Monday, 6 December 2010

Is social technology new way to plug healthcare and food availability gaps for poor people?

Blog post  by Dinar Kale, Innogen OU (on Session 2A - The Role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in New Agriculture and Health Technologies)

Food and health needs of low- and middle-income countries remains grossly under resourced in many areas. The 10/90 gap (Only 10% of global health research investment is directed towards 90% of global disease burden) is used to describe this global health challenge. A session on Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) at the recently held EGN conference highlighted role of PPPs in the development of new healthcare and agri-biotech technologies. The session showed that PPP as innovating organizational arrangement provides effective ways of mitigating issues associated with traditional private or public supported models of development. Session pointed out some key success factors. However it was quite evident from interactions after the session that the ‘PPP’ model does suffer from severe limitations.

Some of the important problems that have emerged are issues regarding the managing of expectations of partners, sustainability of built capacity after completion of PPPs and distortion of local health/agribiotech systems. Steve Huges suggested a key role for advocacy and communication among partners; a better understanding of what is expected of specific PPPs from the beginning. Jo Chatatway pointed out that social technologies can be the missing link that will help to plug limitations of the PPP model. Social technologies are based on the premise that

“sometimes the best way to address scientific and technological challenge may be with social and organizational experiments”

Thus using Richard Nelson’s metaphor of equating social technologies with food preparation recipes;

‘many economic activities involve multiple actors, and require some kind of a coordinating mechanism to assure that the various aspects of the recipe are performed in the relationships to each other needed to make the recipe work’

Jo explained that it might be useful to call the recipe aspect of an activity its “physical” technology, and the way work is divided and coordinated its “social” technology. By the end of the session it was clear that ‘social technology’ is dogged with limitations. It is more useful in some diseases than all neglected diseases and not an answer to all problems of PPPs.

In the end, the session provided key insights regarding the emerging new model; “social technology”, however it left a question in mind whether it is case of an ‘old wine in a new bottle’.

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