Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery

Unleashing knowledge that propels us forward


DGSD actively enhances the contribution of the HSRC as a strategic partner in knowledge production and a resource for informing and deepening public debate, national dialogue and theoretical discourse on key national, regional and international issues and dominant trends related to democracy; development; justice; governance and service delivery.

Our vision

The unit is a knowledge hub for high quality, independent, strategic and relevant research addressing national, regional and international issues of democracy and development; governance and service delivery; as well as equality and social justice

Scope and impact of work

DGSD is a multidisciplinary and cross-cutting research programme undertaking research in the social sciences and humanities based upon the values of excellence, integrity and innovation. The researchers in DGSD propose gender sensitive strategies for interventions using qualitative and quantitative methodologies that generate evidence-based knowledge, and that assist policy makers in making informed choices and decisions in response to the South Africa and Africa’s development challenges.

The thematic research thrusts of the programme are as follows:

Democracy and Development:

This thematic thrust focuses on the constitutional imperative that all South Africans should have access to and participate in a vibrant democracy that ensures a better life for all.

This unit focuses on how democratic governance can best enable and empower all South Africans to freely and effectively pursue the realisation of their own individual and collective potential. Issues of social justice; inequality; citizenship, culture, national identity and social cohesion; and women and gender in a democratic South Africa are examined.

The sub-theme of crime, safety and justice focuses on access to justice; understanding the scale, causes and impact of crime and violence; and examines issues of citizenship, participatory democracy and political violence.

In conducting research on inequality, poverty and social justice, DGSD researchers seek to define, measure and address (in)equality in South Africa, Africa and globally within the context of democratic politics and transitional and distributive justice.


The governance thrust focuses on the intersections between national, provincial and local government, and addresses issues related to good governance, cooperative governance and the relationship between modern and traditional institutions of governance.

Sub-themes include ethics and accountability, as well as investigations into, and development of, anti-corruption strategies. Researchers in this area also have expertise in impact assessment of government policy and the monitoring and evaluation of institutions of governance. An area of specialisation is the role of women in leadership and governance in South Africa and the continent.

Service Delivery:

DSGD undertakes evidence-based research to analyze and measure access to public services and to monitor and evaluate the role of the state and other stakeholders in service delivery. Capacity at national, provincial and local government level is assessed in order to contribute to the measurement of performance at all levels of government and the development of strategies for capacity enhancement.

Included under this thrust is research into the effectiveness of partnerships involving the public sector, private sector, civil society and communities; the monitoring of service delivery; assessing the fulfillment of socio-economic rights; and the prevention of fraud and corruption within the public service.

DGSD flagships

Social Attitudes Survey of South Africa (SASAS)

SASAS is a nationally representative, repeated cross-sectional survey that has been conducted annually by the HSRC since 2003. SASAS is increasingly providing a unique, long-term account of the speed and direction of change in underlying public perceptions, values and the social fabric of modern South Africa. SASAS thus represents a notable tool for monitoring evolving social, economic and political values among South Africans, but it also demonstrates promising utility as an anticipatory, or predictive, mechanism that can inform decision- and policy-making processes.

State of the Nation

Between 2003 and 2008 the HSRC published its annual flagship publication State of the Nation. Taking the South African national agenda as its organising framework, SoN provides an in-depth and independent analysis of the year under review. The publication stimulates contemporary debates on key issues in a significant way and received wide critical acclaim as a reference source that shaped public policies, political actions and individual and collective decisions. In view of its historical high demand and the need for vibrant national and continental debates, the HSRC has decided to re-launch this authoritative publication from 2013.

Africa in Focus

AIF is a publication that aims to provide a platform for emerging African scholars to publish on new trends in African development from multi-disciplinary viewpoints, thereby contributing to overcome hegemonic barriers to African scholars in Western-dominated publishing world. The overall theme would focus on democracy and governance in Africa. The HSRC and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) have agreed to co-publish Africa in Focus in future.

View the DGSD Research and Data

South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS)

Find out more about the Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery Department.

Contact details: +27(0)12 302 2528