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Roundtable on Innovation

February 2016

Innovation: Innovation for Prosperity


The topic was proposed by Maud Olofsson in her capacity as Wallenberg representative, and accepted at a meeting immediately following the previous roundtable, as a topic which is clearly of national, regional and global significance.

Preparation and organisation

The proposal of the topic came with significant offers of cooperation from Swedish agencies, including the Swedish Innovation agency (VINNOVA), the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH) and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), representatives of which promptly joined the core committee. One of the first actions was to nominate writers for a discussion document on innovation, giving the state of the art and analysing the opportunities and obstacles for effective innovation policies in Africa as a developing region. The discussion document was entitled Realising innovation opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa by Sara Grobbelaar (Engineering faculty, Stellenbosch University) and Sylvia Schwaag Serger (VINNOVA), who also undertook a Delphi survey to canvass opinions on innovation policies.

Actual preparations started in the month of August preceding the roundtable. It consisted of visiting scholars in residence for the best part of the month, as well as a planning meeting of the core committee which took place in the last week of that month. During the course of the month, we developed the concept note and draft programme, as well as a preliminary list of participants to be invited.

The discussion document was completed and printed in time for distribution at the roundtable in the last week of February. This document informed discussions and was often referred to as a resource document.

The roundtable programme again utilised a spatial pattern around tables seating six to eight participants and minimised formal presentations in favour of brief inputs by panel members and discussions and feedback around the smaller tables. The last session was organised to produce a statement endorsed by participants, facilitated by an experienced science communicator.


The participants included a strong contingent of international researchers and experts, matched by an equally strong contingent from South and Southern Africa. Gender parity was not reached but closely approximated. As mentioned, researchers and expert practitioners were predominant, matched by strong representation from the business and also the social business sectors. A cabinet minister (from Botswana) attended, as did several government officials, including from neighbouring countries. Invitations to members of the South African cabinet were unsuccessful, which did not encourage participation from the Swedish cabinet.

Members of the Wallenberg family and some of their advisors also attended the roundtable, bringing the number of participants to sixty. The presence of the Wallenberg family and especially an interview with one member at the conference dinner, considerably enhanced the positive experience of delegates to the roundtable.

Outcomes and impact

The roundtable produced three significant outcomes: a statement endorsed by the participants (available immediately), a policy brief developed by designated members of the committee (available after four weeks), and a final report written by the authors of the original report but taking into account the discussions and comments from the roundtable (available after two months), all of which can be accessed on the STIAS website.

Though each roundtable is different, we have reason to believe that the Innovation roundtable broke new ground in several respects. One was to have an active core group in Stockholm to assist with planning and with recruiting Swedish and other participants. Another was to prepare a discussion paper for the Roundtable. Yet another was to tie the topics on the programme to questions in the discussion paper. Although tried before, the deliberate set-up of the roundtable programme activities to promote frequent interaction around tables enhanced this aspect considerably. Also, we have never had a conference dinner interview before. We also gained valuable experience in developing and securing delegates’ endorsement of a roundtable statement.

A further significant impact of the roundtable was an invitation to present the final report in the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) 50th anniversary conference in Pretoria. In partnership with the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), the SPRU activities culminated in a conference on “Science, Technology and Innovation Policies for Transformative Change” held on 27 May 2016 in Pretoria with a focus on Africa. It was attended by about 80 people, including government officials, civil society groups, business representatives, and SPRU alumni from Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania as well as the UK High Commissioner to South Africa. The presentation was done by the author and by Sara Grobbelaar, one of the authors of the final report.

Further reading