Alfred M. Mthimkhulu
One of the first ancillary policy documents the current Government produced was the National Critical Skills Audit Report in 2018.
In July 2019, I shared my thoughts on the report and began with a general observation of the fleeting professions that define our times — the fact that we can no longer bet on having one profession or job for life.
Human capital, like financial capital, flows to where it is most treasured and where it will earn best returns especially in the modern interconnected world. Just as money can be transferred to different parts of the world from a mobile phone, some skills have also become that liquid.
“It is not a far-fetched thought” I wrote in July 2019, “that some youngster in Lagos is at this very moment busy on her computer coordinating a project or an App for launch next week in San Francisco.” That was before the coronavirus caged us. Now, a lot of people work from home and some professions under existential threats. The youngster in Lagos is probably doing just fine.
How do we make our futures as individual and collective communities resilient-enough to ensure that our livelihoods are not only maintained but keep improving?
The answer is simple. We must capacitate ourselves to envision our possible futures. To do so we must be informed by our current and past experiences and then decide the future we prefer from the possible futures.
Once decided, we then work towards making that future a reality. That is what research is all about: meticulously studying the past, the present and the surround to create better futures. Done well, it ensures that the path to a better future is not only more certain but smoother.
One of the outcomes of Covid-19 is that it has reminded the world of the importance of methodical research. Little did some of us know of the intricate process involved in bringing a vaccine to the market — the initial ideas of the vaccine, the experiments to test the ideas, the peer review of the emerging findings, the back-and-forth to the lab for retrials and all the regulations that must be met. All this is to ensure that the vaccine works for most of us with little if any harm.
Research takes time and usually leads to numerous dead ends or to results that we may not like — and that is good too. But it is because of its laboriousness that we are more prone to avoid the research process and just boldly set off informed by a little more than hunches and anecdotal surmises.
This week, Government launched the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), the blue print on which all Government department policies are going to follow in the next five years.
What informed the NDS1? We find the answer in the preface: “The NDS1 is the culmination of extensive and structured stakeholder consultations through 14 Thematic Working Groups, and the consolidation of the policy proposals and strategies arising from extensive, across the board stakeholder consultations”.
Further, the NDS1 document, reiterated that it was after “broad-based stakeholder consultative process” that the 14 national priorities were identified.
The priorities became the 14 Thematic Working Groups.
How exactly did the 14 themes emerge? What processes were followed to ensure that the themes so-found were not hunches and anecdotal surmises?
To ensure questions such as these are addressed (for they are indeed often asked and must be asked), public policy makers usually task a range of researchers to be involved. The researchers come up with different sets of methods to gather and analyse data and disseminate some of the less sensitive work for peer debate.
Was a similar process followed in coming up with the 14 themes?
Let us take a brief detour from the NDS1 to another major document Government presented recently, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development’s Strategic Plan for 2019 to 2023.
In the first few pages it read: “the Minister enunciated the concept of Heritage-based Higher Education … in an effort to make sure our education is relevant to the realities and resource endowments of the country.
He also developed a strategy to make sure our education produces goods and services by changing higher education from having three missions (teaching, research and community service) to five missions (teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation)”.
Of concern in this detour is that the vision (or the policy) is presented as if it was the Minister’s. While this may not be the case, the concern of limited research input to policy formulation lingers.
It is intriguing for instance to note that the NDS1 acknowledges many local and international stakeholders who contributed to its production and does not mention academia in that same vein yet academia is the very nerve centre of research in modern societies.
There is however, extensive discussion on the importance and critical role human capital will play in the life of NDS1 and Vision 2030 yet the extent to which research institutions such as universities play in crafting these national policies remains very doubtful.
Notwithstanding this concern, the next two articles will discuss the NDS1 and how the Zimbabwe National Industrial Development Policy could relate to it.
Email: [email protected] /Twitter: @mthimz