The work of LINK is a response to three issues:
The new demands placed on public policy by emerging realities in the rural sector, where globalisation, technological change, ecological concerns, migration and agricultural multi-functionality call for the reconfiguration of capacities for resilience and innovation
The policy and operational challenges presented by a systems understanding of innovation
The need to bridge the gap between innovation studies and the planning process in national and international arenas.
The work of LINK falls into four major areas, the key features of which are as follows:
The central research thrust of LINK is the elaboration of a contemporary understanding of rural/agricultural innovation capacity and its policy implications for enabling innovation.
Research in East Africa has investigated innovation response and resilience capacity in the livestock sector — response to markets and response to droughts and disease outbreaks. Related research in India has explored innovation capacity in mango export systems — responses to new market opportunities and quality standards.
Research in West Africa has explored innovation processes associated with the promotion of NERICA rice. In India a study has been undertaken on the role of tacit knowledge in livestock sector innovation.
Currently the main focus of LINK’s research is a large-scale, multi-site action research experiment to explore ways of strengthening fodder innovation capacity. The experiment, funded by UK’s DFID, has been undertaken with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and a large array of implementation agencies.
2. Benchmarking and Policy Dialogues
Systems perspectives on innovation capacity suggest that traditional science and technology indicators are not an adequate way of generating information on existing capacities for innovation policy. Alternatives options to generate information for benchmarking purposes and international comparisons are discussed in the literature and these include: consultation, policy and business climate reviews, foresight and visioning. However, the use of these approaches is in its infancy — particularly for the rural sector, where levels of investment in agricultural research remain the principle tool used to track capacity.
LINK is backstopping its Latin American partner CONDESAN to undertake a synthesis of rural innovation practice in the Andean region. LINK’s South Asia partner is experimenting with innovation capacity benchmarking approaches, including policy dialogues, with funding from IDRC. A similar initiative is planned in East Africa with LINK’s partner ACTS. The vision of these initiatives is for these to mature into a more permanent architecture of institutional and policy learning on rural innovation.
3. Advisory Services
LINK has provided advisory services to a number of donors and development organisations. An assignment with the World Bank led to the authoring of a book for the Bank, titled “Enhancing Agricultural Innovation: How to go Beyond the Strengthening of Research Systems”. LINK also undertook a series of assignments with the Forum for Agricultural Research for Africa (FARA) to design an experimental programme to reorient African agricultural research towards an innovation perspective — the Sub Saharan Africa Challenge programme.
LINK’s main client in 2008 and 2009 has been DFID, with assignments related to the operationalisation of the agency’s new research strategy. Assignments include: a wide-ranging scoping study to suggest the focus and organisation of a South Asia agricultural research programme; A study to provide advice on how DFID could develop South Asia regional research offices tailored to local research and innovation landscapes; and a technical review of the Research into Use programme (RIU).
Recent assignments with other agencies include advice to FAO on reorientating its agricultural extension work to cope with the implications of climate change.
4. Networking and Outreach
Central to LINK’s networking and outreach is its website and the LINK News Bulletins. The LINK News Bulletin is a monthly update of LINK’s research and other activities, a round-up of relevant innovation news and an op-ed on various topical issues, titled the LINK LOOK.
In 2009, LINK has started to commission a series of resource documents in response to frequently asked questions about the operationalisation of the innovation systems concept. The first in the series will address the thorny question of monitoring and evaluation of innovation initiatives. These resource documents will complement the overview of rural innovation studies that was published this year as “A Tourist Guide to Innovation Studies (http://innovationstudies.org/images/stories/linktouristguide.pdf).