Research Themes

The Chair’s overall programme of work focuses on teaching, research and providing policy advice around five thematic areas which look at transformative innovation in the spaces of digital transformation, green and just transitions, alternative innovation practices, innovation and well being as well as governance of STI policy and systems.

1. Digital transformation:

Digital technologies, especially those related to the fourth industrial revolution, are now used in Africa for everything from financial solutions to climate change and health challenges.  Many of these technologies are digital in nature. Policymakers face a regulatory dilemma in balancing enabling digital innovations with addressing the risks, harms and divides created.

This challenge area addresses questions such as:

  • What are the new narratives on digital transformation, Africa and inclusion?
  • How do the current and future potential digital divides (gender, skills, geographic) differ from the past? How can we learn from the past to finally close these divides?
  • What can we learn from the policy efforts for previous rounds of digital transformation in Africa to ensure truly transformative policy for digital inclusion and equity is enabled?

2. Green and just transitions:

The global green transition to sustainability has been dominated by considerations of how to achieve economic growth and development while avoiding damage to the environment. The notion of the “Just Transition” has begun to give shape to what social justice might look like in the drive for sustainability. Key to these discussions are inequity, exclusion, historical injustices, and structural inequalities.

This challenge area addresses questions such as:

  • In what ways are the green and just transition discourses playing out across Africa?
  • Whose interests and power are served, and whose are marginalised, by the green and just transition discourses and practices across Africa and globally?
  • How do we theorise, develop and influence more effective transformative innovation policy at national, regional and global levels?

3. Alternative innovation practices:

This challenge area explores modalities of innovation and innovation activities that are out of the mainstream. This includes innovation in “unseen” spaces, such as the informal economy and marginalised communities. Alternative innovation practices are essential to African socio-economic realities but remain largely unseen in academic work and even less in policy practice.  They can be, however, central to the activation of bottom-up, locally relevant avenues for transformative change.

This challenge area addresses questions such as:

  • How should we adapt existing definitions, conceptual frameworks and theoretical approaches to accommodate the realities of African innovation practices?
  • What types of indicators/measurements do we need to capture alternative and emerging innovation practices better?
  • How can we transform policy narratives and practices to build collective intelligence for innovative solutions emerging from marginalised communities?

4. Innovation and well-being:

This theme recognises that societies’ futures are determined significantly by issues related to happiness, life satisfaction and other psychological attributes and not narrow definitions of health.  This requires a more complex understanding of livelihoods, quality of life and individuals’ power and agency.  In turn, this requires a change in the types of innovation that are studied and promoted by policymakers and practitioners.

This challenge area addresses questions such as:

  • What is the interaction between innovation processes and wellbeing?
  • What policy changes are required for well-being to be considered and included in STI processes?
  • Do the current definitions of innovation provide for a focus on wellbeing, livelihoods, equity and inclusion?

5. Governance of STI policy and systems:

Promoting more transformative innovation and ensuring 4IR technologies address societal challenges requires new ways of thinking about STI systems and the policy used to promote these. It requires new and different combinations of actors involved in decision-making and new types of evidence. It requires new forms of governance seen beyond regulation.

This challenge  area addresses questions such as:

  1. What does co-creation, collaboration, and collective action in the STI policy process look like? What does this mean for the creation and maintenance of multi-layered governance?
  2. How can resilience be built into STI policy systems?
  3. What would new STI policy theory contextualised to the African continent look like?