African countries are striving hard to improve and strengthen their research, development and innovation (RDI) capacity. Much of this work goes unnoticed and is rarely the subject of national debate. On 8 and 9 December 2015, the DST will host a major public science event, ‘Science Forum South Africa’. The Science Forum, with strong international participation, will be held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.
In addition to the main Science Forum programme in Pretoria, there will be satellite communication and outreach events, including here in the Western Cape.
This is the first time in the history of our young democracy that such an event has been held in South Africa, but we hope that it will become a regular part of the science calendar. The Science Forum will contribute towards a culture of open discussion and access to science, technology and innovation.
The event is inspired by the “open science” conferences, convened with great success elsewhere in the world, like the European Science Open Forum or the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Science, Technology and Society Forum in Japan.
We hope that the South African Science Forum will provide Africa with a platform for dynamic and robust debate on science and society. The event will bring together scientists, government officials, industry leaders, students and representatives of broader civil society from our country and continent, and all over the world.
The event aims to create a platform for a national debate on the interface between science, technology and innovation and society, specifically in the context of South Africa’s National Development Plan; and to serve as a vehicle for strengthening South Africa’s strategic international science, technology and innovation partnerships.
We have themed the Forum, “Igniting conversations about science”, because we want it to be a platform not only for African scientists to talk about their work (and there are many success stories to be told), but also for scientists and all spheres of society to engage on the interface between research and their needs.
The Science Forum’s programme was compiled from suggestions made by stakeholders and the public who responded to a competitive call for proposals put out by the Department of Science and Technology.
The programme comprises several parallel sessions, addressing a diverse range of science and society-oriented themes. There will be a special focus on the African science agenda and how research and innovation can best be harnessed for the continent’s growth and development. The African Union Commission, NEPAD, the African Academy of Science and African colleagues will all join in the discussion.
- The topics to be discussed include:
- harnessing innovation to advance sustainable development, especially in the context of fighting poverty;
- the role of science, technology and innovation in mitigating the effects of climate change;
- scientific advice for policy and decision-making;
- the role of science in addressing societal challenges; and
- the challenges associated with developing human capital for the knowledge economy.
Delegates from more than 45 countries and a number of multilateral organisations have confirmed their participation. They include the eminent international leaders, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Chairperson of the African Union Commission), Prof. Martial De-Paul Ikounga (the African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology), and Prof. Sir Peter Gluckman (Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and founding co-chair of the International Network for Science Advice).
Dr Gordon McBean, (eminent Canadian earth scientist and President of the International Council for Science or ICSU), Mr Koji Omi (founder of Japan’s renowned Science, Technology and Society Forum), Prof. Anil Gupta (the celebrated global thought leader on grassroots innovation), and committed champions for science in African such as Prof. Calestous Juma will also attend.
The Science Forum will also see the launch of the new Science International partnership involving the ICSU, the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the Inter-Academy Panel, and the International Social Science Council. Dignitaries and office-bearers of these influential world science bodies will be in attendance.
Great care has been taken in the organisation of the Forum to focus on women in science, technology and innovation. Several sessions will interrogate how gender imbalances in this sector can best be eliminated, and how the contribution of women scientists and engineers can be maximised. While we sincerely value their contribution, men will not be dominating the conversation. More than 40% of speakers and panelists will be women. While this is not quite gender parity, few events of this kind can boast a similar ratio.
The Science Forum programme was designed to ignite discussion on the science and society interface, and our partners in the media have a critical role to play in enriching the debate. The Forum is not the traditional, formal kind of conference, but a place for the exchange of ideas, and where protocol will give way to challenging debate.
Department of Science and Technology