Thursday, September 12, 2013

Multilateral Collaboration and Innovation for the Global Commons

As a follow up to the OECD STIG project on governance of research and innovation cooperation for global challenges, Dr. Keith Smith of Imperial College has prepared a paper on multinational collaboration.

Photo: Thorsten Schmitt,

We hope the document can provide input to the important discussion on how the the worlds of policy making, science and industrial innovation can contribute in the face of urgent global challenges. The paper is part of the efforts of the informal Beyond Stig network.

Below find a summary and a link to the full document. Please feel free to add your own comments!

Multilateral collaboration and innovation for the global commons: polycentric governance in a heteropolar world

By Dr. Keith Smith

The ‘grand challenges’ posed by climate change, food security, ocean ecologies, epidemic disaease and urban environments are so large that they will soon dominate policy thinking globally.

Innovation is central to solving these problems, because they are shaped by incumbent technologies that must be changed.

Lack of framework

But innovation policy initiatives must be multilateral, because the outcomes will be globally shared, and the resources needed will be great.  We lack a framework for thinking about how such collaboration might be organised. 

Innovative solutions would in effect provide global public goods. However the usual approach to public good provision fails at the world scale because there is no supranational or hegemonic power that can undertake the roles played by states at the national level.

A heteropolar world

We live in a ‘heteropolar’ world of dissimilar states based on different sources of power. So there is little multilateral collaboration at the present time for public goods, and most collaboration is aimed at private or club goods.

There are in addition many non-state actors seeking solutions to global challenges: corporations, foundations, NGOs, scientists, communities etc.  How, in this complex de-centred world, can we approach multilateral collaboration?

The global commons

Policy makers often speak of the ‘global commons’. It is frequently held that common-pool resources inevitably lead to a ‘tragedy of the commons’ because no agents have incentives to manage resources sustainably. The proposed solutions are usually full state control or the allocation of private property rights. Neither will work at the global level.

However the late Elinor Ostrom argued that the state/market approach is flawed conceptually and empirically: in multiple case studies she showed that common-pool resources are often managed collectively and successfully by ‘polycentric’ agents.

Elinor Ostrom (photo: Holger Motzkau)
Her approach points to new possibilities for the ‘global commons’, for two reasons. 
First, it accords with central features of modern innovation practice, which frequently involves linking of government sponsorship with wide, multi-agent development processes. Innovation efforts, both past and future, tend to be open and polycentric: new initiatives must encompass such diverse actors.
Secondly, the collective management approach is potentially scalable, and so offers the possibility of polycentric governance up to and including the heteropolar intergovernmental level.
We have suggestive empirical cases, such as the Montreal Protocol and the IPCC, for this. Functional policy networks across borders are already a strong feature of modern government.

This paper outlines both a conceptual approach and an agenda for research on these innovation policy challenges.
The paper refers to Daryl Copeland's report Diplomacy, Globalization and Heteropolarity: The Challenge of Adaptation, which can be downloaded here!

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