Knowing your audience

Costantine Shirati on STIPRO’s challenges and achievements in Tanzania

By 15 July 2014

Originally a national chapter of the African Technology Policy Studies Network, ATPS-Tanzania is now registered independently in Tanzania as the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO). The organization’s mission is to improve human capacity in science, technology and innovation (STI) policy research as well as to raise awareness among government officials and parliamentarians of the critical role of this research for evidence-based STI policies.

In an interview with Costantine Shirati, the Communications Officer at STIPRO, he discusses some of the key highlights of STIPRO’s policy engagement and communications milestones and challenges over the past year.

What were the highlights of your think tank’s activities over the past year?

Over the past year, STIPRO continued to undertake policy research on science, technology and innovation (ST&I). This research went hand in hand with policy influence through:

  • Five policy briefs from research undertaken between 2009 and 2013 (1000 copies for each policy brief were distributed to STIPRO key stakeholders)
  • Workshops to engage with stakeholders particularly key policy makers, the academia and media
  • National and international networking and capacity-building events

The organization also continued supporting master’s students completing their thesis on ST&I from different universities in Tanzania. This has been a key way of building research capacity on ST&I among junior scholars.

What were the biggest accomplishments or milestones?

Several of the milestones achieved by STIPRO include:

1. Influencing the government of Tanzania to initiate a process to review its National Systems of Innovation (NSI). This came about as a result of publishing articles in key Tanzanian newspapers, specifically an opinion piece written by Dr. Bitrina Diyamett, STIPRO Executive Director and an article in a local newspaper called Majira. The article was titled “Sera ya Sayansi na Tekinolojia Isivyopewa Kipaumbele” a Swahili sentence with means “the Science and Technology Policy has not been Priotised” and explained the process and content of how the national systems of innovation should be addressed. It was the outcome of this article that later in 2010 the Government of Tanzania initiated the process to review its National Systems of Innovation whereby Dr. Diyamett was involved in the process by the year 2012.

2. Convening national and international universities to launch post-graduate programs on Development and Innovation among East African universities. Through this initiative, STIPRO is working with the AFRICALICS (Africa Academy for Research Training on Innovation and Competency Building System) and East African universities including University of Dar es Salaam, Makerere University, Moi University, and Pan African University.

3. Supporting three junior scholars who are currently researchers at think tanks across Tanzania including STIPRO.

What challenges did you face over the past year? What are the key lessons learned to share with other think tanks in the PEC Program?

It has been difficult to find partners with interests in working on ST&I, particularly non-governmental organizations. Because of this our partners have been working on a project-by-project basis.

There are number of reasons why most of the NGOs here do not focus on ST&I.

  • Donor funding priorities. Most donors do not support productive sectors such as manufacturing development or science in general because that is normally left for other investors. There is more funding on governance and social issues such as gender, disease and currently environment and climate change.
  • Shortage of expertise in the field of ST&I policy. Through our work here building capacity for junior researchers, we have found that most of those trained on policy issues have social science backgrounds while those from the natural sciences do not having public policy training.
  • Media landscape focuses more on social and governance issues such as gender, democracy and human rights. Because the focus is on this as opposed to ST&I, it  becomes easy for NGOs to think of specializing on those areas.

What is a unique/fun/distinguishing fact about your think tank?

The uniqueness of STIPRO is in its area of focus. We haven’t come across a think tank that is doing policy research on ST&I in East Africa. To us, ST&I are cross cutting issues meaning any macro development strategy at global, regional and country levels needs to incorporate ST&I issues. This is especially crucial for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and hopes to achieve sustainable development.

What are some of the policy influencing or communications-team building challenges your think tank has been facing?

Currently STIPRO has been facing a shortage of human and financial resources. We have one communications officer which makes it difficult to accomplish communication responsibilities (overseeing the communications function at STIPRO, editorials, managing press engagement, ensuring outreach to stakeholders, managing online communications, tracking publications, mobilizing resources and other assigned duties).

What do you think of your think tank’s contribution to public policy or opinion in your country?

First of all, STIPRO has become a centre of knowledge and awareness on the crucial role of ST&I among development stakeholders and policy makers at large. We consult the government of Tanzania during reviews of policy making processes on issues related to ST&I especially for productive sectors such as agriculture and industry. We have also contributed a great deal of evidence that has been used as policy inputs. For instance, during the review of the National system of Innovation where STIPRO was invited to the task force, where our research products were used to inform decision making in reviewing the Science and Technology Policy in Tanzania which the government is still working on.

What advice would you give to a think tank in engaging policy actors, media, etc..?

It is important to partner with media or information influencing capabilities such as journalists, parliamentarians, influential bloggers and social media users since they can help you effectively link with stakeholders. For example, at STIPRO we are currently working in partnership with TASJA (Tanzania Science Journalist Association). It is a network of journalists who are interested in science and technology reporting with members being employees of media houses.

The STIPRO- TASJA partnership also goes beyond, with cooperation during events for media coverage. For example, I am currently working on “Media Coverage on Science, Technology and Innovation” to provide capacity building to TASJA members on ST&I reporting. This partnership has made a big difference for STIPRO’s visibility in policy discourse.

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This post has been produced as part of the Think Tank Initiative’s Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) programme. However,  these are the author’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of TTI. You can find all ongoing outputs related to this project via the PEC mini-site on Research to Action. To get updates from the PEC programme and be part of the discussion sign-up to our RSS or email updates. You can also follow our progress via Twitter using the following hashtag #ttipec

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