SFSA 2021 Ministerial Plenary: Integrating the humanities and social sciences into the COVID-19 response

The 2021 edition of Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) closes today with an important session focusing on the contribution of the humanities and social sciences to research and public debate around the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and appropriate policy responses.


This year's SFSA is taking place largely online, barring Wednesday's opening event which took place at the event's traditional home, the CSIR International Convention Centre.


Today's closing plenary will be opened by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Mr Buti Manamela, and feature speakers including Dr Kobus Herbst, Director of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network, Dr Jabu Mtsweni, Manager of the Information and Cyber Security Research Centre at the CSIR, and Prof. Sarah Mosoetsa, CEO of the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences.


Topics to be debated include the importance of data-driven decision-making in the pandemic, and how the humanities and social sciences should integrate with other sciences as we enter a "trans-disciplinary epoch". The session will consider public opinion research on vaccine acceptance and hesitancy, as well as the findings of a study on national income dynamics during COVID-19.


An important part of the discussion will focus on the National Policy Data Observatory (NPDO) and the role it is playing in providing enriched, real-time evidence based on socio-economic disruptions and recovery from the pandemic in South Africa.


The scale of the impact of COVID-19 is still hard to assess. An over-abundance of information, some accurate and some not, makes it difficult for policy and decision-makers to find reliable guidance when they need it. This is compounded by a plethora of fragmented research projects and surveys by science councils, universities and consultancies.


The establishment of the NPDO, an "observatory of observatories", seeks address this challenge by bridging a variety of initiatives and data "collaboratives" with more agile and "greater than the sum of its parts" applications at national, provincial and local level.


A key objective of the NPDO is to track socio-economic and health impacts of COVID-19, monitor policy responses, and support decision-making that can lead to long-term, sustainable recovery post-COVID-19. The contribution of the humanities and social sciences to research and public debate around the effects of COVID-19 is one of the NPDO's work packages.


Following the Ministerial Plenary, a short closing session will look forward to South Africa's hosting of the World Science Forum in December 2022.


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