The Department of Science and Technology’s (DST’s) recently released Draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) contains a number of policy shifts, compared with its predecessor, the 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology. These are intended to allow STI to fulfil its potential to drive economic growth and development and to ensure that the country becomes a “winning nation” in STI.

These policy shifts include, increased attention to transformation, inclusivity and linkages within the national system of innovation (NSI); strengthening a culture of innovation within both society and government (including a whole-of-government approach to innovation); improving policy coherence as well as budget and programme coordination within the NSI; implementing monitoring and evaluation systems; creating an environment that enables innovation; and developing “local innovation ecosystems”.

Further policy shifts include incorporating and supporting, in government planning and financing, business (especially small and medium-sized enterprises) and civil society; assisting grassroots and social innovation; establishing an innovation mindset from basic to tertiary education and enhancing the human resource development ‘pipeline’; creating the new generation of researchers and making sure that PhD graduates meet the needs of the economy; supporting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research; approving open data, open innovation and, open science practices; giving priority to a pan-African agenda for STI; and augmenting the funding of the NSI and ensuring optimal productivity from this funding.

“The Draft 2018 White Paper on STI is based on [an] extensive review of various aspects of the NSI, as well as consultation with a wide range of role-players such as relevant government departments, civil society, business and academia,” stated Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane in her foreword to the document. “The Draft 2018 White Paper on STI emphasises the core themes of inclusivity, transformation and partnerships . . . The aim is to build on our successes and adopt new approaches where required, so as to foster an NSI in which creativity, learning and entrepreneurship can flourish.”

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“It focuses on using STI to help South Africa benefit from developments such as rapid technological advancement and geopolitical and demographic shifts, as well as respond to the threat associated with some of these global trends,” explained DST director-general Dr Phil Mjwara in his introduction to the document. “In particular, the White Paper engages with the significant changes that are associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“A decadal plan for science, technology and innovation will be developed to serve as an implementation plan for the White Paper over the period 2019 to 2029,” he elucidated. “The new decadal plan will take into consideration not only the White Paper but also the review of the Ten-Year Innovation Plan (2008–2018), which has seen the attainment of significant milestones, as well as the results of the National Advisory Council on Innovations’ 2018 foresight exercise. With the release of this Draft White Paper for public consultation, I am confident that we will receive the input we need to refine the policy proposals to enhance implementation, thereby reaping the benefits of STI to help realise the objectives of the National Development Plan.”

The decadal plan will include the development of indicators to measure the progress in fulfilling these policies. “I am confident that, through efficient implementation of this new STI policy by various stakeholders in the public and private sectors, the lives of our people and the fortunes of our communities will be transformed through STI,” observed Science and Technology Deputy Minister Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi in her foreword to the Draft White Paper. “The truest test of this White Paper will be the impact that it has in realising the potential of STI to support the achievement of the National Development Plan’s objectives as well as the Sustainable Development Goals,” stated the White Paper in its final paragraph.

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