Fieldwork completed on new Rural Innovation Survey

The Economic Performance and Development (EPD) research programme, along with university partners, recently completed fieldwork for the 2016/17 survey on rural innovation activities. This milestone of the Rural Innovation Assessment Toolbox (RIAT) project heralds a great leap forward in addressing the general lack of reliable information on innovation in rural areas and creates a clearer pathway to defeat the scourge of rural socio-economic deprivation.

RIAT has a dual purpose. It seeks to harness innovation for improved human wellbeing and living standards and it urges local municipalities to entrench an innovation-driven approach to their socioeconomic development initiatives. Since 2012, eight distressed district municipalities on government’s list of priority intervention sites have benefited from exposure to this set of novel information and decision tools.

Targeting resource-poor local municipalities as the main end-users of the toolbox makes sense. It is in these localities where economic and social marginalisation is most severe. Lifting residents in these marginal and under-resourced locations out of poverty is an information-intensive task. Accurate and up to date information is required and through RIAT the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has dedicated investment in policy-relevant information-gathering and decision-making tools.

The new dataset substantially expands what is known about the nature and composition of rural innovation landscapes in eight local municipalities. The questionnaire in the toolbox profiles the composition and business operations of diverse enterprise types. Less than 20% of the 740 enterprises interviewed in the latest survey round appear in existing databases of local municipalities. In this context, sharing the survey information with local municipalities reduces crucial information gaps about the scale and potential of local innovative economic actors.

Items in the questionnaire derive from a flexible but consistent meaning of innovation. This conception sets RIAT apart from traditional innovation surveys. It yields a dynamic map of new ideas, processes and practices being used to do things better in some of the poorest localities in South Africa.

RIAT also departs from data extraction from willing respondents inherent in research cultures. Instead, the complementary tools unleash a novel two-way information flow dynamic from local municipalities to knowledge producers. It moves municipalities beyond passive owners of the toolbox for local innovation assessment towards internalising reflexive self-learning.

A research team in EPD, with support from the DST, has been leading the design and testing of RIAT. The team has systematised how the five universities of Venda, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Walter Sisulu interact with matched local municipalities to support embryonic local innovation networks.

More about RIAT: