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South Africa’s innovation revolution must assist in solving our society’s deep and pressing socio-economic challenges. Global competitiveness, shrinking resource availability, and the requirements of a skilled labour force mean that, increasingly, an awareness and understanding of why science and research are critical to our lives is essential for developing an innovation culture. To fully realise the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the significant investment in science, research, and innovation, we as a country must communicate and engage the wider community more fully in science and in an understanding of the knowledge economy to which we aspire.

1.1 A cross–cutting mandate

The NRF acknowledges the role of science engagement in the achievement of the NRF strategic goals. An important aspect is to ensure that the knowledge that is produced through NRF funding is widely disseminated, shared, understood, and used widely for the common good. For this reason, a new corporate division was created in the 2011/12 financial year.

The NRF’s Science Engagement programme has a crosscutting mandate that aims to strategically align all science engagement activities across the organisation. The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) is a business unit of the NRF tasked with facilitating the communication and advancement of science.  The programme also accounts for the decentralised science engagement activities at the National Research Facilities, SKA SA and a developing focus through the new RISA renewal process. RISA is optimally positioned to contribute towards coordinated, consistent, and effective science communication and engagement policy and implementation that will make a meaningful contribution to bridging the gap between science and society.

1.1.1 South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)

The mandate of SAASTA is to interact with the public on issues of science, engineering, and technology; to communicate the advances in these fields to the public, and to steer young minds to careers in science, engineering, and technology (SET). These goals are pursued through a large number of science engagement programmes that fall under three key strategic areas:

  • Science education, which aims to build the supply of tomorrow’s scientists and innovators;
  • Science communication, through which SAASTA shares science and technology achievements with the public, building up their appreciation of and engagement with the benefits and risks of science; and
  • Science awareness platforms, which engage the public with the phenomena of science, engineering and technology.

1.1.2 Science Engagement at National Research Facilities

The National Research Facilities perform a critical role in the science engagement agenda through providing science awareness platforms that are used to:

  • Improve the scientific and technological (S&T) literacy and awareness of South Africans ;
  • Encourage the inclusion of S&T content in educational programmes and curricular activities;
  • Host regular science-related activities and national events  that engage the broader public;
  • Host  educator workshops for improving the understanding and delivery of science concepts; and
  • Conduct summer and winter schools for prospective postgraduate students.

SAASTA and the National Research Facilities interact closely with a network of science centres, higher education institutions, science councils, professional science associations and a host of other science-based entities at national and international levels to engage the public in science, engineering and technology. They have adopted a matrix, ensuring that the SAASTA cross-cutting science engagement strategy is implemented without encroaching on the operational activities of the National Research Facilities.

1.1.3 RISA Science Engagement

The RISA Renewal process in 2012/13 has seen an emphasis placed on the communication of research and broader engagement with public audiences. This has required a more integrated approach to science communication and engagement across NRF. Both SAASTA and Corporate Relations personnel are included in all RISA instruments to advance the focus on science engagement through individual research projects. This portfolio is developing as the projects roll out into full project mode.  Some activities to be supported in the 14/15 business cycle include:

  • Three Regional SA PhD conferences;
  • Annual Postdoc Research Forum;
  • Public lectures, especially by visiting scientists;
  • Media profiling of SARCHI and COE’s(print and radio);
  • Science communication training for postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows;
  • Public engagement support through the African Focus interventions; and
  • Publications for public audiences