Science Engagement

Science Engagement

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.

Relationship(s) between science and society.

The NRF has shown a long-standing commitment to strengthening the relationship between science and broader society through leading, implementing and funding a wide variety of science engagement and communication strategies, programmes and initiatives. To bolster science and innovation for inclusive development, the Department of Science and Innovation’s 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation introduces a significant policy shift in including civil society in STI planning at all levels, and devoting resources to supporting grassroots and other neglected innovators. There is a recognition that the realisation of the ambitions of this White Paper will in part depend on building an innovation culture in society and developing a citizenry that is aware of the value and potential dangers and challenges of science; is able to evaluate the products of science; uses the processes of science in its daily life and engages in debate on science-related matters of public interest. In this context, there must be a growing awareness of the changing relationship between science and society. The National Research Foundation (NRF) Amendment Act, 2017 states, among others, that the NRF will contribute towards national development by ‘supporting and promoting public awareness of, and engagement with science’. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit, mindful of global shifts and imperatives of fostering more responsive and inclusive modes of knowledge production and diffusion, increasing emphasis on challenge-led research, the need for more inter and multi- disciplinary work, and the associated demands for more tangible societal impact, all of which require a closer alignment of knowledge production with the needs and demands of society. NRF Vision 2030 focuses the organisation towards ‘Research for a Better Society’.

A cross–cutting mandate

The vision therefore, is of a society in which knowledge is created, used, challenged, valued and shared by all, in the interest of addressing the needs and demands of society and thereby contributing to our national development agenda. It is a multifaceted model for the co-creation of knowledge, rather than a linear model of information flow. Bringing such a vision to fruition requires an NRF wide portfolio of science engagement which is a crucial strand of the NRF commitment to sustainability as it enhances research and promotes a positive contribution to society. Transitioning to an embedded outcomes mind set thus demands that quality engagement of science in and with society is holistically embedded in the NRF core missions of supporting and promoting the creation of knowledge and growing new knowledge workers; forms an essential part of the NRF transformation agenda and where public engagement in and with science is valued as one of the key pathways to enhancing research impact. This is assisted by a deliberate strategic focus on heightened positioning engaged research; facilitating access to research and science engagement infrastructure; supporting STEMI education; building excellence in science engagement capacity and capability and facilitating public–private sector partnerships in science engagement.

South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)

NRF|SAASTA is the NRF business division tasked with leading and coordinating the science engagement programme across the NRF and beyond. The NRF is equally committed to ensuring that the science engagement leadership and national coordination role (Science Engagement Strategy 2015, DSI) in particular are given effect. It will lead on all the cross cutting engagement priorities of the NRF, in partnership with research performing and research funding business units. The science engagement coordination function includes establishing and maintaining programme cohesion (across a range of identified partners); managing the deployment of resources and capabilities (required to accomplish strategic intentions); and enabling programme performance measurement (including the hosting of a science engagement information management system). In order to effectively fulfil these envisaged changes, two key issues prioritised over the next five years include fully capacitating NRF|SAASTA with appropriately skilled personnel, and a sustainable science engagement resourcing model.

Science Engagement at National Research Facilities

The NRF provides leading-edge research infrastructure platforms that ensure that the national research enterprise has the requisite infrastructure to undertake globally competitive discovery science, train the next generation of researchers, support engagement with science by and with the public and promote innovation that positively impacts society, the environment, the economy. 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 increasingly engage the public (including educators, learners; under and postgraduate students and policy makers amongst others) in matters of science, engineering and technology, whilst also building, the next generation of critically engaged young scientists and innovators.

Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA

Within the next five years, the aim is to begin to more fully embed engagement in and with science in the core NRF missions of supporting and promoting new knowledge and growing new knowledge workers. This is led by the formulation of an acceptable NRF position on engaged research which will guide the NRF approach; the identification of new and innovative public engagement with research programmes and grants that will assist the drive towards systemic change; the establishment of a portfolio of science engagement training and skills development to enable the delivery of high quality engaged research and a review of evaluation approaches. Long-term outcomes the NRF is aiming for are: research that is increasingly responsive to societal needs and demands; wider acceptance of the practice of sound, evidence-informed science policy and decision-making; increasing dialogue on critical science-related issues which is more firmly embedded in the public discourse and evidence of a transformed and resilient STEMI workforce.

Career Guide

Are you considering a degree in the fields of science, engineering and technology (SET)? Have you obtained your SET degree and are now wondering where to go from here? Look no further.