Science, Technology, and Innovation for Social Development: concepts and results

This paper presents an overview of Science, Technology, and Innovation (ST&I) programs for Social Development, conceptualizing the main topics involved in this area as well as the projects supported by Finep between 2001 and 2022

Graziela Ferrero Zucoloto[1], Larissa de Souza Pereira[2], Francisco Walsh Mendonça Levy[3]

1. Introduction

This paper presents an overview of Science, Technology, and Innovation (ST&I) programs for Social Development, conceptualizing the main topics involved in this area as well as the projects supported by the Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos – Finep) between 2001 and 2022.

Public funds, including those for ST&I, aim to advance the forefront of knowledge and promote socioeconomic development. However, among the areas supported, some are more directly aimed at reducing inequalities and promoting social well-being and can be generically called "ST&I programs for social development". They include, among other missions, the transfer of knowledge to individual enterprises and micro and small businesses and the promotion of technological extension activities for productive and social inclusion (MCTI, 2012). 

Actions to this end have been incorporated into all the recent strategies to support ST&I launched by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MCTI, in Portuguese) the Science, Technology, and Innovation Action Plan - PACTI (2007-2010), the National Strategy for Science, Technology, and Innovation - ENCTI (2012-2015) and the National Strategy for Science, Technology, and Innovation - ENCTI (2016-2022). In all of them, specific programs and lines of action aimed at social development were present, although their terminology has changed over time: Science, Technology, and Innovation for Social Development (2007-2010); ST&I for Social Development and Technologies for Social Inclusion (2012-2015) and Social Sciences and Technologies (2016-2022). 

In summary, the ST&I programs aimed at social development in the previous documents can be grouped into the following topics: 

  • Local Productive Arrangements (APLs): marked by the agglomeration of productive units from the same economic sector in a specific and defined part of the territory (MCT, 2007).
  • Technological Vocational Centers (CVTs): conceived as units focused primarily on disseminating technological extension activities, with an emphasis on implementing laboratories aimed at supporting and developing local economic vocations and opportunities for job placement and income generation (MCTI, 2012).
  • Digital Inclusion: this is an important tool for access to information and communication technologies offered to the population, training communities in the basic practice of computing techniques, aimed at developing professional skills and improving education (MCTI, 2012).
  • Popularization of Science: “the act of spreading and disseminating science to society as a whole”. Several actions are carried out with this aim, such as science olympics and fairs, science and technology museums and centers, and National Science and Technology Weeks (SNCT). 
  • Food and Nutrition Security (FNS): the fulfillment of everyone's right to regular and permanent access to quality food, in sufficient quantity, without jeopardizing the access to other essential needs, based on health-promoting dietary practices that respect cultural diversity and are environmentally, culturally, economically, and socially sustainable (BRASIL, 2006).
  • City Sustainability: encompasses technologies for sustainable cities, related to the possibility of ST&I contributing to social inclusion and improving the quality of life in the urban environment (MCTI, 2012) as well as Sustainable Urban Systems, understood as the creation of safer and more efficient urban systems (MCTIC, 2016).
  • Social technologies: “re-applicable products, techniques or methodologies, developed through interactions with the community and which represent effective solutions for social transformation” (MCTIC, 2018, p. 18). 
  • Assistive technologies: “equipment, devices, resources, methodologies, strategies, practices and services that seek to promote functionality, related to the activity and participation of people with disabilities or reduced mobility, aiming at their autonomy, independence, quality of life, and social inclusion” (BRASIL, 2015).


The next Multiannual Plan (in Portuguese, Plano Plurianual – PPA) is currently under discussion, and it includes "science, technology, and innovation for social development" among its topics. In the debate, which is still ongoing, some of the topics found in previous policies are present. The current analysis therefore aims to contribute to this discussion.

2. Methodology and Database

In order to analyze the projects associated with the "ST&I and Social Development" area, this paper uses data provided by Finep, with information on the projects it supported between 2001 and 2021. 

Based on the identification of keywords related to the "ST&I and Social Development" area in the PACTI (2007-2010), ENCTI (2012-2015), and ENCTI (2016-2022), a systematic search of the projects supported by Finep was conducted. We chose to analyze the projects funded directly by Finep. In relevant cases, synonyms or developments of the expressions found have been included. Generic terms that could lead to mistaken associations were not included. 

The searches were carried out using the variables "title", which shows the title of the project, and "demand", which shows the bidding processes that the project entered, such as public call, letter of invitation and order, as well as spontaneous demand, in the case of reimbursable projects. The identification of at least one word or expression was enough for the project to be selected as aligned with a particular topic. It should be noted that this methodology is always sensitive to the detail of the description present in the projects and in the ST&I strategies, as well as to the words and expressions chosen and, in order to minimize distortions, the selection of terms underwent several revisions. 

The projects selected, which for the sake of terminological simplification will be called "Social Projects", were compared with the totals in Finep's database ("Total Projects"). The projects are presented as of the year of demand, which represents the year in which the call for proposals was launched, and therefore when a given topic was considered a priority. However, the values have been deflated by the IPCA index as of the year of contracting and are presented in 2022 values.

