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close this book Laying the foundation - The institution of knowledge in developing countries
View the document Foreword
View the document Preface
Open this folder and view contents Part I The institution of knowledge
Open this folder and view contents Part II The institutionalization of science in Latin America
Open this folder and view contents Part III Institutional performance: what can be said, what should be leaned
View the document Acronyms and abbreviations
View the document Bibliography
View the document Acknowledgements
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This book is about the development of institutions of knowledge in developing countries. These institutions include research centres, universities, museums, laboratories, and units of larger organizations that specialize in generating and using scientific knowledge. Although these institutions date back to the very beginnings of scientific knowledge, and although they have played a decisive role in the evolution of all societies, never before have they been so critical to the success of nations.

Like individuals, all institutions in our time (and particularly those devoted to knowledge), live in a continuous cycle of assimilation and adaptation, change and learning, and evaluation and forgetting. We are all aware of the extraordinary dynamics of the interaction between scientific institutions and their changing environments, although our understanding of the forces involved and their potential is quite limited. St Agustin's comment on the nature of time seems quite apt in this context: "If no one asks us about it, we know, but if we are asked to explain, we do not know."

Despite their differences, industrialized nations, the former Soviet bloc countries, and developing nations all recognize the urgent need to reorganize their scientific, technological, productive, and educational institutions. Whereas some countries are motivated by a desire to improve their position on the world scene, others are motivated by the need to adapt and modernize. For yet others, the key issue is gaining access. Nevertheless, the same basic questions apply to the institutionalization of science in all societies. What is the right institutional configuration to promote the development of science and technology? How can efficiency be enhanced within existing institutional structures? And, finally, how can we foster the competitiveness needed to expand the frontiers of knowledge as well as use its production?

Although many factors are coming together to stimulate a reassessment of the role of knowledge institutions, research on the subject is extremely limited. Literature on scientific organizations is scarce, and what little there is deals mainly with developed countries. Very little has been written about research institutions in developing countries.

This book breaks new ground by looking at the subject in two ways. It explores both the institutionalization of science and the development of institutions. Although examples are taken from certain disciplines and the analysis is focused primarily on Latin America, many of the issues, problems, and challenges raised are shared by other sectors and regions of the world.

This collection of articles looks at the development of science and knowledge from a social perspective because they have no valid existence outside society. This volume has two goals. The first is to advance theory by contributing to a better understanding of scientific institutions in rapidly modernizing societies - their nature, function, and future. The second goal is more practical - to identify factors linked to the success and failure of institutions of knowledge.

The first part of the book examines the context in which scientific organizations in developing countries are situated and reviews the lessons offered by past research. The second part contains summaries of case studies on the institutionalization of science in Latin America in the basic sciences, economics, health, education, agriculture, and industrial technology. The third and final part brings these findings together with additional evidence and puts forth a research agenda. It also provides practical suggestions for facilitating institutional development through the preparation of evaluation criteria and the promotion of a research and development capacity.

Several people have contributed to this collective work. The authors and editors are particularly indebted to Gerald Bourrier and Paz Buttedahl of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada) for providing valuable support to the ideas that originated this work, Hernan Jaramillo for his constant and generous advice, Marcela Cardenas and Alicia Richero for summarizing the case studies, and Alejandra Francis for carefully preparing and revising the manuscript. All of us are aware of the temporary nature of this effort. Nevertheless, we are also cognizant of the urgent need of developing nations for information that can help them to reassess the role of institutions of knowledge at a time of severe constraint and unexpected change, which, paradoxically, also offers new room for hope.

Benjamin Alvarez

International Development Research Centre

Montevideo, Uruguay