A growing number of African countries are starting to produce science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators. The purpose of this paper is to provide some lessons learnt in the production and use of STI indicators in Malawi and South Africa. It is compares the two countries’ efforts to conduct Research and Development (R&D) surveys and examines whether and how STI indicators are used in policymaking processes.
The study approach is qualitative. The research methodology encompasses a thorough review of both policy and academic literature as well as some interviews.
The study demonstrates that South Africa has a relatively developed institutional arrangement for undertaking R&D and innovation surveys and developing related STI indicators. There is evidence that efforts are being made to use STI indicators to inform policymaking in the country. On the other hand, Malawi conducted its first R&D survey under the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Initiative (ASTII) and has not established an institutional mechanism dedicated to producing STI indicators. There is no evidence that indicators are used in, or to inform, policymaking in the country.
Because of significant differences in STI policymaking histories, capacities and cultures of the two countries, it is not really useful to compare the STI production and use. Rather it is important to draw lessons from the efforts of the two countries.
The results suggest that the production of STI indicators should be embedded in policy processes. To be useful and effective, STI indicators production needs to be explicitly linked to policy formulation, evaluation and monitoring activities without necessarily undermining the independence of producing STI indicators.
Creating stand-alone programmes or agencies for R&D and innovation surveys without clear articulation with policymaking needs erodes opportunities of having evidence-based STI policy regimes.
Although in 2005 only South Africa and Tunisia had national programmes dedicated to the generation of R&D statistics, by the end of 2010 at least 19 African countries had experimented with conducting R&D surveys under the auspices of the ASTII of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. These countries accumulated different experiences and consequently build different kinds of institutional capacities. Through the Malawi and South Africa case studies, some important lessons for STI indicators production and use and STI policymaking can be drawn for developing countries in general and African countries in particular.