RIU’s approach

In performing our research, we aim to apply a set of principles which have been derived from observing innovation from a systems perspective – that is by examining the linkages and interactions among the different elements.

These observations include:

  • The motivation to innovate can be the opportunity to make money, or the need to cope with a new challenge – such as a new agricultural pest, policy change or shifting consumer demand.
  • New technology can stimulate innovation as it presents opportunities for doing things differently, often in ways not foreseen by the technology developer: mobile phones being used to transfer money, pioneered in Kenya, are a good example.
  • Research is an important source of new knowledge, but its real value only emerges when this is combined with ideas and practices that come from entrepreneurial and social activity.
  • Links and networks are a key ingredient in the innovation process. They provide the means to bring together new ideas and information and to use them creatively.
  • While technologies can have impact, much more powerful is the capacity that enables innovation. This has four elements:
  1. the expertise of individuals and organisations which accumulates over time, through both training and experience
  2. the routines and ways of doing things which also develop over time, through training and trial and error
  3. the links, communication channels and networks that allow individuals and organisations to access a wide array of ideas and expertise for innovation
  4. the nature of the policy environment and the way it shapes the previous three elements.
  • The directions in which innovation proceeds vary and are often highly dependent on the starting conditions and historical and political settings. For example, public-private sector collaboration has tended to be difficult in India, but readily accepted in China; producer-funded research arrangements work well in Latin America, but not in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Unusual and unexpected outcomes often prove to be most significant.
  • Innovation proceeds in an unpredictable, non-linear way in response to the unpredictability of markets, climate, pests and disease outbreaks, financial systems and political dynamics, amongst others. Opportunities and threats arise unexpectedly; being able to adapt rapidly is the key to innovation capacity.
  • Often for innovation to be successful institutional change is necessary.

The following list of principles, derived from these observations, represents what RIU aspires to in terms of its approach. RIU aspires to:

  • Strengthen innovation capacity
  • Explore patterns of partnerships, alliances or networks that span research, social, economic and policy activity
  • Tackle local problems in a global context
  • Undertake learning-orientated monitoring, with reorientation of RIU in the light of emerging experience
  • Recognize that risk is an unavoidable part of innovation
  • Champion governance arrangements that facilitate a pro-poor orientation
  • Recognize of the vital role that women play in agriculture
  • Be flexible to pursue unexpected but promising outcomes
  • Engage at different levels and scales; for example local/global or technical/policy
  • Promote new ways of working

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