Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) revised 2016 Strategic Plan

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

06 April 2016
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) presented its revised 2015-20 Strategic Plan, stressing that its main goals were the recognition and reward of excellence, promotion of innovation and scholarly activity, effective, evidence-based scientific advice, public interest in and awareness of science and science education and national, regional and international linkages. ASSAf aligned itself to government goals, in assisting with human capital development and the knowledge utilisation for inclusive development, particularly through promotion of innovation and scholarly activity. It was running pilot projects in Gauteng. ASSAf gave examples of how promotion of effective, evidence-based scientific advice had worked so far and stressed the ways in which it was trying to promote greater interest and awareness, especially through publication of books and the Quest magazine, which was distributed quarterly to schools. ASSAf further described the role it was playing in the region and internationally. It was attempting to reach better equality in staff demographics, and admitted later that it had no disabled staff yet. The 2016/17 activities were to include the ASSAf 20 year Anniversary celebrations, a publication of “History of ASSAf”, publication of a book profiling ASSAf members, and an institutional review. It aimed to achieve a greater social media presence and develop a stronger communication strategy, not least in order to provide support for its 20-year anniversary celebrations. Its scholarly publishing programme and unit was helping the nation by introducing science in a broader spectrum and engaging with other stakeholders. Its six liaison programmes aimed to  increase women and black membership, forge strategic partnerships, and further collaborations in Africa and overseas. One of the specific goals for 2016 that would speak to this was the hosting of the Young Scientists’ conference, where ASSAf would nominate young scientists for awards. One of the greatest challenges was finding sufficient financing for human resources to run the projects and developments. Another was office accommodation as it was presently paying a high rental. It noted that it covered many topics in the Science  Advisory Programme, in fields such as health, poverty and inequality, humanities, bio-safety and bio-security, climate change, energy studies and the “blue economy”. ASSAf noted that its budget and expenditure were anticipated to be R24.184 million in 2016 and R26.752 million for the year 2018/19.

Members were appreciative of the presentation, and looked forward to visiting the offices, and would encourage other government departments to engage with ASSAf more for knowledge sharing. They asked that in future, the Annual Performance Plans be presented, and also asked that the Annual Report be provided to this Committee. They asked about relationships with the Human Sciences Research Council and other scientific institutions, and wondered to what extent it was able to reach out to disadvantaged communities, pointing out that scientific input into subsistence farming, to raise it to another level, would be ideal. Members asked about community and youth engagement, and were pleased to see plans to use social media, and asked how ASSAf controlled demands by funding bodies, and might be able to act as liaison to get greater funding to some areas. They also asked about membership, made suggestions that it should approach the Department of Public Works to explore other accommodation options, and questioned its particular involvement in mining programmes and whether it might provide advice to avert such disasters as the Lily Mine, and nuclear power options and innovation.
 

Meeting report

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) on its revised 2015-20 Strategic Plan
Prof Daya Reddy, President, Academy of Science of South Africa, read through the ASSAf Vision, Values and Mission (see attached presentation) before moving on to present the revised Strategic Plan. The ASSAf goals were presented as follows:
- Recognition and reward of excellence
- Promotion of innovation and scholarly activity
- Effective, evidence-based scientific advice
- Public interest in and awareness of science and science education
- National, regional and international linkages.

Prof Reddy further explained the role ASSAf wished to play within the government structures, and how it aligned itself to government goals, in assisting with human capital development and the knowledge utilisation for inclusive development. Promotion of innovation and scholarly activity was amongst the main aims of the Academy and it was already doing this through the pilot projects that it had running already, in the Gauteng region. He said that this initiative seemed to be working, and it had further room to grow. He illustrated how the promotion of effective, evidence-based scientific advice had worked in the pilot projects that the Academy had done, including the promotion of public interest in and awareness of science and science education through the publication of the book Quest: Science for South Africa.  The role the organisation was playing within the region, and international linkages with organisations in the SADC, as well as its hosting of International Council for Science (ICSU) Regional Office for Africa (ROA) and The World Academy for Sciences Regional Office Sub-Saharan Africa (TWAS ROSSA) all fed into the government goal of increased knowledge generation. 

