DATE:           July 30, 1979

FROM:           ISTC/PO, Courtney Nelson


TO:               ISTC/PO Staff

          This memorandum concerns the meetings on ISTC arranged by the Kettering Foundation in Singapore, June 28-29, and Nairobi, July 2-3. The meetings have already been described in Luykx's memo of July 12 and in a paper on the highlights of the Nairobi meeting issued by ICIPE, so I will attempt to summarize the discussion and my impressions from both meetings concerning topics of particular interest to the Planning Office. 


Courtney A Nelson - Beirut 1973

Antelope on cliff              The Sudan                1955

          1. Milieu. The informal, unofficial nature of these meetings, made possible by Kettering making the arrangements as well as financing most costs, was an important ingredient to their success. In Singapore, Kettering co-hosted with the IORC regional office, and in Nairobi with ICIPE. The Ford Foundation Nairobi office picked up travel costs of several participants and participated in the meeting.

          This is a very good league to be in, and ISTC should find ways to keep itself associated with these institutions in the minds of its professional collaborators in developing countries. IDRC, SARAC, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are very well known and highly regarded by the kind of people who participated in the meetings. Time and again, participants mentioned that their own institutions had benefited greatly from these sources of finance; in many cases the institutions were established largely with foundation funds.

          Several suggestions were made at the meetings that would retain ISTC's association with these respected donors. It was proposed that similar regional meetings be held after two or three years to review the track record of the ISTC. These could be arranged again by Kettering or another private foundation to ensure impartial selection of participants and a neutral forum for frank comment. In addition, both groups suggested that IDRC, Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation be consulted on candidates for Advisory Committee membership and for the Fellows program.

          In another context, ISTC may also be able to cooperate with U.S. private foundations with respect to work in China.

          2. Format. Bill Shaw of Kettering chaired both meetings and did a very effective job. Some of the techniques employed may be useful in future gatherings. After introductory remarks about Kettering's interests, Shaw said something about his own professional and family background and invited each participant to do the same. This was a very useful icebreaker; it gave everyone a chance to say something clever and get acquainted with one another before knuckling down to serious business.

          He then invited ISTC participants, Luykx and Nelson in Singapore, and Gruhn and Nelson in Nairobi, to describe the background to ISTC and the current situation. This was followed by a brief general discussion. Each topic was also briefly introduced by an ISTC participant. Shaw and Willis, also from Kettering, would occasionally sum up and identify subjects that had been passed over too quickly or omitted.

          Another effective technique employed was to invited each participant to offer one thought which he wished to be sure to communicate to ISTC. This was quite productive, and the results will be summarized below.

          3. Participants. The Singapore meeting was very well balanced by profession and regional distribution. The caliber of participants was of an exceptionally high standard. The Nairobi meeting had a good general standard, but Kenyans predominated and West Africa was lightly represented. French-speaking Africa was also under-represented. Agriculturalists tended to predominate. The imbalances were regrettable but probably not particularly serious because I think much the same things would have been said by a more balanced group, judging from the Singapore meeting. It should be noted that the Nairobi meeting was much more hurriedly organized and that participants had to be selected by a group chiefly concerned with agricultural matters. That the meeting was held at all is a real tribute to Tom Odhiambo and his staff at ICIPE.

          Several of the participants were of the caliber ISTC should seek for its Advisory Committee. A separate memorandum will be drafted concerning these.

          4. Capacity building. Not surprisingly, the intention of ISTC to help build indigenous problem-solving capacity aroused the greatest enthusiasm among participants and received the most discussion. The discussion ran along familiar lines, touching training and equipment needs, but some of the points stressed bear repeating.

          Institutional development is a long-term process, and the external assistance needs vary with the stage of development as well as the wealth of the country. In Asia, many institutions have benefited from sustained external support and have achieved what was termed a “critical mass."  They are staffed with well-trained nationals or others from the region, have solid basic equipment and a reliable core budget. External collaboration and limited assistance is still required to enhance the effectiveness of these institutions. Specific needs cited included:

·         special equipment needs;

·         project support;

·         upgrading skills in research management, research planning, and proposal development;

·         re-tuning new PhDs to enable them to apply their fresh skills to the needs of the country;

·         information exchange or networking with similar research institutions in other developing countries (TCDC) as well as developed countries.

