Innovation for sustainable development

It is recognized that scientific research has the potential to underpin the sustainable development of society. However, in order to achieve this potential, the knowledge created must be transferred and integrated across a number of geographic, cultural and institutional boundaries, including disciplinary, professional, sectoral and organizational. This research stream questions the ways we approach complex and adaptive environmental challenges; how we collaborate, co-learn, and integrate knowledge to innovate for sustainable development outcomes.

A brief summary of this research stream follows:

Current Research Projects


How can institutions better govern knowledge to foster the adoption of agricultural innovations for enhanced food security in semi-arid Kenya?

C. Eidt (Ph.D. Student) with G.M. Hickey

PhD candidate Colleen Edit is conducting institutional research to better understand the processes of knowledge integration and the diffusion of agricultural innovations in Kenya. Combining exploratory methods such as grounded theory, case study research and Delphi analysis with existing conceptual approaches such as Stakeholder Analysis and the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework, this study will provide insight on how formal and informal institutions can more effectively govern knowledge to foster the adoption of innovations (modern and traditional) and enhance food security. Our initial findings suggest a link between farmers’ levels of community organization and levels of trust with levels of knowledge integration surrounding agricultural technologies and their adoption. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with KARI.

Funded by: International Development Research Center (IDRC) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2011-14).


Improving food security and nutrition in the Caribbean: Factors affecting the adoption and application of sustainable agricultural technologies in the strategies of end users.

A. St. Ville (MSc. Student) with G.M. Hickey.

There are important conceptual, practical and institutional challenges associated with developing effective food security policies and practices within an interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder framework. This research will examine the relationships between existing government policies, regulations and institutions affecting food security in selected Caribbean countries with a view to: 1) better understanding how the project research findings can integrate with food and nutrition management activities to improve food security; and 2) identifying critical information pathways that will enhance the adoption and application of different technologies in the food security strategies of government. Data will be collected from institutional, survey and key-informant sources to explore how the findings generated through the broader sustainable agricultural technologies research can best impact the operational food security strategies of end users within a range of institutional and regulatory contexts.

Funded by: International Development Research Center (IDRC) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2011-14).


Completed Research Projects


Examining the role of trust and informal communication on mutual learning in government: The case of climate change

Owen Temby (Postdoctoral Fellow); Jean Sandall (Postdoctoral Fellow) with G.M. Hickey

Natural resource and environmental agencies are charged with transferring and integrating science based knowledge across institutional boundaries In theory, this should provide them with the knowledge they need to work together to address the key environmental challenges of our time, such as climate change. In practice, the hierarchical design of government agencies creates organizational silos that can limit their capacity share knowledge and work collaboratively to this end. Social capital is thought to be critical in enabling agencies to bridge such silos. This research explores the patterns of social capital among government agencies in the province of British Columbia, Canada, the state of Victoria, Australia, and the state of New York, USA. It involves an on-line survey of the communication pathways, working relationships and transfer of science-based knowledge among agencies charged with working together to address climate change. The findings provide valuable insights into the patterns of social capital that have already been established among agencies and the practical opportunities that they present for enhancing the transfer and integration of science-based knowledge across institutional boundaries.

Funded by: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) (2011-14) and IBM Center for the Business of Government, Washington DC (2011-15).


Enhancing ecologically resilient food security through innovative farming systems in the semi-arid midlands of Kenya

B. Pelletier (Project Manager, Research Associate), L. Brownhill (Research Associate)with G.M. Hickey.

Food security is an integrative, multi-scalar and dynamic policy challenge that requires interdisciplinary approaches to research, policy and practice. However, a truly interdisciplinary approach demands knowledge integration to a much greater extent than commonly occurs. In recognition of this, we were awarded a $4.3M international partnership project in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) titled: “Enhancing ecologically resilient food security through innovative farming systems in the semi-arid midlands of Kenya”. This project engaged a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with farmers and other stakeholders working in the semi-arid counties of Makueni, Machakos and Tharaka-Nithi in the Eastern Province of Kenya in a participatory process of evaluating agricultural and livestock practices. The purpose was to facilitate adoption and scaling up of best practices for enhancing the resilience of farming systems. This project contributed to the international development goal of enhanced food and nutrition security through: 1) A better understanding of food systems and drivers of food insecurity; 2) An increased adoption and scaling up of appropriate agricultural practices; 3) An increased household consumption of high-value traditional crops; 4) Enhanced participation of smallholder farmers into local and external input and output markets; and 5) A better informed policy development process that can contribute to the formulation of effective and sustainable food security policies and provide an enabling environment for agricultural innovation.

Funded by: International Development Research Center (IDRC) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2011-14).


Understanding the institutional framework for sustainable food security in Kenya: An international partnership initiative.

L. Brownhill (Postdoctoral Fellow), B. Pelletier (Research Associate) with G.M. Hickey.

Achieving sustainable food security in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the main challenges facing the international community and national governments. The 2008 food crisis in Kenya clearly demonstrated that some people in the country are dangerously vulnerable to shocks that threaten food availability and accessibility. This international partnership project examined the relationships between existing government policies and institutions affecting food security and environmental management in Kenya with the view to: 1) identifying key institutional constraints to policy innovation and implementation; and 2) proposing critical information pathways that can inform the strategic coordination of food security policies and initiatives. This initiative built on a relationship between McGill University and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

Funded by: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) International Opportunities Fund (2010-11).


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