Defining Innovation and Those Policies That Incentivize and Support It

John McMurdy
John McMurdy, Vice President of Innovation & Development
3 min read -

by John McMurdy, Vice President of Innovation & Development

I joined CropLife International in 2016, coming from the international development world of USAID. As a senior international research advisor at USAID, my job was to support the delivery of seed-related agricultural innovations to farmers. Nearly six years later, I am happy that my job remains largely the same.

Innovation is ….?

“Innovation,” like so many buzzwords, is a term used so often and in so many different contexts that, without further definition and specificity, is a meaningless codeword. Having a productive conversation or debate about innovation in agriculture (or any discipline for that matter) first requires moving beyond generic terms and into a more granular discussion.

The most inclusive yet specific way of characterizing various types of innovations I’ve seen comes from an organization called Doblin (part of Deloitte) and their Ten Types of Innovations. This breaks down the types of innovations into configuration (how you organize, connect with others, create value, and conduct your work); offerings (products and systems); and experience (how users engage with you, what they think of you, how they acquire your offerings, and how you continuously support stakeholders). Keeping a framework like this in mind is helpful when discussing challenges in the utilization of innovation.

Agriculture Innovation for Development

Books (and books) have been written about persistent challenges facing agriculture in developing countries, and more specifically what has limited innovation across multiple types from better solving those challenges. The list is long and includes major structural challenges like human and institutional capacity, rural infrastructure, credit availability, incentive structures, governance, and policy. While all are critical to delivering innovations across types, organizations that try to work on these challenges both independently and holistically, even at sub-national and regional levels, will struggle to deliver meaningful solutions – akin to “boiling the ocean.”

I believe tangibly improving the flow of innovation from developers to farmers requires organizations to (a) focus on the specific challenges aligned with their own core expertise, and (b) partner with other more diverse organizations to address other limiting aspects. This is not revolutionary thinking but is worth restating in a field with many actors, many diverse challenges, and many opportunities.

Advancing Innovation using our Specialized Experience

Even considering the numerous other challenges, policy and regulation have an outsized effect on the ability of the public and private sectors to develop and introduce innovations of all types. This can take the form of business regulations that limit an organization’s ability to innovate in its configuration (e.g. business and value creation models, intellectual property), product-specific regulatory policies that limit an organization’s ability to innovate in its offerings (e.g. non-science based premarket approval processes), or policies that limit how an organization can engage with its uses – the experience (e.g. delivery channels for products).

To achieve our purpose of advancing innovation in agriculture for a sustainable future, CropLife International focuses heavily on this specific issue of policy and regulation. Through communication, outreach, and sharing real-world examples of what has worked (and not worked), CropLife International promotes policy and regulatory environments globally that incentivize innovation, enable its utilization, and help give farmers the broadest array of choices to solve pressing challenges.