8 November 2014

A scientific conference held on 6 and 7 November 2014 marked the official launch of the new DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (SciSTIP), hosted at Stellenbosch Universitys Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST).

During the two-day event both the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) committed themselves to the success of the Centre.

In his welcoming speech the Director-General of the DST, Dr Phil Mjwara, highlighted the enormous potential of SciSTIP to provide appropriate science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators to track and steer national STI initiatives; as well as to assess the contribution of new R&D-led initiatives to the South African economy.

Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO: Research and Innovation Support and Advancement at the NRF, stressed the partnership mode of SciSTIP in working with universities and research organisations in its various activities. He underlined SciSTIP’s role in bringing together the best scientific minds, both locally and internationally, across its research focus areas.

SciSTIP director Professor Johann Mouton elaborated on SciSTIP’s five focus areas in his presentation on a road map for excellence in scientometrics and STI scholarship. He introduced the notion of ‘interpretive bibliometrics’ as a defining feature of its intended work in the field of bibliometrics. ‘Metrics will not be produced for the sake of having metrics, but will be interpreted in a particular context and in the light of the path dependency of the entity e.g. organisation or scientific field’ being assessed, Prof Mouton explained.

This value-adding element was echoed by Professor Paul Wouters, the director of CWTS at Leiden University, who emphasised that measurements are not by nature meaningful but need to be made meaningful. According to Professor Robert Tijssen, a researcher at CWTS and an extraordinary professor at CREST, the challenge is on SciSTIP to producers indicators that are considered SMART, an acrostic for being Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Robust and Timeous.

Dr Erica Kraemer-Mbula, the acting director of the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation (IERI) at Tshwane University of Technology, the co-host of SciSTIP, outlined their research plans including the development of indicators for innovation and measures of the socio-economic impact of science and technology at the systemic level. She also stated the need to include a focus on social innovation in the activities SciSTIP, a need that was also raised by other delegates.

Lively debates and discussions over the two days revealed that there are high expectations of SciSTIP and its position in the South African science system, both as a service provider and an agency of high-level fundamental research. The latter high quality research to be published in leading peer-reviewed journals will be at the core of SciSTIP’s activities.