Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Innovation Leadership and Learning Academy (CiLLA): briefing

Science and Technology

08 March 2005
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Meeting report


8 March 2005
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Innovation Leadership and Learning Academy (CILLA):

: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
CSIR PowerPoint presentation: Exploratory Discussion on Learning and Development
Concise Guide to CSIR (Available at
CSIR Annual Report 2004/05 (Available at

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and its Innovation Leadership and Learning Academy (CiLLA) provided an overview on its Human Research Development (HRD) programmes, their mandate and future plans, and the purpose and goals of CiLLA. Members raised issues relating to the relevance of scientific research for improving the lives of ordinary people, on research funding and on the CSIR’s research activities in Africa.


Council for Scientific and Industrial Research briefing
Mr A Vlok (CSIR and CiLLA) presented an overview on its Human Research Development (HRD) programmes, their mandate and future plans, and the purpose and goals of CiLLA.

CSIR activities included knowledge generation and application and strategic research in both the economic and social spheres. Their "Beyond 60" plan celebrated their six decades of existence and indicated CSIR’s intentions for their next 60 years. These plans focussed on strengthening the intellectual core in South Africa, specifically in the areas of science and technology.

Some of the differentiating aspects of the CSIR were that it was aligned with national priorities, was multi-disciplined, and handled complex research. CSIR was also future focussed and undertook innovation stimulation. Furthermore, they participated in transferring knowledge and CSIR had become an iconic brand. Lastly, it served as an "honest broker" in that they did not advance any particular preconceived or pre-designed solutions.

Their current research areas in the national interest included water, the environment, forestry, materials and manufacturing, food, biochemistry, the built environment, safety and security, and mining. Mr Vlok listed some of the CSIR’s strategic research facilities like the National Laser Centre, the National Metrology Laboratory, the CSIR Satellite Application Centre, a Crime Prevention Centre, and the Sports Technology Centre.

He contended that CSIR and South Africa was a player in international science and research. They had started the Global Research Alliance (GRA) about three years ago, and this organisation had joined together with nine other nations including India, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. The GRA was meant to use global research as a means to solve global problems such as energy, water, and health. CSIR had a regional focal point too. It was a part of the World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organisation (WAITRO), which had led to CSIR working in 24 other African countries.

Mr Vlok said that the reasons that CSIR existed were to foster international interest and to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life for the people of this country. When they brought people in to work with CSIR, they released that academics had to learn new skills that ensured that their research had a bearing on the improvement in quality of life. CSIR functioned to improve the production capacity of the South African populace, fostered the training of our manpower, and disseminated information in the connection to research.

He listed the areas in which South Africa was internationally competitive in for scientific research. In certain areas, South Africa was highly competitive. For Instance, South Africa was ranked number one (out of the 60 countries used in the survey) for the low cost of industrial electricity. However, South Africa was lagging behind in areas like the number of skilled labours available and adult literacy. Mr Vlok pointed out that the areas where South Africa lagged had direct relationships to the need for HRD.

CSIR’s staff profile showed that they had 1 500 professionals on staff out of the total number of 2 500 employees. Statistics proved that the number of black people within the organisation had steadily increased over the past few years. The skills breakdown illustrated that of the employees within CSIR, 8% had Doctorates/PhDs, 15% had Masters degrees, 25% had Bachelors degrees, 15% had diplomas, and 37% had no degree. This showed the need to strengthen the number of people at CSIR with graduate level degrees.

Their annual plan consisted of three parts, which were intended to serve the larger objective of their mandate to serve South Africa’s science and technological needs. These three parts were to build and transform human capital, strengthen the science and technology base, and performing relevant knowledge generating research. He added that HRD was a top priority for the CSIR.

The HRD review in progress consisted of pipeline management, which was based on the idea that young people in science and technology were mobile and therefore CSIR was interested in establishing a connection to universities and other groups that were producing tomorrow’s bright young minds. The HRD review also called for the transformation and diversification of management as well as training and career development that would facilitate an individual’s transition into CSIR’s working environment.

Knowledge transfer and dissemination was a large part of HRD for CSIR. They wanted to use new technologies to help people learn about their research and give everyone the chance to tap into the collective knowledge that had been thus far accumulated. They also wanted to emphasise technical HDR through formal studies and provide specialised training for non-custom activities. These training programmes had the potential to lead to job-sharing, learnerships and internships. Mr Vlok said that their target was to have 2 000 people going through their learnership programme within four years.