          In the lower-income countries, where the "critical mass" generally does not yet exist (except in India and isolated institutions elsewhere), the emphasis should be on developing trained manpower and meeting basic equipment needs. In this regard, a number of participants, including the one from India, cautioned against following the India model. As Radhakrishna put it, India has the world's third largest science community, and the world's largest poverty. Many people are trained, in effect, for export because of the lack of a local market for their skills, the producers of knowledge have poor communication with the users of knowledge, training tends to be overly theoretical, and the attitudes of the scientific community lack a development orientation.

          Attitudinal problems were mentioned several times. ICIPE considers the inculcation of problem-solving attitudes to be as important in its training program as the transfer of knowledge and skills. A Thai participant point out that it is not just the attitudes of the scientists that are important. Thailand has 3000 PhDs, more than any other country in Southeast Asia, but does not accomplish as much as Singapore, where accreditation is valued less than performance. The entire Singapore society, beginning with its top leadership, is technology-minded. ISTC should, he suggests, concern itself with the spirit of science and technology among the populace and especially the elite.

          Among the means suggested to avoid the apparent defects of India's scientific and technological development were:

·         where possible, offer training opportunities within the country or region;

·         ensure that there are employment opportunities for those trained; 

·         orient research to real local problems and follow problems through to field testing stage;

·         integrate training and practice (work-study).

          Chandra Soysa made the point that capacity requirements of a country relate not just to the nature of its problems, but also to its potential at a given time. Appropriate technology requires a proper mix for a given country at a given time. Lee Kum Tatt also stressed the need to be realistic about human, financial, and political constraints in planning for S&T development.

          5. Problem area priorities. The discussion of priorities was somewhat less focused and less useful in both meetings than the discussion of process topics. The reason for this is probably that it is difficult to have a meaningful discussion of the broad range of problems perfunctorily described in the Summary Report. In-depth discussion of any one of the problems would have been too time-consuming.

          The only problem area listed that was rejected was the population problem, and that only at the Nairobi meeting. ICIPE had distributed the October 13 draft plan in which the population issue was discussed less sensitively than in later versions, and the African participants found it objectionable.

          Chandra Soysa of Sri Lanka found the list of problems in the Summary Report to be uninspiring. He believes a major initiative by a major power should be more innovative. He pointed out that many innovative programs are underway in Asia which merit attention, including a study of the possibilities for sharing traditional technologies, which is underway at MARGA.

          Most of the rest of the discussion dealt with elaborations of the items on the list and, in a few cases, additional topics were proposed such as urban problems and rural electrification. At the same time, the Nairobi group concluded that there were too many problems cited for adequate attention within the ISTC budget.

          A general concern was that activities selected under the broad problem headings be viewed from a regional perspective. This was particularly stressed at the Nairobi meeting where it was feared that a disproportionate share of ISTC activities might be conducted in Asia and Latin America where research capacities were more developed.

          A related point was given a good deal of airing at Singapore; it could be characterized as the "Winged Bean Phenomenon."  A number of participants felt that the winged bean has become a fad in U.S. circles, and it is being promoted in developing countries with too little regard for the interests of the countries themselves. A Thai alleged that international markets for the bean are inadequate, and that the crop is not of priority interest to his government.

          Nick Luykx convincingly argues that the winged bean got a bad rap in Singapore, and that its potential benefits and markets were thoroughly explored before the crop was popularized through U.S. and international efforts. Precisely because work on the winged bean has been of high quality, the Singapore discussion poses a problem for the ISTC.

          When the ISTC selects a problem area for priority attention, it may very well appear to leaders in developing countries to be another U.S. fad, no matter how careful the selection process. At both meetings the message was clear that scientists and technologists are resistant to working on priorities established by developed countries; they wish to establish their own priorities and then invite cooperation. Yet they generally do not have a clearly defined set of priorities in mind.

          The only solution to this conundrum that occurs to me is to ensure heavy participation of developing country scientists in the priority-setting process. This will be time-consuming and expensive, but it is likely to be essential if the ISTC is to be welcomed as a truly collaborative institution.

          The IDRC and SARAC were widely praised at both meetings for their responsiveness to local needs and their willingness to fund individual and institutional research projects with minimal interference or controls. But those organizations are not trying, in most cases, to mount a coherent international attack on a particular problem. ISTC will have a much more difficult time establishing its credibility with scientists from developing countries, in part because it is an institution based in a major power, and in part because of its problem orientation.

