Science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators are crucial for monitoring Africa’s scientific and technological development. They are useful for formulating, adjusting and implementing STI policies. Indicators can be used to monitor global technological trends, conduct foresight exercises, and determine specific areas of investment. An example is the target of a ratio of R&D spending to GDP of 1% for African countries.
It becomes immediately evident that indicators of the number of people engaged in research at the present time are needed, to suggest how many will be required if the target is to be achieved. That raises questions about the production of researchers by universities, and their mobility within the system and across its boundaries through immigration and emigration. Again more indicators are needed if the picture is to be understood. As part of gathering the data to construct the indicators, best practices may be found in the organizations being surveyed which can be shared across the system. At the end of the day, the target may not be achieved, but the functioning of the system may have been improved. This is an important outcome of a benchmarking exercise.
For indicators to be used effectively, they must be embedded in the policy process, and that requires interaction between policy makers and statisticians. Policy makers must be able to formulate objectives, such as the need to feed more people with domestically grown food, and programmes to move the economy and the society towards the objectives. These could include genetic research leading to more robust breeds of plants and animals, or new breeds, the development of vaccines and of better diagnostic tests for food safety.
Statisticians can then formulate survey questions which provide information on the state of these programmes (funding, number of researchers involved), of their outcomes (number of new plant breeds), and their impacts (increase in quantity of food delivered to market). For the process to work there has to be discussion of the policy questions to be illuminated, leading to the formulation of survey questions, which, if answered well, will provide the information needed. The process of interaction and co-operation allows each group to do what it does best, policy analysis and development on one hand, and survey question and questionnaire development on the other. These are quite different skills, but they must be brought together if the resources available for indicator production are to be used effectively and efficiently.
In both cases, there may be need for capacity building which can be addressed by the African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation (AOSTI) through the provision of training, sample survey instruments, and case study templates, as well as practical advice on the development of country profiles, indicator reports, and the use of indicators in evidence-based policy.
The importance of indicators has been recognised by African leaders and policy-makers. At the first African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, countries committed themselves to develop and adopt common sets of indicators. The system of indicators will track the development and functioning of the African national systems of innovation and it will constitute the mainstay for the production of the African Innovation Outlook. The Outlook will report on the developments in science, technology and innovation in Africa at national, regional and continental level.
The overall objective of this programme is to build Africa’s capacity to develop and use STI indicators. Its specific objectives are to:
* develop and cause the adoption of internationally compatible STI indicators;
* build human and institutional capacities for STI indicators and related surveys;
* enable African countries to participate in international programmes for STI indicators; and
* inform African countries on the state of STI in Africa.
Projects and activities
Project 1: Development and Adoption of African Common Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators
A set of indicators can be developed to describe the science, technology and innovation system of a country, and to support the policy processes and public debate. However, those indicators become even more valuable if they support comparisons with other countries in Africa. For this to happen, there have to be agreement by among African countries on definitions, on statistics, indicators, and methods of collection and of interpretation of data.
NEPAD has established an experts’ working group that is preparing the necessary document with proposed indicators and guidelines for conducting surveys. This should form the basis for initiating an intergovernmental process to enable African countries to agree upon definitions and methods, and where none exist, to develop definitions and methods appropriate to the relevant government authorities. Building on the work done by the experts’ working group, this project will:
o Establish an inter-governmental committee of national experts on STI indicators. The committee will consider and agree upon common definitions, indicators and methods for conducting STI surveys. It will also determine modalities for integration of STI indicators into the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).
o Establish formal relations or links with OECD and other regional STI indicators platforms and programmes. This will enable African countries to participate in and learn from other STI indicators programmes.
o Identify and cause the designation of competent national authorities for STI indicators
o Publish and widely disseminate an African STI Indicators Manual based on the work of the proposed inter-governmental committee
Project 2: Establishing an African STI Observatory
To ensure that the STI indicators and information gathering as well as collation, compilation and validation are standardized, it is proposed that an African Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation (AOSTI) be created. This body would also provide the locus of networking all designated competent national authorities. The proposed Observatory will be the African equivalent to coordinating bodies such as the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry, managing expert committees from African countries and producing manuals, the AIO, and providing capacity building, all as part of improving the understanding of the dynamics of African innovation systems.
An important role for the Observatory would be to manage the collection of statistics on science, technology and innovation from African countries. It will build capacity through the provision of training, sample survey instruments, and case study templates, as well as practical advice on the development of country profiles, indicator reports, and the use of indicators in evidence-based policy. It will assure uniformity in the methodologies and definitions utilized for the collection of data in the participating countries, will coordinate the timely collection of data and it will organize relevant short courses as necessary. It will identify and acquire the existing primary data internationally and develop the relevant indicators (i.e. bibliometrics, patents, trade and educational statistics et cetera). The observatory will further be responsible for the production and dissemination of the “African Innovation Outlook”.
AOSTI will also work with international peers such as the multilateral organizations OECD, Eurostat and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, various CNAs and donor agencies having special interest in STI indicators. For there to be a dialogue about indicator development with UN organizations, Eurostat, the OECD, and national organizations outside of Africa, there must be a single African voice for the development and application of indicators of science, technology and innovation activities. AOSTI will provide this voice.
The process leading to the establishment of AOSTI will include:
o The proposed intergovernmental committee on STI indicators shall consider and approve modalities for establishing the AOSTI.
o An experts’ team or identified institutions will be commissioned to develop a comprehensive programme of work as well as governance structure and funding mechanisms for AOSTI. The programme of work and related elements will be considered and approved by the committee.