Capacity Building in Computer Science as a Driver of Innovation

Project: Research project

Description

This study seeks to understand how local computer science research capacity is being developed in Kenya and Uganda and the role computer science plays in supporting socially and economically relevant innovation. Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala Uganda will serve as case studies, focusing on the unique and prominent computer science departments at Makerere University and University of Nairobi. Primary data collection activities include: 1) a quantitative survey of computer science researchers; 2) in-depth qualitative interviews with researchers, students, policymakers, funders, entrepreneurs and staff of nongovernmental organizations; and 3) video ethnographic observation of researchers in their everyday interactions with students, funders, community organizations and other nodes of the innovation system. The project team has extensive experience conducting research in sub-Saharan Africa and has a network of contacts in Kenya and Uganda. Intellectual Merit Computer science (CS) in sub-Saharan Africa is an underexplored yet critical and unique research area. Innovations fueled by CS have transformed commerce and communication in sub-Saharan Africa, but rely on knowledge and technologies developed outside of Africa. However, as pilot work for this project shows, there is an emerging local CS capacity in sub-Saharan Africa, centered around universities and bolstered by diverse funders. Studies of science, technology and innovation have shown how local social and cultural contexts shape knowledge production and technologies, and how local scientific and technological capacity is critical for economically impactful and socially relevant innovation. With lower infrastructural barriers than other research areas, CS has a good chance of making the construction of culturally relevant knowledge and the creation of economically impactful businesses a reality in developing regions. To understand the construction of CS capacity and innovation capabilities, the research design brings together innovation systems, sociological approaches to science and development, and theories of governance and technology assessment. The conceptual framework focuses on the broadening and evolution of institutions involved in decision making about research and innovation, and on the negotiated agency of actors within research and international development networks. The study has two specific objectives: I) characterizing the size, scope and focus of the innovation system surrounding CS including policy and societal contexts; and II) understanding how researchers and funding organizations negotiate research priorities and innovation pathways. Research questions focus on issues related to capacity and identity. Is sub-Saharan Africa building self-sustaining CS capacity that can be measured through trends in public and private funding, research output and quality, infrastructure and human capacity? How do government policies support CS? How do researchers negotiate entrepreneurial, scientific, and community development motivations and identities? Is CS producing unique research addressing local social and economic needs? Broader Impacts This research will have several broader impacts in terms of education, strengthening academic capacity, and outreach to multiple audiences. Research and education will be integrated by involving graduate research assistants in the research process and by teaching courses for graduate students in the social and natural sciences and engineering. A jointly-conceived international collaboration between Arizona State University and Concordia University, the project will strengthen STS links between the US and Canada. The project will also build ties between the STS, science policy and development studies scholarly communities through participation in annual meetings of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and the Association for Computing Machinerys Annual Symposium on Computing for Development. Drawing on the journalism expertise of co-PI Zachary, commentaries based on project findings will be published in several prominent newspapers and journals as a means to reach funders, companies, international development practitioners, and popular and policy audiences. Results will also be given directly to researchers and policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of the project period, the PI and co-PIs will work with African Center for Technology Studies to facilitate dissemination and engagement workshops in Kampala and Nairobi for researchers, donors and policymakers, as well as an outreach event in Washington, DC for congressional staff, international policy makers and managers of technology companies.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date9/15/138/31/16

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $248,101.00

Fingerprint

computer science
driver
innovation
Uganda
Kenya
science policy
science
funding
graduate
organization research
impact research
staff
technology assessment
technology studies
student
knowledge production
social studies
natural sciences
research process
journalism