          The scientists are not opposed to a problem orientation per se. Indeed, they recognize the need to make their own institutions more effective in identifying and dealing with problems. But they are concerned that the problems selected be on their own list of priorities and that the activities supported be consistent with their own needs and possibilities.

          6. Programming process. To introduce this subject, I outlined Ralph Smuckler's paper on the programming process. The response in Singapore was primarily in terms of ensuring the participation of scientists from developing countries, as discussed above. Questions were raised as to who would do the "state-of-the-art" papers, and how do the developing country viewpoints become integral to the process? 

          In Africa, the response was that the system as outlined is much too heavy and time-consuming. There was some confusion in that several participants thought each project would have to go through such a process, but there was a consensus that the system was too elaborate. Several pointed out that UN agencies such as WHO have been quite good at identifying priority problems, but weak on generating action to pursue the problems. The African group would prefer more action on priorities already identified and less work on priority definition. The Singapore group also commented on the amount of international discussion already taking place regarding most of the problem areas, and the tiny amount of effective action that ensues. One criticism was that so many funds are devoted to staff salaries in international organizations that not much is left for program action.

          7. Advisory Council. Chandra Soysa strongly urged ISTC to seek Advisory Council members from developing countries who have varying outlooks, worldviews, and disciplines. He cautioned against selecting only people who think as we do. Social scientists, in particular, should be represented.

          Both meetings rejected the idea of seeking nominations from regional organizations, except that the Nairobi group thought the AAASA would be a good source of candidates with an agricultural background. Jingjai, the IDRC representative, said that legitimacy of the ISTC selection need not be a problem; IDRC picks its own board members and is not criticized for doing so. The Nairobi group urged ISTC to consult the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and IDRC on names because they know the region as well.

          Both groups warned against picking people who are so prominent that they can't spare the time to attend meetings. The point was also made that it is important to keep Advisory Committee members informed of ISTC activities between meetings so they are better prepared to contribute during the meetings.

          Both groups urged ISTC to have informal advisory groups at the regional level in order to guide the field offices and to follow program activities in the region.

          8. Fellows. The availability of well-qualified candidates for the position of Fellow was a subject that divided the Singapore meeting. Those from the lower-income countries felt that a two-to-four year absence from their parent institution would definitely be damaging to careers. In the middle-income countries this appears not to be the case. Although sabbaticals and extended leaves have not been a common practice, it is increasingly recognized that outside experience in research management, proposal design, and priority analysis is greatly needed.

          In Africa, the present practice of selecting scientific administrators directly from the ranks of practicing scientists was recognized to be deficient and the experience of the Fellows program would be valuable. Manpower shortages may constrain availability, however.

          Both groups felt that it would be easier to get people from universities than from research institutes or government service, but Lee said it would not be advisable to draw only from universities. Both felt that the experience would be valuable to scientists in the 30-45 year age range making the transition from bench to administration if they gained management and policy analysis exposure.

          In Africa, the practice of advertising for posts is well established and recommended but candidates should be thoroughly evaluated, interviewed, and references checked. Both groups suggested that the foundations and IORC could be helpful in identifying and vetting candidates.

          Three months lead-time was considered minimal and the general opinion was that few qualified candidates would be found to begin as early as January 1980.

          Both groups agreed that Fellows should be selected from institutions to which they could be expected to return, rather than from the ranks of political exiles or perennial post-docs.

          9. Field offices. Both groups strongly affirmed the importance of field offices. Among the points made were the following:

·         Strong field offices with authority to act are essential to successful regional projects;

·         Field offices should have some staff from the region, as does IDRC, and be able to mobilize talent from the region as well as outside it;

·         Field Offices are important for the purposes of communication, project identification and initial vetting, and liaison with the nation and regional scientific infrastructure;

·         Work on complex, interdisciplinary projects requires in-depth knowledge of the culture and of ways of operating in it;

·         Field office staff must be of very high quality in order to gain the respect of local professionals;

·         Field offices should stress regional problems and play a role in organizing training on a regional basis;

·         Human contact is important; also field staff should help in project formulation;

·         Field offices should have a heavy role in project monitoring and evaluation.

          Concerning the location of field offices, the following points were made:

·         The site chosen should have good air, telex and phone communications;

·         The host country should have a substantial population and an active science community but a country with a lower-income per capita should be preferred to higher;

·         Africa should have at least two field offices and one should be in a French-speaking area;

·         Not all staff members should be in the same country.