Mr P Nefolovhodwe (APO) asked what the specific issues in the research areas were, and what in particular was being researched. He also asked which 24 African countries CSIR was working in and what they were doing in those countries.

Ms F Mohamed (ANC) asked for more information about how they custom-designed products in relation to the demand side of the economy. She also requested a deeper explanation of the built environment and crime prevention. She felt it was also important to know more about their engagement in WAITRO. Lastly, she asked what measured had been taken to ensure that women were involved in science and technology as well as training.

Professor J Mohamed (ANC) inquired about what was meant by the term "complex research". He also asked if CSIR now disclosed what they had done in contract research and if they did any fundament research.

Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) asked what exactly the CSIR did with its budget in terms of where the funds were directed and what the funds were used for.

Mr R Van den Heever (ANC) wondered how successful CSIR had been in transformation and increasing diversity.

Mr A Ainslie (ANC) pointed out that most of their work had been done at a high industrial level, but asked if anything was being done to assist the second or informal economy, particularly in rural areas.

Mr Mlangeni added that he would like a more specific explanation of CSIR’s mining research.

Mr E Ngcobo (ANC) asked for more insight about each of their areas of focus. He emphasised the importance of leadership programmes and therefore wanted a detailed description of how CSIR leadership programmes were implemented and whether they provided people with applicable skills such as welding. He also asked what GRA was doing to enhance global research and how the CSIR co-ordinated its efforts to make the organisation as efficient as possible.

Mr Vlok reported that the CSIR received very strong input from outside sources, and this information was received at every level of CSIR. Organisations in fields such as labour and health provided CSIR with information that shaped the specifics of each of their research areas, which meant that every research area was tailored to specific needs, and thereby differed vastly from each other.

He was unable to identify the 24 African countries that CSIR was working in, but remarked that their projects in these countries included environmental impact assessment and developmental projects that dealt with issues like water treatment and alternative energies.

Mr Nefolovhodwe said that the information on the research areas was important because they needed to determine if the developmental areas that the government was tackling were included in the scientific research. Improvements in these developmental areas resulted in the improvement of ordinary people’s lives, and that was part of CSIR’s mandate.

Mr Vlok said that on the issue of providing customised products and programmes to meet the country’s needs (like skills development), the process was slow going because it took a long time to go from Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) to SETA. Despite this long process, CSIR was involved with every SETA and SETAs aided them in designing learnerships and exchanges, which encouraged HRD within the country.

He added that he could revisit the issues of crime prevention and WAITRO and highlight these organisations’ goals and priorities. Also the inclusion of women in the process of transformation would be addressed later in the presentation.

Mr Ngcobo asked for a quick explanation on the difference between WAITRO and the GRA.

Mr Vlok responded that GRA had begun as a two-year pilot, and it was to be decided whether or not to continue GRA beyond that initial pilot period. Essentially, GRA strove to meet the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations and it was made up of people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. WAITRO, on the other hand, was more technical and used people from similar disciplines to address issues related to their field. So GRA was about global research for global good by using global expertise, while WAITRO had a more narrow focus.

Mr Ngcobo asked if the former chairperson of the CSIR, who had set up GRA and was currently involved with it, had migrated to Australia.

Mr Vlok said that this person had gone to Australia, but GRA was a virtual community run by a ‘nerve centre’ based in South Africa.

He continued on to the issue of complex research, which was not a term that CSIR had defined; rather, when people or organisation came to CSIR, they cited the reason as being the complicated nature of their research. Thus, people came to CSIR when they had exhausted their own pool of knowledge and resources, but still needed more answers.

CSIR’s entire executive portfolio had been restructured to include better research and development in strategic areas and how to more efficiently fulfil their contractual research obligations. Mr Vlok said that as far as he knew, no information had been held back unless it was done so for legal reasons such as contract research that had a bearing on commercial interests like trademarks.

He added that their top priorities in mining research were health and safety. In the promotion of the informal economy, they had done a wide range of activities. These activities ranged from water purification to job creation and entrepreneurial development. He agreed that learnerships were important and that in skills such as welding they had been accredited by the construction SETA so they included it in some of their training.

CSIR had introduced different mechanisms, called strategic advisory panels, for input to provide their executives with internal and external information. They also had strategic research advisory panels, and all of these mechanisms were meant to ensure that the Parliamentary grants that they received were serving the public good for which they were intended.

Mr Mlangeni asked jokingly when the CSIR was going to get it to rain in the Western Cape. He then explained that many people suffered from eczema yet the last research done on that disease was in 1992 in the UK. Given that, he asked why they did not do more research on the disease.

