Research Article

Effectiveness of technology transfer in public research institutions in South Africa: A critical review of national indicators and implications for future measurement


South Africa’s poor economic performance in recent years has prompted calls by policymakers for structural transformation. To break the impasse, a stronger focus on innovation is one strategy the country has articulated through a new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation. Writing from this policy context, we adapt the revised contingent effectiveness model of technology transfer by including indigenous knowledge as a transfer object and emphasizes citizen needs and reparations as part of the demand environment, and appropriation as a transfer medium. Analytically, our use of this adaptation is to critically reflect on the typology of indicators produced in the first South African national survey of intellectual property and technology transfer at publicly financed research institutions. We find the dimension of least representation but presumably greatest significance in the typology is that of ‘public value’. Our contention is that the output-based and commercially-biased indicators of technology transfer activity, which predominate in the typology, are insufficient to inform decision-making on technology transfer policy in a context of profound national socio-economic challenges and deep historical legacies of indigenous knowledge misappropriation. Broader evaluation data would form a richer, more inclusive evidence-base to inform new investments, as well as ongoing policy assessment, at both institutional and national level.

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