          The consensus seemed to be for Kuala Lumpur in South East Asia and Nairobi for East Africa.

          Jingjai commented that when IDRC began operations there was some frustration among field staff because their roles and authorities were not clearly defined. At the beginning, field offices were expected to play the limited role of eyes and ears for Ottawa. A Treasury Commission review of IDRC has recommended that more authority be granted to field offices. On an experimental basis, the Singapore office is now monitoring projects and field program representatives have more authority. This experiment will be reviewed after two years.

          David Smock described the Ford Foundation system in which the field offices have a great deal of autonomy. He said that Ford Foundation is not as problem-oriented as the ISTC Intends to become, and is better at training and institution building than at problem-solving. One advantage of the Ford system is that field-based officers are more likely to be able to identify young scholars, with good research potential. Disadvantages include relatively high costs and limitations on sharing information worldwide.

          Odhiambo commented that the Ford method of having independent field offices seems preferable to the Rockefeller method of attaching a field office to a university.

          10. Modes of Interaction. In both groups there was surprisingly strong resistance to the notion of spending funds abroad through U.S. institutions, such as universities. A number of complaints were made about the way the system apparently worked in the past. A recurrent point was that in cooperative programs, too much is spent on staff salaries and perks. Also, there is a tendency for the U.S. institution to "colonize" its partner, using the institution for a field research base, sometimes working on subjects over the head of, or impertinent to, the local scholars. U.S. links were not flatly ruled out, but a strong preference was expressed for the local institution to choose its own collaborator and to control the funds.

          In the Africa meeting, much was made of the need for mutual trust. SARAC has a particularly high reputation for letting local scholars define their interests, handle the funds, and account for them later. Strings or controls will be widely resented.

          There was recognition that some aspects of a particular problem may need to be addressed in developed country labs, but the provision of U.S. experts to staff or advise local research institutions seems passé. This is not to say that U.S. experts aren't required for field office functions, which as noted above may involve tendering advice on research design and proposal preparation.

          The African group placed great importance on the desirable ability of ISTC to fund non-U.S. training, personnel and equipment. They placed surprising weight on the equipment item and mentioned a project in Tanzania where the use of a $1 million AID grant was greatly facilitated by a $10,000 Ford Foundation grant for equipment which was not tied to U.S. sources.

          11. One-liners. A summary of the responses to Bill Shaw's invitation to state one thing ISTC should be certain to learn from the meetings follows. 


·         TCDC;

·         Look ahead 15-20 years and set goals, perhaps working on as few as three problems in the first five years;

·         Emphasize training in developing countries;

·         Exchange information around the world;

·         ISTC should concentrate on manpower development and on specific problems of a country, and should encourage Recognize that capacity building is a long-term effort; don't focus too narrowly; develop meaningful evaluations;

·         Social sciences are key in implementing known technologies;

·         Strengthen self-reliance of developing countries;

·         Industrialization should be stressed;

·         Don't just solve immediate problems, build capacity;

·         Work on challenging problems with a 3-5 year time frame, but beware the winged-bean phenomenon.


·         In appointing Fellows and non-U.S. field officers, look for young people;

·         Autonomy must be reflected in simplified decision-making;

·         If research is problem-oriented, users will be waiting for it;

·         Improve existing local research and management;

·         Emphasize capacity building;

·         Combine problem-solving and capacity building;

·         Be flexible in implementation;

·         Pay special attention to Africa;

·         Geography should influence the selection of priorities;

·         Nairobi (cont'd.)

·         Stay with research. to the point it can be carried out with local funding and talent;

·         Mutual trust is essential;

·         Social science role should be built into every project;

·         Don't stop before pilot testing;

·         Support collaboration among developing countries;

·         Be a catalyst in building science policy capacity (but don't try to shape policy);

·         Support local and regional training.


          I was impressed at the time that neither group placed much stock in “breakthroughs.”   They see the need to be the gradual strengthening of local competence. In most cases, the basic institution-building phase is over. The main task now is to help institutions be more effective in defining and achieving pertinent objectives. Attention to training in the region, and networking will be important.

          12. Conclusion. The participants were very positive about the creation of the ISTC. Not one questioned the need for such an institution. In addition, they were enthusiastic about being consulted during the planning phase before the organization has jelled. They will be watching carefully, and perhaps critically, as ISTC gets underway.




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