A gap analysis of the South African innovation system for water
This paper draws on the innovation literature to analyse the South African system of innovation for water. Two major approaches to science and innovation from the innovation systems literature are described and compared: the neoclassical or ‘market-failure’ linear model of innovation, and the more complex and more recent innovation systems approach. It is argued that the innovation systems approach is a useful basis of analysis because of its emphasis on the diffusion of knowledge and the factors which tend to affect it – in comparison with the neoclassical model’s assumption of perfect knowledge transfer. An analysis of gaps was undertaken using an interactive web-based puzzle-building activity with participants in the water sector. The primary gaps identified are not those that state actors continue to focus on in policy interventions; instead, they include the need to enable effective demand by end users, to facilitate more direct interaction between users and researchers, and to involve the private sector much more strongly in water innovation. Human capacity needs were highlighted, as was the need for strong leadership and openness in data sharing. The argument is made that those gaps that are seen as least important by practitioners and researchers in the sector are the very gaps that South African water innovation policy continues to focus on, while the gaps in cognitive capacity, in structures allowing the articulation of societal needs, and in industry involvement are largely un(der)addressed. This suggests that a linear, or neo-classical understanding of innovation may underlie innovation policy for water in South Africa. Recommendations for future policy directions include promoting knowledge-related infrastructure and data sharing; reorganising the research environment within universities; strengthening support for entrepreneurs; and creating centres of competency with strong industrialdesign and economic- and market analysis capabilities.