3. Results: ST&I projects for social development directly supported by Finep

The Finep database used in this analysis contains 9,907 projects, of which 9,669 were contracted directly by the Funding Entity. Of these, 5.6% (541) were classified as belonging to the "ST&I for social development" area. Considering the entire period analyzed, among the projects identified as social, 86.6% were supported through non-reimbursable instruments, 12.1% through subsidies and only 1.3% through reimbursable resources - for the total of direct projects, these percentages were 76.8%, 14.4% and 8.8% respectively. Thus, comparatively speaking, non-reimbursable resources are more relevant to supporting social projects (Table 1).

As far as financial resources are concerned, the variable "total value of the contract" includes the sum of the resources provided by Finep ("Finep value") and, where relevant, the financial and non-financial corresponding entries of the project proponents, grant values, and the resources provided by the intervening parties. The share of projects in social areas (Social Projects) in the total amount contracted was less significant than the number of projects, totaling only 1.9% (Table 1).

Table 1: Projects identified in the "ST&I and Social Development" area ("Social Projects") and "Total Projects" by support instrument.

Tab1 STI and Social Development

Source: Finep. Designed by the authors

The share of "Social Projects" was also limited when considering the "Finep value": only 1.9%. In the case of grants, however, this proportion was higher, reaching 9.0%. 

In the case of the projects analyzed, the average total value was lower than that of "Total Projects": BRL 3.3 million versus BRL 9.5 million. In the case of the average amount contracted by Finep, these were BRL 2.2 million and BRL 7.1 million respectively. Therefore, considering the existence of a relationship between the (financial) size of projects and their potential to generate more disruptive innovations, those focused on topics classified as social are comparatively smaller. It should also be noted that, in the case of grants, possibly due to the nature of the projects analyzed (for example, mostly supported by non-reimbursable resources), the average amount received by social projects was higher than the average for all projects. (Table 2).

Table 2: Social Projects and Total projects by project value

Captura de Tela 2024 01 17 às 15.34.54

Source: Finep. Designed by the authors

As for regionalization, the first thing to note is that, for both social projects and the total number of direct projects supported by Finep, the Southeast was the most concentrated region in terms of numbers (42.0% and 50.0%, respectively). However, among the social projects, the Northeast (23.8%), North and Midwest regions were more expressive. In terms of values, the Northeast, North and Midwest regions are also more expressive among "Social Projects" (Table 3).

Table 3: Social Projects and Total projects by region

Tab3 STI and Social Development

Source: Finep. Designed by the authors. NI = not identified

In addition to this general analysis, it is possible to take a closer look at each of the social development topics. Given the possible double counting between topics, a split was made proportionally to the project's share in each topic. For example, the numbers and values of a project classified under three topics were allocated 1/3 to each topic, keeping the total at 541 projects.

The largest numbers of projects were found in social and assistive technologies (130.3 and 129.0 respectively). However, in terms of both the total amount and the amount disbursed by Finep, these topics were less significant, with the highest amounts in "Digital Inclusion" and "Agriculture, Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security". In Digital Inclusion, the average total amount reached BRL 10.7 million, but in Social Technologies it only reached BRL 1.4 million. These figures may be associated with the very nature of the topics supported: social technologies, for example, largely include innovations that are less intensive in terms of capital and research and development (R&D), and therefore require fewer financial resources. (Table 4).

Table 4: ST&I and Social Development by topic selected

Tab4 STI and Social Development

Source: Finep. Designed by the authors

Finally, we sought to identify the priority segments within each topic.

General expressions, which are part of the title or demand of each topic - such as "assistive technology, social inclusion, social technologies, digital inclusion and technological vocational centers" – prevail in the project terminology. Among the more specific terms, the following stood out: projects to support the visually impaired and the elderly, in the topic of assistive technologies; tele centers, among digital inclusion; proninc (National Program for Incubators of Popular Cooperatives), the solidarity economy and solidarity enterprises, among social technologies; the semi-arid region and, concerning the sustainability of cities, technologies aimed at solid waste and affordable housing. (Table 5).

Table 5: Social projects by topic and specific subtopics (terms)

Source: Finep. Designed by the authors

4. Closing Remarks

Given the ongoing discussion about the PPA and the incorporation of ST&I for social development in it, this article presents a summary of the approach to this area in the innovation plans/strategies in force over the last two decades and the projects supported by Finep to this end, in order to contribute to the current debate. 

Although the analyses provide an overview of the context, for the programs to achieve their objectives, it is important to carry out a prior diagnosis of the issues or problems that the generation and dissemination of these innovations would seek to solve, as well as an assessment of the productive and innovative capacity of the sectors - something that has not been verified in previous plans.

This article was originally published at CTS website in Portuguese. This English version has been translated by Isadora Quadros.

[1] Researcher at the CTS.

[2] Associate Researchers at the CTS.

[3] Associate Researchers at the CTS.