NACI releases South Africa Foresight Exercise for Science, Technology and Innovation report
The National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) has released a synthesis report written as part of the South Africa Foresight Exercise for Science, Technology and Innovation 2030 (SAForSTI).
"Foresight" is an umbrella term for innovative strategic planning, policy formulation and solution design methods that do not predict or forecast the future, but work with alternative futures.
Foresight exercises empower decision makers and policy planners to use new ways of thinking and talking about the unfolding future, and implementing strategic plans that are compatible with such a future.
NACI led the exercise as part of its contribution to the development of a decadal plan for implementing the 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, approved by Cabinet in March this year.
The exercise sought to investigate the future of science, technology and innovation (STI) in South Africa, and the potential of STI to address ongoing societal challenges and support the creation of inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development. The country’s societal challenges are systemic in nature and required long-term planning and a broad, holistic approach.
"Throughout the foresight exercise, it was emphasised that, before a sustainable and just economy could even be discussed, there should be a broader understanding of both inequality (and its economic, gender, spatial and class dimensions, among others) and sustainability," said the NACI Interim Chairperson, Shadrack Moephuli.
The Interim Chairperson stated that knowledge needed to inform policy, which meant that different areas of STI needed to be brought together to create new growth for South Africa. "Knowledge has been identified as important for the required transformation to an equitable society and a sustainable economy," said Moephuli.
Understanding the context of South Africa's current challenges, including inequality, poverty, unemployment, health, education and climate change, the SAForSTI identified nine STI domains, namely, the circular economy, education for the future, sustainable energy, the future of society, health innovation, high-tech industrialisation, information and communications technologies (ICTs) and smart systems, and nutrition and water security.
The SAForSTI also considered the current age of unprecedented and spectacular advances in the techno-sciences that are affecting every sphere of human life. These major advances include ICTs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain technology and additive manufacturing, among many others.
All of these are elements of a fourth industrial revolution (4IR) that transforms production processes and products, markets, services and trading systems, whole industries and entire economies.
South Africa, like other developing countries, must determine ways to use the opportunities offered by the 4IR while simultaneously preparing to deal with unintended and negative consequences. A younger population can be a catalyst and a great advantage in the context of rapidly accelerating technological innovation and the socio-technological transformations associated with the 4IR.
The premise of foresight is that the future is still in the making and can be actively influenced or shaped, rather than already decided and therefore merely to be awaited and accepted.
This empowering realisation allows the governments of developing countries to construct their own narratives of desired futures, instead of relying on futures foreseen by highly developed countries, which are not necessarily relevant to the contexts of other countries.