Insights

Digital Storytelling (DST) and Training with HSRC- CeSTII, KZN

In 2017, the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC), Centre of Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) introduced a new research theme to complement its core work in South Africa: new indicator development for measuring innovation. This is in response to the growing emphasis on inequality and inclusive growth / development globally; the implications of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) measurement, and national policy shifts that will be introduced in the new White Paper on STI. Examples include innovation in informal enterprises; understanding the dynamics of innovation at the local level in informal settings, and developing measures and indicators for Innovation for Inclusive Development (IID).

CeSTII currently has three projects under this theme:

  1. Community engagement, innovation and inclusive development:
    This project focuses on interaction and knowledge flows between universities and science institutes, and actors in informal settings such as informal enterprises, households and communities. The research takes the form of comparative multi-level case studies which inform the design of new measures of linkages and collaboration across the national system of innovation, to enhance the role of public knowledge actors, and innovation in the informal sector.
  2. Exploratory survey to measure innovation in the informal sector:
    This project aims to experiment with new methodologies and pilot means of measurement of innovation in informal settings.
  3. Designing a research agenda on IID to inform strategy and measurement:
    CeSTII proposes to support the Department of Science and Technology to lead a new national research agenda over the next five years, building on the concept of IID, and build expertise in the measurement of innovation in the informal economy.

The new research themes require experimentation with alternative and non-traditional methodologies, as well as building a network of specialist researchers both within the HSRC and externally, with collaborators in other science councils, universities and research organisations, such as the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation NPC (SLF).

Capacity building and training in the Digital Storytelling Method, continued knowledge exchange and research collaboration

CeSTII’s and SLF’s first research collaboration which took place in Cape Town in the latter half of 2018. This work focused on experimenting with new methodologies in investigating innovation processes in impoverished urban and peri-urban areas. SLF has considerable expertise in conducting research on economic activities and human development in impoverished urban areas in Southern Africa, with over five years of experience in researching livelihood opportunities, socio-economic development and have facilitated numerous participatory community engagements in townships throughout South Africa.

A key component to measure and study innovation of small informal businesses comes from the ability to conduct an in-depth study of local innovation systems using a qualitative research approach that helps to capture people’s voices. For this reason, it made sense to continue using personal story telling during this new collaboration. SLF proposed to work closely with the HSRC CeSTII team to co-host another five (whole) day participatory workshop process with informal actors / micro-enterprise owners in the Sweetwaters township settlement. The workshop took place between 27 and 31 May 2019, at the HSRC Human and Social Development (HSD) offices in Sweetwaters, Pietermaritzburg (Kwa-Zulu Natal).

The workshop was designed to once again inform CeSTII’s research and also served as practical training and knowledge sharing for members of the CeSTII team who had not attended the previous round of DST training in Cape Town (2018). Rory Liedeman was the lead SLF participatory research facilitator, while Xolisa Magawana was the lead facilitator in the four person CeSTII team that flew up from Cape Town. While the main goal of the workshop was ultimately to inform CeSTII’s research, it had an important secondary function of creating an opportunity to build facilitator capacity in the CeSTII team, provide practical training and experience in Participatory Visual Methods for select members of the group.

The Sweetwaters workshop therefore involved the practical application of DST and produced eight new high calibre digital stories. Their personal stories speak to the more general themes of community engagement, innovation, and to some degree, the need for more inclusive development in a township setting.


Individual digital stories touched on a number of key issues such as: business establishment / setup, socio-economic contexts, business challenges, shocks and shifts. A few also spoke to the theme of innovative behaviour taken by informal micro-entrepreneurs, as a coping mechanism when faced with tough circumstances. The participants ran businesses from one or more of the following informal business sectors:
I. Informal Grocery Retailing (Spaza and or Tuck Shops),
II. Agriculture (Flower grower and or cut flower sales),
III. Green Grocer (Fruit and Veg sales),
IV. Micro-manufacturing (Wooden flooring),
V. Building Services (Plumbing and tiling),
VI. Hair Care (Hair salon/barber).

While the lead facilitators encouraged the telling of novel and natural personal narratives, which highlighted issues that mattered to the participants themselves, they also placed a strong emphasis on the importance and need for departments like CeSTII to learn about the processes that comprise innovative activities, directly from enterprise owners working and surviving in South Africa’s tough informal sector. Participants were therefore encouraged to share stories about their innovation activities with the aim of teaching others about local business knowledge, needs and challenges.

The CeSTII team was also able to collect a wealth of additional qualitative and visual data during the week. The DSTs produced in this process can now be used as examples of interaction and knowledge flows between science institutes and actors in informal settings, such as informal enterprise owners in marginalized communities. Each story is a small case study and voice in itself, which can be used to help enhance the role, and show the value of public knowledge actors, and innovative behaviour in the informal sector.

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