Pathway forged towards Transformation in South Africa with STI Experimentation

Thinking & Analysis

In March 2019, the South African Cabinet adopted a new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) outlining a key set of policy intents that aim to unlock the opportunites for STI to create a prosperous and inclusive society, in which inequality is minimised and the potential of all South Africans is realised.

However, the achievement of the White Paper’s policy intents require a stronger focus on coordination, inclusivity, transformation, and partnerships. Related to this, the South African National Foundation of Research (NRF) and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) plan to develop a National Transformative Innovation Policy Programme.

NFR and DSI host training on policy experimentation

On 22-24 October, NRF and DSI hosted a 2-day training on policy experimentation for African policymakers and researchers, called the Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) Learning Journey.

Capacity building, and training on Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) with policymakers and researchers is an important part of the South African National Transformative Innovation Policy Programme. Therefore, the TIPC Learning Journey aimed at helping participants with embedding the TIP approach within their organisations and thus support efforts to build a transnational community of practice.

The training was carried out in collaboration with the TIPC coordinating team from the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) of the University of Sussex. The team consisted of Chux Daniels, Bipashyee Ghosh, Jordi Molas-Gallart, Blanche Ting and Johan Schot. Johan Schot, who is the director and founder of TIPC, guided participants through the key theories and concepts as well as the role of experimentation, as published in his research Three Frames for Innovation Policy: R&D, Systems of Innovation and Transformative Change (Schot & Steinmueller, 2018).

Government, Research and Educational institutions join Learning Journey

A total of 39 participants, representing 15 organisations, ranging from governmental bodies (i.a. the Technology Innovation Agency, Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Department of Environmental Affairs) and research organisations (i.a. the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Centre for Science, Technology & Innovation Indicators) to knowledge institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal joined the TIP Learning Journey.

By applying participatory methods and peer-to-peer deep learning with practical examples, the training helped participants to progress experimentation that is aimed at addressing Transformative Challenges within their organisations.

Policy Experiments to address Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The practical examples used during the Learning Journey were potential policy experiments that participants had prepared, respective to the challenge their organisation was addressing. Those socio-technical experiments presented aimed at diverse systems and problems ranging from building ecological infrastructures, sustainable human settlements, 21st-century education systems and industrial parks to improve sanitation.

All experiments were targeted to address one or multiple SDGs. By applying the TIPC approach, participants and TIPC researchers jointly explored how each of the experiments can become more transformative and result in transformative outcomes.

It was the core aim of the Learning Journey to shift the present policy experiments’ focus towards processes that bring about “Transformative Change”, where transformative refers to a break or distinction from past practices or routines that open new possibilities for further innovation across a wide variety of contexts, and to a process that establishes a new directionality.

“A truly co-learning journey in every sense of the word”

Moreover, the Learning Journey entailed an open space where participants could raise any issues, questions and dilemmas that they thought needed further discussion. Rich debates on questions like, “What makes radical change different from incremental change?”, “How to change cultural beliefs around sanitation practices in rural Africa?” and the impact of networks and managing change in complex systems were the result.

Bipashyee Ghosh, Research Fellow at SPRU, summarised the experience in stating,

‘the experiments and high-quality discussions and debates not only equipped the participants of the training with, in their own words “a vocabulary to talk to policymakers” about the work they’ve been doing, but also enlightened us with knowledge about the context, issues and locally emerging innovations. We also learnt about the strengths and gaps in the theories and methodologies of TIPC, which will feed into the upcoming research work. It was a truly co-learning journey in every sense of the word.’

Policymakers enter debate on facilitating transformative change

Finally, the training programme included a broader debate with several policymakers from various government departments, public and private organisations in South Africa. Following a presentation on TIPCs principles, processes and aims, a discussion of the role of governments and policy in facilitating transformative change followed and invited participants to think beyond the predominant model of national systems of innovation. This “Frame 3 Thinking”generated a positive response a strong enthusiasm in the room to continue this engagement between South Africa and TIPC in the coming years.

Johan Schot concluded,

‘I was really happy with participants’ comments throughout the training. It’s great to receive feedback such as, “strangely comfortable”, and to see that the used concepts resonate with them. This training contextualised our theoretical concepts through the practical knowledge provided by participants.’

TIP Leaning Journey South Africa


This Blog was first published on www.JohanSchot.com