Assessing the Inclusiveness of Space Applications in the Global South: Lessons from International Space Technology Projects

Gajjar, Devyani (2024). Assessing the Inclusiveness of Space Applications in the Global South: Lessons from International Space Technology Projects. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

Mainstream Development donors, such as the United Nations or governments in the Global North, increasingly claim that space technologies, such as remote sensing satellites, can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, the UK International Partnership Programme, funded by the UK government's Official Development Assistance and led by the UK Space Agency, aimed to use space applications to solve Development challenges, such as satellites being used for disaster management and planning. Although some technologies have historically been used in projects associated with mainstream Development agendas, they have often failed to reduce poverty, in contrast to the claims made.

In my thesis, I challenge the claims of mainstream Development donors to understand if and what forms of inclusion in space projects could lead to beneficial results for historically marginalised groups. I used a case study approach and collected qualitative data across three IPP projects and one spin-off project. The projects were situated in Guyana, Tanzania, Nepal, and Vietnam. I conducted 29 semi-structured interviews with both stakeholders from the Global North and South.

First, I used the theory of inclusive innovation to analyse who designs and develops space applications and who benefits from using them. Second, I analysed the extent to which project members attempted to address power relations in projects. Finally, I used these findings to conceptualise inclusive innovation in the context of space projects.

First, I found that some projects excluded end-users in the Global South from making and leading project decisions, participating in data analysis, and conceptualising theories. I also found that projects excluded some end-users from using space applications as they did not
gain sufficient capacity. These exclusions were due to aid structures prioritising donor interests in increasing UK business trading opportunities. One project tried to address power inequalities by project members and end-users building relations of trust and working together in the long-term.

I argue that to address the challenges I found in space projects, inclusive innovation should incorporate postcolonial ways of thinking, such as reflecting on where knowledge comes from and whose interests it furthers. Inclusive innovation needs to be defined as making space for agency of the Global South which involves reflecting on who makes decisions, listening and learning from project end-users, and working together in the long-term.

This thesis has three contributions. Firstly, I uncover the root causes of exclusions in space projects. Secondly, my findings have led me to develop recommendations about how project members could design and implement space projects in more ethically mindful ways, which have implications for outcomes that are more beneficial to project end-users. Thirdly, this thesis contributes to theoretical literature on inclusive innovation by presenting a conceptualisation that tackles power inequalities prevalent in UK aid space projects, e.g., an approach that prioritises capacity building.

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