Responsible Vietnamese craft
Incremental innovations in small producers’ clusters in Vietnamese villages can reduce poverty, but also have adverse effects such as pollution. This project led to instruments and recommendations to support local policy makers.
The project investigated five villages in which innovations were made by clusters of local producers. Context-specific policies tuned out to be needed to steer innovation in the direction of truly sustainable development. An innovation assessment instrument was developed, as well as a phase-model that a local community goes through in the process of realising responsible innovations. For each of the five stages, the researchers have identified possible obstacles and policy process options.
Villages in Vietnam are often specialised in a certain craft – making products from materials like ceramics, silk, candy and bamboo. Promoting sustainable development through innovation at the community level requires micro-level policy responses that are context-specific. An ‘independent’ policy making and implementation entity within the village administration could be appointed to fulfill this task. This project brought together insights from development economics, technology and cultural anthropology. It developed two instruments that could help local policy makers:
- The innovation assessment instrument. With this criteria checklist, policy makers in the village can qualitatively assess whether something new, produced by an informally organized unit can be labeled as an innovation. In principle, innovation creates value and improves the competitiveness of the unit concerned.
- The process model of responsible innovation. With the help of this model, policy makers can position the issues and identify and understand any emerging conflicts, factors and, if and where, the (context specific) process runs into obstacles. The model distinguishes five stages in the process of local actors acknowledging responsibility.
Along the five stages of the model, there are various possibilities for policy intervention to facilitate responsible innovation. The table below suggests several ways of doing so.
|Stage in the societal process||Possible obstacles in the process||Policy process options to overcome problems/constraints|
|Stage 1: Whether there is a perception of a harmful societal change or not.||The community is not able to assess and agree whether there is a harmful or beneficial societal change.||Policy makers scan societal changes and inform villagers accordingly. They could organize multi-actor meetings to present information about the change, involving external ‘neutral’ partners. They keep the long-term impacts on health, environment and social structure stemming from innovation under review. Villagers can identify, bring forward and discuss the problems in multi-actor platform meetings.|
|Stage 2: Whether the societal change is a consequence of the innovation or not.||The community is not able to agree that the societal change is a result of the innovation.||Policy makers involve several external research institutions - that are considered neutral – to provide analyses on the causality between an innovation and any harmful societal changes. Policy makers present information from these different sources and organize meetings and facilitate the villagers in interpreting whether or not there is a link.|
|Stage 3: Whether the societal change is considered as a trade-off or if a conflict is emerging.||The community is not able to assess or agree whether the harmful consequences of innovation are compensated by the benefits of the innovation.||Policy makers present as much information as possible about the costs and benefits of the innovation, so that villagers themselves can balance and judge according to their norms. The interpretations of such cost-benefit analysis are discussed in multi actor meetings. Policy makers make the potential conflicts explicit.|
|Stage 4: Whether innovators behave altruistically or opportunistically.||The innovators are not explicit about whether they are behaving altruistically of opportunistically. There is ambiguity in the innovators’ attitudes and behaviour.||Policy makers challenge the innovator to take a position over whether they acknowledge responsibility or not. Policy makers encourage the innovators to behave altruistically and call the innovators to account.|
|Stage 5: Whether there are external parties to enforce innovators to take responsibility.||There are no third parties or existing institutional arrangements to enforce the innovator to acknowledge responsibility.||Policy makers sort out and facilitate juridical procedures, mobilize existing institutions or encourage institutional change/reform.|
Cluster level innovation
The technology component in this project does not concern high-tech smart technology, but simple technologies that play a role in small-scale innovations. The innovation process is not owned and managed by one firm, which is the way in which innovation is conventionally understood to occur. Instead, the steps of the innovation process were in the hands of several small producers, supported by a large group of interested followers. The village’s social capital provided back-up, trust and information. This enabled learning and risk taking. In this context, it is more appropriate to use the term ‘cluster level’ innovation. Vietnam offers a particularly interesting research context since the innovations of poor small producers are based on private initiatives with an institutional environment in transition.
Vietnam, local crafts, sustainable development, poverty reduction, poverty reduction, rural innovation, development economics, policy advice, externalities, community innovation, local producersOfficial project title: