Arab Science, technology and Innovation Policy: Parliamentary Perspective
Egypt, December 19-20, 2004
Attaining sustainable development objectives in this new millennium will have to proceed under conditions bearing little or no resemblance to those that prevailed during the past decades. Thus, developing countries will face enhanced competition, vanishing trade barriers, more stringent intellectual property regimes and deeper concerns for the environment. Trends in all these areas are expected to pose serious challenges for fragile components in most socio-economic systems, especially those of the developing countries of the Arab region.
The role of indigenous scientific and technological capabilities, of innovative capacity, at the national and institutional levels, in meeting these challenges cannot be overemphasized. Innovative capacity is required in order to protect the threatened positions of a multitude of production and service sectors in developing countries. Additionally, innovative capacity will increasingly play an important part in creating new opportunities for growth as well as employment in a variety of production and services activities. The future of economic success is more and more built on national innovation systems with special emphasis on well-targeted regional and local innovation policies.
Science and technology (S&T) policies and regulatory frameworks are essential prerequisites for attaining viable S&T capabilities needed for achieving innovative capacity. Realizing the role that parliaments and parliamentarians can play in establishing the necessary regulatory frameworks and effecting appropriate legislation governing the development of effective science, technology and innovation policies, an International Roundtable on "Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Parliamentary Perspective" was organized in Helsinki by the Parliament of Finland, UNESCO and ISESCO in January, 2003. Delegates from 31 countries from across the world participated and focused on how parliaments could develop the structures, methods and concepts through which they deal with science, technology and innovation policy. The following section briefly summarizes the outcomes of the Helsinki Roundtable and highlights its recommendation formally known as the Helsinki Declaration.
II. The Helsinki Declaration
Participants of the Roundtable exchanged and shared their national and regional experiences regarding such issues as legislation, technology assessment, and other aspects of policy-making, and became aware of the complexity of decision-making in these areas. Major fundamental factors affecting national and global science, technology and innovation policies were discussed. Innovativeness, effective networking and sharing of knowledge, and capacity building in science at all levels were especially identified as factors with significant importance in developing knowledge-based economies and social structures.
As a result of the discussions, the Roundtable concluded that the following future policies, guidelines, and/or recommendations should be considered and acted on by parliaments around the world:
- Parliaments should develop the concepts through which they deal with science, technology and innovation policy, taking into consideration successful models from countries around the world (e.g., the Committee for the Future at the Finnish Parliament, the regional networking between parliaments in Europe through EPTA - European Parliamentary Technology Assessment Network).
- Closer cooperation between media personnel and scientists should be developed and nourished to fully capitalize on the effective role that the media could play in communicating science to policy-makers, parliamentarians and the public at large.
- The co-operation and interaction of the innovation system with other policy sectors must be developed and strengthened.
- Future work force competencies should be developed. Special care must be taken to ensure the availability of well-trained personnel to promote R&D in industry, to increase the supply of knowledge intensive services wherever needed, and to issue regulations for the protection of intellectual property as well as other regulations which affect innovation.
To facilitate continued discussion and debate of these vital concepts as well as help forge a closer co-operation between parliamentarians, policy-makers, scientists, the media, industry (public and private) and civil society at all levels from the sub-national to the international, the Helsinki Roundtable recommended the creation of regional forum of parliamentary science committees, the scientific community, the media, and representatives of the civil society.
III. The Arab Forum for Science, Technology and Innovation
An Arab Forum for Science, Technology and Innovation aims at supporting capacity building by science parliamentary committees and strengthening partnerships between legislators, scientists, the media, civil society, and public and private sectors in developing national innovation systems.
- Enhance awareness regarding the significance of supporting science, technology, and innovation for each country and the region as a whole.
- Promote and empower formal and informal structures and processes to address science, technology, and innovation policies in the Arab Parliaments.
- Identify means and modalities for effective networking and enhanced cooperation between the Arab parliamentarians on one hand, and between UNESCO and the parliamentarians on the other.
A preparatory meeting shall be organized by UNESCO and ISESCO in December 2004 to discuss and agree on the vision, mission, goals, and activities of the Arab Forum for Science, Technology and Innovation as well as to explore opportunities for implementing and enhancing structures and processes within the Arab Parliaments that specialize in addressing science, technology, and innovation.
The meeting, to be held in Egypt, would be attended by:
- Members of the Arab Parliamentarians and policy advisers
- Members of the Arab scientific community
- Journalists and other representatives of the Media
- Members of civil society concerned with science, technology and innovation
In addition, invitation will be extended to selected members of the international scientific community as well as non-Arab parliamentarians who are interested in such cooperative efforts.
The main outcome of the preparatory meeting is to officially create an Arab Forum on Science, technology and Innovation. The establishment of such an entity is expected to result in:
- Reviewing the Arab science and technology profile and analyzing it in accordance with international norms and indicators.
- Exchanging experiences and know-how in science, technology and innovation policy-making.
- Strengthening partnerships between legislators, scientists, the media, civil society, and public and private sectors in developing national innovation systems.
- Supporting capacity-building of science, technology, and innovation in parliamentary structures and processes, making use of best practices from national and regional experiences of organizations such as the Committee for the Future, EPTA, etc.
- Harmonizing principles that underpin the regulation of applications of scientific and technological investigation, while at the same time recognizing the diversity of situations that result from different regional circumstances.
- A continuous level of activity by convening regularly as a traditional forum as well through newsletters, websites, regional workshops, etc.
- A more structured dialogue between parliamentarians and UNESCO and effective dissemination of data on UNESCO, including resolutions and decisions of its Governing Bodies.