Prof Reddy took the Committee through the direct and indirect contributions to the triple challenges of  poverty, inequality and unemployment. He noted that he was not satisfied with the employment equity figures for black people and women within the organisation, but assured the meeting that ASSAf was working very hard to ensure that this figure increased and that more women and black people would be brought forward by means of the campaigns and programmes within the Academy.  ASSAf would do this by raising awareness in its new 2016/17 activities, which included the ASSAf 20 year Anniversary celebrations, a publication of “History of ASSAf”, publication of a book profiling ASSAf members, and an institutional review. It would keep promoting this also by the sub-programmes in Governance, Finance and Risk, Human Resources, Knowledge Management and Communication. 

ASSAf admitted that to date, it had not done much in trying to reach out to the greater nation. Therefore, the revised 2016/17 goals aimed to achieve a greater social media presence and develop a stronger communication strategy, not least in order to provide support for its 20-year anniversary celebrations. The Academy was, however, proud to count the scholarly publishing programme amongst its programmes, and this was working to the benefit not only of ASSAf itself, but was also helping the nation by introducing science in a broader spectrum. Through this programme, ASSAf would be able to engage with other stakeholders and establish the impact of the Scholarly Publishing Unit (SPU) in South Africa.  Quest is one of the highlights of the Academy, being a magazine that is distributed nationwide, which has helped ASSAf to reach many schools. If ASSAf wished to do more, it would need more financial backing. He pointed out that this magazine, a full colour publication, was printed quarterly with a print run currently at 25   000 per issue. It is aimed at Grades 10 – 12, educators and scientific community. 

The Academy has six liaison programmes, aimed in turn at Members, National, International, International Strategic partnerships, Young Scientists and Gender and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).  Through these liaison programmes, ASSAf aimed to increase women and black membership, forge strategic partnerships in National Scientific Innovation, and ensure that engagement through Quest would be fully inclusive.  It also aimed to establish, strengthen and sustain productive collaborations with African and overseas academies of science and like-minded organisations, to enhance capacity in science and technology.  One of the specific goals for 2016 that would speak to this was the hosting of the Young Scientists’ conference, where ASSAf would nominate young scientists for awards.

Prof Reddy noted that there was a great deal that the Academy was expected to deal with in order to achieve the goals, and stressed again that the main problem was one of finances to achieve the goals, for it would need more human resources. The Academy’s Science Advisory programme facilitated scholarly engagements on key national and global challenges and the Academy did also provide evidence-based science advice in support of policy development.  Health studies were amongst the topics covered in the Science Advisory Programme, as well as education studies, using science for reduction of poverty and inequality, humanities, bio-safety and bio-security, climate change, energy studies and the “blue economy” where it would partner with other African science academies.  Through the Science Advisory Programme the Academy hoped overall to raise awareness. 

Budget summary
Mr Morakeng Chiloane, Financial Manager, ASSAf, presented the budget projections for 2016/17 to 2018/19. He presented the figures of the income from publications, interest receivable, membership fees receivable, and other income. The Academy projected an income of R24.184 million for the year 2016/17 and was looking at R26.752 million for the year 2018/19, and its expenditure was set in the same amount. Expenditure figures were broken down into administration and governance, liaison – national and international, the Science Advisory Programme and Scholarly Publishing Programme (see attached presentation for full details). 

Prof Reddy concluded that the Academy ideally needed new office premises. It was currently renting in Pretoria, and that was a particularly expensive space.

Discussion
The Chairperson said that this presentation had given the Committee more insight into the role of the ASSAf. She hoped that the Committee would be able to visit the offices and that government as a whole could get more insight into and share knowledge. She also pointed out that there would never be adequate money in the budget for science, but it was crucial that ASSAf and other such organisations should be supported as far as possible by government.

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) appreciated the Strategic Plan presented by the Academy, but would have ideally liked also to have seen the Annual Performance Plan so that the Committee was provided with measurable indicators, and urged that these documents be presented together in the future.  He also wanted to find out what ASSAf’s relationship was with Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). 

Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West) commented that the apartheid system had cost the country a lot of damage in discouraging communities from taking science seriously enough. He wondered to what extent ASSAf was reaching out to the previously disadvantaged communities, and encouraging them to take part in science studies. He also wondered if ASSAf was, in its outreach programmes, also mobilising students to get involved in the planning of ASSAf programmes. Mr Sefako commented that science was not reaching many of the people in the rural areas who were totally dependent on subsistence farming, and thus wanted to know how far ASSAf was concentrating on these areas. He noted that there were national and global sponsors of programmes, and wondered whether ASSAf was able to adhere to their demands and conditions. He pointed out that some farmers were desperate to make profits to lift their farming to another level and pointed out that surely here was an opportunity for business people to invest, but communities were worried as to what exactly this might entail and so he asked if ASSAf was in a position to bring people together and facilitate debate in order to allay their fears. He finally asked if ASSAf had any time limits for termination of membership.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu Natal) thanked Prof Reddy for the presentation and pointed out that the Department of Public Works (DPW) had many vacant buildings and that ASSAf should perhaps make enquiries into what was available there, in order to try to obtain better premises at a lower cost.

