Making science and inquiry interesting to a younger generation

One of the challenges that we have to deal with when trying to Universities to work closer with industries in South Africa is a general lack of “inquisitiveness” by younger students. They want management jobs, not jobs in factories, research labs or out there. Well, I guess the problem start at a younger age. But just before you call me a stereotypical or a racist, consider this: Its not only happening here in South Africa. Other countries have the same problem.

So how do we make children more intrigued in science? Well, good teachers sounds obvious. Interesting school projects is another. But how about the media, television and all the other signals that a society broadcast? Here in South Africa, the air is thick with politics and bad news. Our family cannot even listen to the radio on our way to school.

So with all of this said, lets give credit to NASA for this parody on Gangnam Style (for older readers, Gangnam Style is a song that has become one of the most watched videos of Youtube). It explains the work of NASA and several science principles.

Last year in November I had the privilege to take my family to Washington DC. After 6 days of visiting mostly free museums, like the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, I have 2 eight year old scientists in my house. I confess I also bought several books and gadgets, but hey. THE KIDS want to investigate things. Everything. They want to understand things. They argue about how to solve problems. Although they are in a good school and we try to raise them to be inquisitive, nothing prepared us for this excellent exposure in Washington DC.

So perhaps we should make funny video clips like this one too, targeted at younger people. Lets get younger people to WANT to visit factories, research institutions, universities and labs. Lets get cameras in there and get the message out that we too are working not just on social problems, but also on scientific problems! Science is not just a subject or a project in school, a scientific approach opens up the beautiful mysteries of our world.

2013 – Setting some direction

Perhaps I am taking a risk by publishing some of my resolutions for 2013 here. But this post will probably help me to connect my own learning with those of my close friends, partners and fellow adventurers that follow my blog.

During 2012 my focus shifted strongly into the manufacturing sector where I am working on improving innovation systems, building domestic  industries, strengthening the role of universities and research organizations to create new platforms from where to compete. This is stimulating work where I combine my interests in engineering and science, with soft issues such as networks in industry, market signals and systems and innovation. I also find that my ability to work both with business people, academics and researchers is handy. Take a look at my page Stimulating industrialization, science and innovation to see some of the activities I have been involved with in 2012 in this area.

In 2013 I want to increase my focus on the manufacturing sector. Key research questions for me are:

  • How does competencies learned by organizations such as firms become developmental platforms for industries?
  • How can I use the insights from complexity to accelerate the formation of new industries, new markets and deeper industrialization?
  • How can new technologies, questions, ideas be used to upgrade traditional industries?
  • What is the role of universities and research organizations to upgrade the industries around them?
  • How can learning and experiments in firms be disseminated to accelerate exploration and exploitation of ideas?

As much of my work in this area is focused on Southern Africa, I am also keen to see how some of the insights from here can be tried elsewhere.

As far as my academic research is concerned (I have a post doctoral research fellowship position with the Vaal University of Technology), I must concentrate more on my academic publications and feeding the insights gained in working with industry back into the formal university system. Here my work will be focused on understanding how technological competencies can be created or leveraged to create new markets and new competencies.Technological ompetency map In the image to the right I show the technological choices that a particular group of enterprises that I am working with face.

Of course, the manufacturing sector is a clumsy way to draw a boundary around a system, so just to put some of your concerns to rest, I am still committed to the knowledge and service sectors, technological intermediaries and the local economies in developing countries. I have found that these are useful perspectives to look at manufacturing activities and how it evolves. Manufacturing to me is not only about making products, it is also about matching competence with opportunity within a given societal context. It connects wealthy people with poor people, clever dreamers with needy users, highly qualified people with poorly educated people, nerds with geeks, domestic ideas with international realities.

What makes my approach different is that I am working from demanding customers and markets back to the basic operations, and not from suppliers towards markets. I am not doing marketing promotion, I am developing supply side based on current and future needs. It means that I will help to better articulate demand criteria, and will then try to shape the institutional system and manufacturing capacities to work towards these needs. Central to all of this are developmentally minded organizations like universities, industry bodies and even consultancies that wants to develop a particular sub sector, technological competence or outcome.

In 2013 I undertake not to be a problem solver, but to be a better facilitator of deeper thinking, an adviser that assists my customers and counterparts to better recognize patterns, constraints and opportunities. I will assist my customers to become change agents within the systems that they work in.

Lastly, I want to work more with systemic thinking and complexity. Watch this space for some announces about a new podcast series and a new research field in collaboration with Marcus Jenal

Linking – Beyond Linear Development Trajectories: What if there were 5 clusters of quite different developing countries?

For my first post of 2013 I share a post from “Aid on the edge of Chaos” that I found challenged my thinking. The title and all the content relates directly to the site.

We humans are supposedly very good at recognizing patterns, with some evolutionary theorists even crediting our survival and evolution with this trait. However, we also tend to struggle to see beyond patterns that we have classified, almost like a needle on a old record. Some examples are the way we divide the world into developed and underdeveloped, industrial and emerging. Although we all know that these classifications are in conflict with our own experience of the world (think of the sophistication of the Indian Pharmaceutical sector) we still are trapped in our labels that we use.

Below is a link to a post on Aid on the Edge of Chaos, featuring the work of Andy Sumner and Sergio Tezanos Vázquez where they explore new approaches to classify developing countries.

Beyond Linear Development Trajectories: What if there were 5 clusters of quite different developing countries?.

The image below is from the original post on the Aid on the edge of chaos blog site. Take a look at their post and then think again how you label the countries that you work in.

  • What happens if you classify the countries differently?
  • What are the implications of just changing the classification?
  • How does their classification scheme challenge your own way of classifying regions?

Clusters proposed by Andy Sumner and Sergio Tezanos Vázquez

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