A year ago, the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex approached South Africa to participate in an innovative research-to-policy initiative.
The core of the initiative is a co-creation process between policy-makers and researchers with the aim of advancing new thinking on innovation policy. Together with four other countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Columbia), South Africa joined as a founding member and committed to a one-year pilot programme.
South Africa enjoys a long period of science and technology cooperation with Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Over the last few years, this cooperation has significantly matured and diversified. Working together on the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) adds further richness to our cooperation.
We are also pleased at the progress we have started to make in advancing science, technology and innovation cooperation with Columbia.
I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate Columbia for finalising a hard-won peace deal. Like South Africa, you have correctly identified the need for leveraging science, technology, and innovation in the post-conflict reconstruction of Columbia.
Like any new partnership, members of the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) needed time to align their needs and expectations. Time was also required to developed common conceptual tools and understanding.
It's increasingly self-evident that without transformative innovation, humanity is unlikely to achieve the many developmental commitments made by nation states, regions and continents, and the entire global community.
However, the key question and challenge is whether we have the best enabling innovation policies and plans.
Plans such as the South African National Development Plan, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and other regional and continental agendas for transformation are key building blocks to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As you will know, the SDGs call for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.
The SDGs recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.
In a decisive break from the previous MDGs, the SDGs acknowledge the central role of science, technology, and innovation. Significant efforts are underway to build the required institutional platforms and architectures. This includes the annual STI for SDGs forum and a technology facilitation mechanism.
The science, technology and innovation community is now being called upon to help shape the content and form of the short, medium, and long-term action plans that will be required to deliver on the 17 goals and 169 targets.
I encourage the TIPC to continue with its efforts to build the required links with the international development community.
Notwithstanding the closer involvement of the science, technology and innovation community, it’s important to reflect on whether enough is being done through coordinated action.
A cursory assessment of policy interventions, approaches and programmes, especially at the global level, is likely to reach the conclusion that these remain under-developed.
What is also unclear is whether there exist adequate space for policy experimentation and for learning by doing.
South Africa is keen to learn from the experiences of the global innovation policy community.
I welcome the intention to build on the pilot phase and to put in place a longer-term initiative with a broadened membership.
I’m pleased to note that a number of countries want to be part of the consortium. I'm particularly pleased at the interest being shown by other countries on the African continent. As the consortium expands, it’s important that the balance between developed and developing countries continues to be maintained.
As the TIPC moves towards a five-year partnership, I would like to make a number suggestions.
First, accelerate efforts to strengthen the available set of indicators and metrics, with a particular emphasis on measures that enable a deeper understanding of outcomes and impacts.
I'm aware of some initial work in this regard, including the exploitation of big data and other data sources as well as the greater use of visualisation. However, greater focus and effort is required.
Second, adopt a stronger gender lens in the analytical and conceptual work of the TIPC.
Two weeks ago, South Africa through the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) hosted a groundbreaking 3-day global GenderInSITE workshop on gender and innovation in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.
GenderInSITE is a global initiative in gender, science, innovation, technology and engineering. The interface between gender and innovation has not received adequate attention in the past and this will need to be corrected across-the-board.
The lack of attention to gender is evident in the continued use of male-only lab rats, algorithms that return gender biased results to the design of machinery, equipment and cars that are not suitable for women.
It's vital to accept as a starting point that transformative change is likely to have variable impacts on men and women. Previous framings of innovation policy, including that of a national innovation system, have not paid adequate attention to gender. Transformative innovation for socio-technical change need to look at how to reverse this shortcoming. This includes a commitment to the generation of gender-disaggregated data sets as a standard practice.
Third, ensure an effective balance between policy and action required at both the national and international levels.
Many of the socio-technical systems that have emerged as important areas of enquiry for the TIPC transcend national boundaries. Meaningful transformation in many instances will not be possible without a strong focus on the global. With a partnership that includes both developed and developing countries, the TIPC is well-positioned to look at how to mitigate against new inequalities and divides that may arise from large scale changes to the socio-technical systems that underpin human development.
Fourth, give due consideration to capacity-building.
Expand the available pool of policy experts with an understanding of the dynamics of innovation and its interface with the wide variety of socio-technical systems.
It's our intention to create more opportunities for young researchers, women, and experts within previously disadvantaged institutions to benefit from capacity-building programmes that are planned as part of the longer-term programme of work of the TIPC.
Last, there is an urgent need to enhance our ability to design analytical tools that help to engage more effectively with complexity, increasing opportunities for learning by doing, and most importantly to look at how to enable unlearning by policy actors.
I hope that this conference, as well as the consortium, will help to respond to these importance challenges.
I wish you well with the rest of the conference. I would like to conclude by reminding you that the third Science Forum South Africa is confirmed for 7-8 December 2017. The programme includes opportunities for further engagements on transformative innovation. I am confident that the opportunity will be used for the further deepening of the theoretical and practical understanding of the prospects, opportunities, and limitations of transformative innovation.
I thank you.