Mr Singh said that slide 22 set out details for the sub-programme on Communication. He thought that ASSAf Policy Liaison programmes would require appointment of some officials. He was pleased to see the ASSAf intention to engage by social media, which was the best way to reach youth.

Mr Singh further noted that the demographics were set out in the presentation but nothing was said as to whether it was employing disabled staff, and requested details of this.

The Chairperson requested that ASSAf should notify this Committee when the Annual Report was prepared, and mentioned that the Committee was intending to take a study trip during which it would be engaging with other academies of science.

Prof Reddy commented that the questions were interesting and pertinent. He confirmed that ASSAf had a long-standing relationship with the HSRC, and would like to develop this further. In relation to farmers, ASSAf's core values and mission included an all-round promotion of the awareness of science, which also included making science part of thinking and working. However, there was some difficulty with ASSAf, in its current way of working, reaching out to those in the field who did not have access to internet and were able to engage in this way. He wished to acknowledge that it will not be sufficient to reach out to communities who are not on the field and are not seated with their laptops in front of them.  Prof Reddy addressed the point of sustainability and strings being attached to funding, and said that typically, ASSAf may have a decision in the council funding certain projects, and would look at the various organisations who might be willing to fund, either approaching some, or getting proposals from others. There were some problems with organisations funding pharmaceutical companies for ASSAf was unable to assist in this field.

He said that ASSAf would be happy to present its Annual Report to this Committee. He noted that there was no ceiling on membership numbers since ASSAf took the view that the scientific community could and should be unlimited in terms of numbers so it would welcome new members. ASSAf tried to encourage new members and would do its best to ensure that the membership fees of R200 annually were affordable.

Prof Rosseanne Diab, Executive Officer, ASSAf, added that the relevant personnel heading up HSRC and ASSAf committees would meet twice a year to discuss strategies. HSRC also runs a series of science policy seminars and ASSAf had participated in and presented at these. ASSAf regarded it as very important to keep strengthening its relationship with the HSRC. ASSAf was currently working with the districts, to disseminate Quest magazines to various schools, and that it had recently particularly done work with the Gauteng office. ASSAf had a liaison officer in its Pretoria office who is responsible for the distribution of the magazine.  A three year pilot programme was targeted at Grades 4, 5 and 6, trying to spur on interest in scholars in taking up science. This programme had worked very well and the Academy had a couple of more steps to do and would present the results to Cabinet shortly. She agreed that ASSAf would be working more with social media. It did not yet have any disabled staff members.

Mr Sefako noted that both he and the Chairperson also sat on the Portfolio Committees on Environmental Affairs, and Mineral Resources. These committees were sitting with the challenge of loss of lives in the Lily Mine, and during visits to the mine small particles of rock had been observed falling, and he had thought that surely the problems with this rock should have been foreseen. He wanted to know the extent to which ASSAf was assisting people in the mining industry, to try to minimise risks of such disasters.

Prof Reddy responded that this question raised a number of essential points. There was indeed a scientific underpin to determine the geological structure, but this incident had also raised questions of risk and disaster management. Mintek had a brief to research mining matters, and risk, but there was serious discussion as to the role that the research organisations such as ASSAf could be playing. The Academy might well be able to provide capacity to answer questions.

Ms Diab added that many government departments were not aware what the Academy could do for them, particularly acting as a convenor in drawing studies together; it had been unfortunately that communication breakdowns had not essentially brought this role to the fore.

Mr Sefako then raised further concerns about nuclear power, saying that this debate was affecting the poorest of the poor. There were plenty of opportunities, and businesses should be encouraged to play their part, even emerging businesses, to encourage innovation. He stressed the importance of ASSAf forming better links with government departments, pointing out that it was ideally placed to pull all various stakeholders together in moving forward.

The Chairperson thanked the ASSAf team and that reiterated that delegates would visit the offices and support its initiatives.

Adoption of minutes

The minutes from the previous meeting were tabled and adopted, with no amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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