Performance planning, monitoring and reporting
As a publicly funded entity, the National Research Foundation (NRF) is accountable to perform in terms of its mandate. [View the mandate which is provided by the NRF Act]
Through an extensive strategic planning exercise, the mandate of the NRF was contextualised and then translated into a longer term strategic plan i.e. Vision 2015 and five strategic goals.
The NRF Board is responsible for overseeing the performance of the NRF and for reporting to government via the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
The NRF plans its performance by annually setting performance targets. These targets are included in the NRF Business Plans. [View the latest NRF Business Plan]
Performance targets also serve as the basis for monitoring the in-year performance of the organisation on a quarterly basis and for eventually reporting on the full year performance on an annual basis in the Key Performance Indicator and Annual Reports. [View the NRF Annual Reports and KPI reports]
The NRF approach to key performance indicators (KPIs)
The NRF has to report on its performance to DST in terms of a suite of generic key performance indicators (KPIs) for science councils.
The key indicators are arranged according to the five perspectives of the Balanced Scorecard as adapted and adopted by the DST in May 2003. The five perspectives include the stakeholder perspective, the financial/investment perspective, the organisational perspective, the organisational learning and growth perspective, and human resources and transformation perspective. The stakeholder perspective is the category that captures the core performance of the NRF. The other Balanced Scorecard perspectives are regarded as corporate, internal NRF performance areas that sustain and support the ability of the NRF to achieve its goals.
Key performance indicators and the NRF strategic goals
The NRF approach toward the generic KPIs is shaped by its mandate and composition.
The NRF has three main divisions, i.e.:
- Science and Technology Advancement: The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) is organisationally located within the Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA), but has a science advancement responsibility across the organisation;
- research and innovation support through the RISA ; and
- research and research facilitation through the National Research Facilities.
As each of these NRF divisions has its own focus, the NRF cannot be compared to other science councils that only have research in a specific science domain or knowledge area as their main mandate. For example:
- In the case of the National Research Facilities, that conduct in-house and self-directed research in several knowledge fields, some outcomes are achieved by the facilities in their own right. However, the National Research Facilities are also mandated to encourage national and international researchers to use the facilities to further their own, independent research objectives. Other strategic goals, such as human capacity development can only be achieved in collaboration with, or by members of, the stakeholder community, supported by the interventions and infrastructure provided by the facility.
- In the case of RISA (including SAASTA), the outcomes of its activities – such as the disbursement of funds or science awareness activities – are only achieved in the ambit of the stakeholder community. Some performance indicators thus cover the performance of the range of RISA stakeholders as a measure of the effectiveness of the NRF.
To create synergy between the divisions of the NRF, the common set of corporate strategic goals was matched against the Balanced Scorecard perspectives. It stands to reason that not all NRF divisions and business units contribute equally to the strategic goals, as each obviously has its own focus and purpose. However, the NRF finds it necessary to measure the performance of the respective business divisions against the NRF strategic goals.
Performance Highlights 2008/2009
In 2008/09 the NRF could record significant achievements in striving towards its strategic goals. Here is a selection of highlights.
Promote internationally competitive research as basis for a knowledge economy
- 180 referred articles published by staff of the National Research Facilities
- 5 354 peer-reviewed articles published through researchers sponsored by RISA discretionary funding
- 14 patents granted to research sponsored by RISA
- 254 international projects funded
Grow a representative science and technology workforce in South Africa
- 260 389 participants involved in science festivals under the SAASTA umbrella
- 118 delegates from 16 countries attended the 2nd African Science Communication Conference organised by SAASTA
- 328 546 learners and 10 536 educators reached through the activities of SAASTA
- 7 351 students supported by RISA (56% black and 47% women)
- 1 971 students supported through THRIP
- 420 master’s and doctoral students supported through the DoL National Skills Fund
- 2 031 doctoral students (52% black) supported through all RISA programmes
- 26 postdoctoral Fellows were supported through the DST Innovation Post-Doctoral Fellowship Programme
Provide cutting-edge research, technology and innovation platforms
- R92,3m invested in research equipment at HEIs, of which R13,6m went to equipment for Nanoscience
- R36,5m invested in research infrastructure (excluding SKA) at the National Research Facilities
Operate world-class evaluation and grant-making systems
- 2 650 grants to the amount of R321m made to researchers
- number of rated researchers in South Africa increased from 1 653 in 2007/08 to 1 922 in 2008/09
Contribute to a vibrant national innovation system
- The Thuthuka and Research Niche Area Programmes that are geared towards researcher development in previously disadvantaged groups have supported the training and development of 1 375 students, including 779 master’s-level students, 330 doctoral candidates and 45 postdoctoral researchers through grantholder-linked bursaries and fellowships
- Eighty (80) Research Chairs are in operation and 380 students were supported through the Chairs initiative during 2008/09; 58% were black and 43% women
- The NRF manages the DST/NRF Centres of Excellence programme, which disburses almost R50 million per annum into seven Centres. Since inception (in 2005) this initiative has trained more than 390 postgraduate students and has produced more than 570 journal articles.
Performance highlights to specific National Research Facilities
The South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) initiated several programmes with the South African Large Telescope (SALT): a study of dust extinction in nearby galaxies with Tel Aviv University (Israel); a search for evidence of X-ray reprocessing in high mass X-ray binaries with the University of South Hampton (UK); an investigation of the mutual eclipse and occultation events of the satellites of Uranus with Armagh Observatory (Northern Ireland); and a preliminary imaging study of likely galaxy clusters with Rutgers University (USA). A team of South African and Japanese astronomers completed an extensive study of local group galaxies using the Japanese/South African Infrared Survey Facility at Sutherland.
Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) scientists and engineers have been involved in developments leading to the construction in the Karoo region of the MeerKAT array of 80 antennas and its prototype seven-element array, KAT-7. The original prototype antenna for these arrays, the XDM, was built at HartRAO in 2007 and has been undergoing testing since then. HartRAO has formed a Scientific and Technical Operations Group to lead the scientific operations of the KAT-7 and MeerKAT instruments.
The Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) has established a space weather website as part of the International Space Environment Service (ISES) Space Weather Regional Warning Centre for Africa. HMO also installed a new digital ionosonde. A new antenna array for the SuperDARN HF radar in Antarctica was installed following damage to the old array during very strong wind.
The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) runs the major marine flagship project, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP), which is funded by the DST and managed through the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) Elwandle Node as a joint venture with Marine and Coastal Management (MCM). The ACEP II research programme was finalised during 2008, and eight proposals received funding. The programme is scheduled to run from 2007/08 until 2011/12.
The South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) was involved in over 30 international science initiatives with countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Africa. The functional nodes were allocated seed-funding to initiate projects with the Environmental Long-term Observatories of Southern Africa (ELTOSA). The Fynbos Node took part in an international programme of the International Long-term Ecological Research Network (ILTER) to assess the linkages between ecosystem services and community livelihoods.
The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) established the Centre for Conservation Science as a hub for research in the two focus areas of conservation biology and conservation medicine. The development and promotion of conservation medicine as a research focus aligns the NZG internationally with the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group under the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA). This opens up opportunities for collaboration and provides the NZG with access to disease risk-assessment tools.
The iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator-Based Sciences (iThemba LABS) is part of an international collaboration programme (between the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and South African universities) that was officially launched in December 2008. The collaboration seeks to provide research platforms for South African scientists and students to take full advantage of the latest accelerator technologies offered at CERN. The South African universities involved include the Witwatersrand, Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg and Rhodes.