Go back

NACI’s role grows in proposed SA science policy

The National Advisory Council on Innovation is one of the winners of South Africa’s science, technology and innovation white paper, published earlier this week.

NACI itself is a grouping of two dozen experts including top scientists and business leaders and includes the minister of science and technology. It is tasked with advising government on matters related to innovation.

But new structures proposed in the white paper will strengthen its cross-governmental reach and formalise its advisory role, NACI acting chief executive Mlungisi Cele told Research Africa this week.

Two main structures in the paper will strengthen the council’s reach, Cele says. NACI will provide the technical input and evidence for a new Intergovernmental Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation that will set the agenda across the government. NACI will also provide technical support to a new annual panel on science, technology and innovation, convened by the president. This will bring together all STI stakeholders.

Both structures will help overcome a problem with the current set-up, Cele says. In the past, NACI had no direct contact with cabinet, and was thus limited in its ability to fulfil its cross-government mandate.

To meet its new mandate, NACI will have to grow, Cele says. It also needs to create networks of science and technology experts who can advise on timely issues. For example, he says, if there is a problem around water in the Western Cape, NACI must be able to access that network of experts quickly: “It happens in other countries. We haven’t got it right.”

Cele hopes to build expert communities around a NACI data portal, which has been launched and is being developed as a one-stop-shop for science and innovation data. In the white paper, NACI becomes the leading South African body to produce and curate monitoring and evaluation data on science, technology and innovation.  

NACI will be tasked with carrying out regular foresight exercises, to see whether South Africa’s STI research is keeping up with global trends. “We’ll be looking where the trends are going, and constantly make South Africa think ahead and adjust,” says Cele.

The law establishing and governing NACI will need to be amended to make space for its new, expanded role.