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Merging two streams of research management


Outgoing Sarima president Therina Theron embraces a trend that meets African needs

[SARIMA 2021] Until last year Southern Africa’s annual research management conference neatly divided its sessions into two streams: research management and technology transfer.

“I used to only ever meet my innovation and technology transfer colleagues during coffee breaks,” says Therina Theron, the outgoing president of the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association.

Since taking up Sarima’s reins in 2019 Theron has overseen a gradual mixing of the two streams. And it’s delivered results. Most of the sessions at last week’s virtual conference dealt with management across the research ecosystem, rather than cleaving to the old divisions.

Theron, who has just handed over the presidency to Andrew Bailey from the University of Cape Town, says this serves the realities of most African research management practitioners better than the old two-stream system.

“In Africa we don’t have the luxury of creating big separate offices managing funding and technology transfer,” she told Research Professional News in an exclusive interview this week.

From tech to knowledge

The innovation ecosystem approach may play especially well in Africa, where research offices have to be jacks-of-all-trade. But the approach is relevant globally as well, Theron says.

“Globally, the movement is towards knowledge transfer, not technology transfer,” Theron says. “It’s not always just about money, but about impact and engagement.”

In May and June 2023 South Africa will host the International Network of the Research Management Societies conference. Theron says she and the other organisers are keen to introduce the ecosystem approach pioneered by Sarima. “We want to look at the innovation pipeline as a continuum,” she adds.

Fortunately, the pandemic has not hampered the research management profession in Southern Africa, she says. In fact, Sarima has more than doubled its membership over the last two to three years.

She identifies the association’s main challenge as maintaining membership at current levels by meeting the evolving needs of the profession. “Sarima will have to keep at the top of its game,” she says. “It’s a work in progress.”

Research Professional News and Pivot-RP are sponsors of SARIMA 2021