March 2019
Authors: John Ayisi, Frank Ndakala, Rose Nyanga, Chux Daniels, and Marie Blanche Ting

In the last two decades, Kenya has deeply transformed its innovation policy landscape in response to national needs. Key policy instruments including the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Act of 2013 and Medium Term Plan (MTP) III of the Kenya Vision 2030, are now emboldened in the ambitious “Big 4 Agenda’s” four key pillars of manufacturing, food security, universal health coverage, and affordable housing[1].  Through these frameworks, the country has managed to develop an effective National Systems of Innovation (NSI) that is more responsive to the needs of the society and able to foster transformative changes that contribute to addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The big question is, will these instruments enable Kenya to attain the SDGs in the next 12 years?  We recently found many clues to answering this question during the Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) workshop that was held in Pretoria South Africa from 4th to 5th February 2019. The workshop was organised by the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) of the University of Sussex, with support from National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and funding from International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. In this workshop participants explored what TIP and Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) is about and how TIP approaches can support efforts to address national development needs and the SDGs.

In applying TIP to the case of Kenya, we understand that key policy frameworks including the Big 4 Agenda and the MTP III will need to be stretched to foster directionality towards societal and environmental goals, alongside economic goals. Professor Johan Schot, Founder and Academic Director for TIPC, explained that directionality enables a policy framework to consider a wide range of technological options. He highlighted the importance of initiating new institutional solutions for changing the directionality of existing innovation activities with a focus on grand challenges such as the SDGs[2]. This then raises the question of how to assess the transformative potential of a policy framework, programme, or project. In that regard, Dr Chux Daniels, Research Fellow at SPRU and lead for the Transformative Innovation Policy Africa Exploratory Hub, reminded the team that policy formulation and implementation must consider multiple directions for social-technical changes right from the early stages of a STI policy, programme, or project. He suggested that countries should view innovation as a means for directly addressing environmental and societal challenges, alongside economic growth and increased competiveness objectives.

The sustainability of projects is guaranteed by the generation of new knowledge through co-creation. Johan Schot defined co-creation as “a process in which participants attempt to reach a common understanding based upon reasoned discussion” with attention to the opportunities and barriers for conveying this understanding to others. Thus, developing new policies, programmes or projects through a co-creation process can potentially lead to greater success. The aim is consensus,  through a better understanding of divergent points of differences and overlaps. That means various actors work together in generating new knowledge for decision-making and policy formulation, implementation and governance[3].

In that regard, teams consisting of researchers and policymakers from Kenya, Ghana and Senegal worked together in a co-creation process to identify TIP components in existing national STI policies of the three countries. The teams applied TIP approaches to the STI policies and initiatives in their respective countries. The aim was to identify potential areas for transformative change and select a case study from each country, with transformative potential, for further investigation. We from Kenya identified the transformative elements in the STI Act 2013, the Big 4 Agenda, and the Kenya Vision 2030; and selected a case study on Nomadic Education in Kenya. The case study is to be co-constructed using the Transformative Innovation Learning History (TILH) methodology.

A TIP approach requires policy mixes that promote the development and re-arrangement of institutions. We learnt through the co-creation process the existing similarities in STI frameworks between Kenya, Senegal and Ghana. Although the three countries have spent nearly half a century investing in research and development (R&D) institutions, weak governance structures still exist. The good news is STI policies with transformative elements have led to the re-arrangement of old institutions and the establishment of new institutions. In Kenya, transformative elements in the Big 4 Agenda are focusing on frugal and pro-poor innovations in agriculture, universal health care, affordable housing, and manufacturing.

With improved governance in NSI in Kenya, STI is slowly emerging as the foundation that drives economic, political and social development in Kenya. In this regard, Dr Matthew Wallace, Senior Programme Officer at IDRC pointed out that through Science Granting Council Inititive (SGCI) IDRC supports African granting agencies to improve grant management and development of indicators. The aim is to enhance better decision-making mechanisms and development of evidence-based policies in African countries. He further stated that in its quest to strengthen regional systems of innovation, IDRC is working closely with TIPC to identify approaches that promote inclusiveness and gender equality in the African context[4].

In Kenya, we have a sizeable share of “shelf-based policies” and un-finished projects – the so-called “white elephants”. During the TIP African Hub workshop, we discovered one of the root cause of Kenya’s “white elephants” is related to issues of exclusivity at the formulation stage of innovation policy and design of relevant programmes and projects. In such a context, STI policies, programmes and projects are designed, prioritised and implemented without the involvement of some important actors. Chux Daniels pointed out that one outcome, for example of weak stakeholder engagement during policymaking, is that differences in opinion among actors are either avoided or discouraged at the formulation stage, with actors such as civil society groups and end-users are usually not adequately included. Relatedly, such scenarios do not allow for deep learning or “second order learning”. Chux Daniels further explained that inclusivity fosters a fertile ground for second order learning which happens when some actors begin to interrogate routines and practices during policymaking.

Finally, we gathered that communication is the super glue that enables co-production of new knowledge, research, policy networks and academic conferencing. Sarah Schepers, TIPC Programme Director, shared thoughts on how to embed key communication strategies with a view to ensuring a wider impact of transformative projects. She pointed out that we need a combination of different communication tools including blogs, policy briefs, research insights, infographics and digital channels, in order to fully engage policymakers, researchers and end-users. These in turn help in defining the roles of various stakeholders in a transformative project.

Overall, this workshop was a good eye-opener for participants. It was a practical demonstration of how to involve the right stakeholders from the very beginning, with a view of gathering a significant amount of information about the project, the end-users and their learning environment. From this, we will continue work on our case study on Nomadic Education in order to further understand how transformative innovation works in the Kenyan context.


[1] Hoka H, Njogu H,Obiero B. (2018). Realizing the “Big Four” Agenda through Energy as an Enabler.  In: Policy Monitor Supporting Sustainable Development through Research and Capacity Building ISSUE 9 NO. 3 JANUARY – MARCH 2018. KIPPRA Publication.
[2]  GoK (2013). (Government of Kenya). The Science, Technology and Innovation Act, 2013 No. 28 of 2013Kenya Gazette Supplement No. 43 (Acts No. 28)
[3] University of Sussex, SPRU and TIPC (2019). Innovation Policy Africa Hub. Exploring the Potential for Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) in Africa. Working Session Reader, 4-5, February 2019, Pretoria, South Africa.
[4] Johan Schot, Chux Daniels, Jonas Torrens, G. B. (2017). Developing a Shared Understanding of Transformative Innovation Policy. Research Policy Brief, 41(6), 1037–1047.

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