Panel discussion on priority theme 2: The role of science, technology, and innovation in building resilient communities, including through the contribution of citizen science

15 May 2019 10:00h - 12:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 22nd Session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development]


The moderator, Mr Andrew Revkin (Strategic Advisor for Environmental and Science Journalism, National Geographic Society, formerly of the New York Times), started by explaining the role that communities play in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by using science, technology, and innovation (STI). He said that we need to increase citizen contribution and support to digital literacy and digital co-operation.

Ms Shamika N. Sirimanne (Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, Head of CSTD Secretariat, UNCTAD) started by thanking the member states that contributed to the Secretary-General’s report ‘The role of science, technology and innovation in building resilient communities, including through the contribution of citizen science‘. She said that there were 30 million people displaced across 143 countries in 2017, and mentioned using STI when building resilient communities. She also talked about harnessing indigenous knowledge and citizen engagement and discussed innovation based on a mission-driven approach to resilience.

In addition, Sirimanne highlighted the use of technologies in aiding volunteers on scientific explorations, and in educating and empowering communities. According to her, the report looks at technical challenges (data and underlying enabling technologies), social challenges (knowledge generation and use), and market and operational challenges (scalability and sustainability).

Furthermore, she listed some policy suggestions from member states: fully support the development of STI solutions for building resilience; adopt inclusiveness in formulating STI, etc. She underlined innovation as a tool that leads to economic diversification and added the need for bilateral and multilateral co-opertion in order to build effective policy on STI. Finally, she highlighted the fact that technological solutions for resilient communities are still in their development phase.

Ms Carol Grzych (United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth) explained that the youth must be equipped with STI capacities in order to build resilience and pointed out the need for infrastructure, data, and education. She also added that access to the Internet can help young people take an active part in innovation and achieving the SDGs. Finally, she talked about inclusiveness and said that decisions on STI are only made by policy-makers without major involvement of the youth. She emphasised the need for continuing the dialogue on STI for global youth.

Mr Elhadj As Sy (Secretary-General, IFRC) explained that we need to look at the challenges communities face in relation to STI. He noted the importance of building resilience and educating communities and mentioned the example of local knowledge as a huge tool that needs to be validated. In addition, he talked about mobile technology in order to understand the problems and perception of communities.

Moreover, As Sy said that digitalisation is important and impacts economic development. He emphasised that technology is a tool which can facilitate the lives of citizens, for example in sectors such as health and food safety. In addition, he noted the role of digital footprints and said that we can use them in a positive way. Finally, he said that we should make sure that technology brings humanity to the centre of attention. He pointed out the need for partnerships and a contribution from everyone.

Mr Paulo Rutti (Chief, World Weather Research Division, WMO) talked about the World Meteorological Organization’s project ‘Earth System Approach to Resilience’. He noted the challenges of day to day weather and gave the key outcomes of the project: improving the skill-big resources; the WMO sub-seasonal to seasonal project developing new products for DRR ; integrated information by using the Global Hazard Map; value chain approach by monitoring and observation, models, forecasting, etc. 

Furthermore, Rutti noted the ‘five valleys of death’ problem: observation, weather forecast, hazard forecast, impact forecast, warning, and decision. According to him, they are working with various stakeholders in order to explore new warning frontiers.


Mr Bernardo Mariano Junior (Chief Information Officer, WHO) started by explaining the digital health and data linkage. He said that we need to use evidence-based technologies to achieve equitable, accessible, and affordable healthcare and that today’s ‘digital health’ is tomorrow’s healthcare. According to him some of the greatest challenges of health systems and universal health coverage are making sure that people have access to broadband and making sure that data is used ethically. He said that technology can help us face global health challenges but half of the world lacks universal coverage.

In addition, Mariano Junior pointed out the issues of ethics, good governance, accessibility, and affordability. He noted the importance of aligning with country needs, being people-centric, and steering technology towards egalitarian solutions. Moreover, he added the importance of co-operation between policy-makers, practitioners, and the general public. He also said that data is a key factor and mentioned value creation through data streaming and regulatory processes in healthcare. Finally, he said that we must ensure that a digital health revolution is safe, sustainable, and leaves no one behind.

Ms Josephine Khaoma Ngaira (Deputy Vice Chancellor and Professor of Geography and Disaster Management, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), Kenya) talked about the citizen science. She said that we have a lot of data which is not being properly used. She also said that environmental changes could be seen as a sign for humanity to build community resilience, particularly in developing countries.

Khaoma Ngaira said that in Africa, citizen science is a concept which uses the collection of data on biodiversity for conservation management. For example, she noted the collaboration between citizens and scientists in providing community resilience in subsistence farming through citizen science. She explained that the Kenya Meteorological Department, the University of Nairobi, and Maseno University partnered with traditional weatherman referred to as ‘rainmakers’ from the Nganyi community, to blend indigenous and conventional weather predicting models. They use shrines which consist of huge and rare indigenous trees inhabited by reptiles, birds, and insects whose behaviour is monitored to predict the weather.

She asked what the main barriers for implementation and scaling up were and talked about educational tools in order to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century. In conclusion, she said that the solutions lie in transforming education systems to align them with technological advancement.

Mr André Pierre Mattei (Director of Innovation, Senai Institute of Innovation in Embedded Systems, Brazil) said that we need to create a high-tech ecosystem and prepare for technological changes. He also mentioned the importance of co-operation in different economic aspects of Brazil. In addition, he noted the need for connecting different parties of his country by using 5G and AI in analysing data. Finally, he pointed out the role of global self-awareness and data science and highlighted the need for understanding local cultures and being ambitious in order to tackle STI challenges.

By Gilles D. Bana