A new book authored by a host of international scientists and policy advisers sets out the theories, approaches and lessons for how science, technology and innovation (STI) policy-making should be developed to ensure the intended benefits of research, development, innovation, progress and development are achieved.
An electronic book launch and discussion was held on July 7 for Innovation Policy at the Intersection: Global Debates and Local Experiences, which was edited by Dr Mlungisi Cele, Professor Thierry Luescher and Dr Angelina Wilson Fadiji.
The three editors and contributors Professor Johan Schot, Dr David Phaho and Professor Rasigan Maharajh also gave synopses of their chapters and the importance and relevance of the book to support robust, long-term and transformative STI policy-making.
The book was published by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Press.
Maharajh, in concluding the discussions, said the book was timely and of significant importance and helped to reveal why the world was not obtaining the results expected from STI.
"The 13 chapters in the book present excellent materials that we can use in understanding how countries operate and how they use STI policies. The book helps to reveal the real development gaps in countries and worldwide."
Speakers focus on how policies can create environments conducive to rapid STI responses to emergencies like the Covid-19 outbreak. They also discussed STI policy environments that speak to ongoing local and global socio-technological shifts and needs, such as those brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
"STI finds itself at the intersection of local and global challenges. Therefore, this book argues that a comprehensive rethink in STI policy-making is required – one that takes a systemic view of the varied challenges, and adopts an inclusive and holistic approach to STI policy," the editors said in a statement.
Cele provided an overview of his contributions and chapters focusing on inclusive STI policy-making. He highlighted that STI policy-making is a social process, not merely a technical process, and that while STI policies could offer some solutions to social challenges, it was not a panacea.
He noted that STI policy coordination had to extend beyond only government institutions with research and development, and civil society, but said this remained a challenge.
He emphasised that STI policy-making had a role to play in causing a system transformation to a human-centred approach, but also warned that operationalising these various inputs was a challenge while there are calls being made for greater integration of STI policy-making to have a greater impact on human development, given the likely pervasive impact of the 4IR and technological changes.
Cele's chapter then moves on to consider challenges and opportunities, not just in South Africa but also observed in other countries, and warned that the democratic economy and social returns on STI remain in question.
"The lack of robust and systematic policy reviews remains a challenge. A new way of thinking and policy-making is needed and this demands long-term planning and prioritisation, especially for various government role-players. There is a challenge of coordination that continues to exist in South Africa," he said.
"The various contributions in the book we hope will offer an opportunity for policy-makers to learn and improve the design and implementation of STI policies to the benefit of society."
Phaho's chapter highlights some challenges and issues relating to STI policy and economic growth, and provides an overview of what did and did not work in South Africa. The chapter then moves on to the 4IR and its implications and how societies can head to more inclusive innovation policies.
"In South Africa, we have to address a multi-decade legacy of poverty, high unemployment and inequality. The economy has not performed optimally over past decades and we have high levels of youth unemployment. Our innovation systems are not geared for the modern industrial economy."
However, Phaho added that evidence in the developed global North and the developing global South showed that STI policies could lead to high levels of productivity and new knowledge creation.
"The question then is how to implement policies in our society. The chapter reviews the various regulatory and legislative initiatives taken by South Africa to improve the impact of STI policy development, as well as the problems of poor policy coordination and alignment, which impacted on support services of government departments and agencies, and resulted in suboptimal functions of these organs and a waste of resources.
"We could have done much better when considering the policy and legislative initiatives," he said.
Further, inclusive STI policy formulation to foster industrial inclusiveness is important so that companies with less innovation strengths are targeted for innovation support. This must specifically involve the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, which will contribute to the bulk of job creation now and into the future.
Similarly, the chapter considers regions of lower innovation and how they can be targeted to narrow the performance gaps between less and more innovative regions.
"The issue is what now for South Africa in the digital age and the challenges identified, given that we are not delivering based on policy drives we have embarked upon since 1994. For us to make the transition for South Africa to economically benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have to invest in human capital. This includes enhancing government and policy formulation to ensure STI development and implementation supports prudent public infrastructure development."
This will require that South Africa provides a way for the poorest to have easier access to relevant skills development, as well as public services and infrastructure to provide mobility, water and clean energy, to make unemployed youth more productive in economic activities, he adds.
Further, Schot spoke about how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals represent a demand for a new development paradigm worldwide, as well as the need for a deep transition.
Using the example of research done with Mexico, he highlighted that most STI research and development was often focused on governance, with less research efforts focused on sustainable development systems and directionality, while there was a very small focus on systems and directionality.
"Many across the world feel that there is a fundamental need for change. The real struggle is we need to move to a new development paradigm, and science and technology are key to this process."
Schot also highlights in the book that social infrastructures, including mobility, healthcare, energy and water, are necessary to transform development.
"Public welfare must be the central target of innovation and technology. This will help with the transformative change needed."
Schot and the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium have a body of evidence of STI policies and development frameworks and there are several experiments in place to hone the knowledge, standards and practices needed to successfully implement STI and development policies.
One of the experiments is a pilot project in South Africa regarding catchment water management, which focuses with the participants on the theory of change and how to enable transformation. This is defined by a set of interactions with role-players and stakeholders on their desired transformative outcomes. The focus is then on developing monitoring and evaluation methods.
The book deliberates on the role of STI policy in creating sustainable and inclusive social, economic and environmental development.