Mr Vlok said that the Medical Research Council would be better able to answer that question.

He went on to discuss CiLLA. CiLLA was meant to create customised platforms for learning and knowledge. It was a virtual activity that was capable of bringing in numerous associates from all over the country and the world.

Its goals were to provide needs and strategy based quality learning solutions, to strategically fit knowledge with their mandate, build CSIR capacity for superior research and innovation by developing a technological roadmap and acquiring the best people to undertake the research. They also intended to facilitate the elimination of barriers to human potential development and network with value adding players in research.

Their summary indicators showed that they had achieved an above 80% rating for relevance, quality and presentation of portfolios. It also showed that they had been growing at a rate of 20% each year for that past four years.

Some of their operating principles included an evolving curriculum and a holistic approach to development. These principles were analysed through their basket of measures, which looked for quality, relevance, and the adaptability of solutions.

The CiLLA learning portfolio cluster was vastly important and constituted of eight parts. First, was management and learnerships, which helped get people integrated into the CiLLA system. Second, strategic management of innovations, which ensured that their research was relevant to the priorities of the country. The third and fourth parts were project management and financial management. The fifth part was scientific and technological excellence, which expressed the need to do the best and right kind of research. Part six was personal development and efficiency that was meant to inspire people to set new and high targets in their lives. The seventh point was marketing and business development so that they knew how to effectively present their ideas to the outside world. Lastly, mentorship excellence served to train young employees with the intention that they would succeed their mentor upon his/her retirement. He added that there were approximately 160 people currently in their mentorship programme.

At every CiLLA event they asked the participants to rate their performance and the accumulated results showed that their events had an average rating of 4,3 out of 5.

The Key Result Areas (KRA) for CiLLA were knowledge management, external profiling and learning and development. Mr Vlok added that they believed that they would experience another year of 20% growth. Their racial profile showed that they were 43% black and 57% female. Their keys for critical success included their alignment with CSIR strategy and value adding learning solutions. Ultimately, they wanted to go from knowledge creation to knowledge application and ensure that HRD was a key priority.

Mr Ngcobo said that the slides in the presentation could have been more specific and the presentation should have focused more on the structure and developmental costs of the programmes.

Mr Nefolovhodwe was interested in knowledge creation and knowledge application. He asked how knowledge gathering and formulating was driven and what drove the process. If needs were the driving force, it was important to know whose needs were driving the gathering of knowledge and whose needs were being left out.

Mr B Mnaydu (DA) inquired if there had been any research related to levels of competency, and the effect competency had on the country.

Ms F Mohamed asked about the leadership course in Switzerland because she had applied to it some years ago and found that there were strict admissions criteria. She agreed with the Chair that the programs on the slides could be tailor made to be more specific. She also asked how one envisioned a programme that would empower the South African people to become a human resource base. She stated that there was a need to train and empower the people that would be training others in order for a research base to extend to the larger populace.

Mr S Nxumalo asked who their clients at the moment where, and were exactly their funds came from.

Mr Vlok illustrated their process of knowledge gather by pointing to the example of the Indigenous Knowledge Workshop on Health. This Workshop included local people as well as people from all over the world. They all worked together to develop a model for how to step into the knowledge at a community level pertaining to health.

CSIR was sensitive to the needs of different groups and he gave as an example the Young Research Development Programme, which came about when two years ago when several executives at a meeting wondered why there was not a voice present to represent young researchers. So CSIR was committed to incorporating the different needs into their structure.

There had been very little research done in the science and technology domain on the effectiveness of management and leadership approaches that were intended to increase competency. The best research available came from the London Business School, which listed five necessary components for good research in science technology. Those components included that they have a compelling vision for the future, ensure that the work was intellectually challenging, form good relationships; being a champion for your people where they needed you; and connecting your people to the research.

Some learnership programmes, like the Swiss one, did have extensive criteria, but others did not. He could provide some information on the subject to the interested Members. Mr Vlok added that the idea of training the trainers was "a very powerful suggestion" and he wanted to explore that suggestion further. Lastly, he said that they had received funding by charging competitive rates for their services and workshops.

Mr Ngcobo then moved on to the issue of adopting the Committee’s new programme. First, they adopted the minutes from 8 February, 15 February and 22 February 2005. The Committee then reviewed the amendments to the programme that added a briefing by the Medical Research Council for 15 March. They had invited a MRC delegation to address them on genetically modified organisms during the first two weeks after the Easter break. The amended programme was adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.


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