Science and technology are key to economic and social development, yet the capacity for scientific innovation remains globally unequally distributed. Although a priority for development cooperation, building or developing research capacity is often reduced in practice to promoting knowledge transfers, for example through North-South partnerships. Research capacity building/development tends to focus on developing scientists' technical competencies through training, without parallel investments to develop and sustain the socioeconomic and political structures that facilitate knowledge creation. This, the paper argues, significantly contributes to the scientific divide between developed and developing countries more than any skills shortage. Using Charles Taylor's concept of irreducibly social goods, the paper extends Sen's Capabilities Approach beyond its traditional focus on individual entitlements to present a view of scientific knowledge as a social good and the capability to produce it as a social capability. Expanding this capability requires going beyond current fragmented approaches to research capacity building to holistically strengthen the different social, political and economic structures that make up a nation's innovation system. This has implications for the interpretation of human rights instruments beyond their current focus on access to knowledge and for focusing science policy and global research partnerships to design approaches to capacity building/development beyond individual training/skills building.
Sci Eng Ethics
Capabilities approach, Capacity building, Collective or social capabilities, Development, Low and middle income countries, North–South partnerships, Research systems, Science technology and innovation