Gov­ern­ment wants to drive pol­icy with sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. But first, the ev­i­dence must be had. And this does not nec­es­sar­ily mean new re­search work and big money. I have one sim­ple sug­ges­tion to make. Ev­ery min­istry, de­part­ment, and agency of gov­ern­ment should be man­dated to ap­point a re­search of­fi­cer and es­tab­lish a small re­search unit, as has been done for pro­cure­ment and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, for ex­am­ple.

The job of the of­fi­cer and the unit is to do sec­ondary re­search, har­vest­ing from ev­ery­where rel­e­vant re­search data for the plan­ning and op­er­a­tions of the en­tity, a vast amount of it avail­able on the open, free In­ter­net; and to iden­tify knowl­edge gaps that need to be filled by new re­search, which can then be com­mis­sioned. I re­mem­ber as a young tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer at the SRC be­fore the Age of the In­ter­net hav­ing to dig out of dusty pa­per sources in­for­ma­tion on the Ir­ish potato for the then ju­nior min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture (and hav­ing to de­liver it by bus to his house!).

Con­sid­er­ing my present at­tach­ments and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, I specif­i­cally asked Noelia

CON­TRIB­UTED

UTech-trained foren­sic stu­dents con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions in a mock crime scene.

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