The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) carries out research that addresses the country’s complex challenges, straddling issues of nation-formation, economic growth, social equity and South Africa’s global positioning. The institute complements its research programme by undertaking strategic reflections in the form of roundtables, retreats, seminars and annual lectures. MISTRA enhances its research work through linkages with universities and other research institutions inside and outside of South Africa.
The work of the Institute is structured according to three faculties
• Political Economy
• Knowledge Economy and Scientific Advancement (KESA)
The Faculty of Humanity interrogates the advance of human civilisation including human thought, encompassing history, arts and culture and broad issues such as ideology and religion – in relation to societal development – at national and supra-national levels.
The Faculty of Political Economy deals with socio-economic issues and their intersection with the social structure of South African society and politics. Its remit incorporates the structure of the South African economy and the impact of globalisation on the region and South Africa.
The Faculty of Knowledge Economy and Scientific Advancement (KESA) explores the logics of natural sciences and their relevance for social development, including discovery, invention and innovation, incubation, adaptation, appropriation and quantitative analysis.
MISTRA’s research and other work is designed with the intention of impacting on policy-making and policy-makers, and in so doing the Institute seeks to be a change agent in society.
MISTRA seeks, through its work, to contribute to the developmental challenges faced by South Africa. This it seeks to achieve through a number of mechanisms, ranging from its research methodology and its composition to the suite of activities that it undertakes.
• Project Identification
In identifying its research projects MISTRA consults a wide network of stakeholders in the academic, policy-making and practitioner sectors. This ensures that the concerns and priorities of these partners are taken on board from the outset in determining the research agenda and initiating interest in the outcome.
• Research Template
In order to ensure that MISTRA’s research projects effectively address policy challenges, the Institute has designed a template for its research work that takes into account the historical background to the issues researched, strategic and philosophical contexts, theoretical approaches, relevance and current applicability.
• Project Teams
MISTRA does not simply conduct research in-house and present the final outcome to policy-makers. Each research project, undertaken by a project team coordinated by a full-time MISTRA researcher, includes academic and other experts as well as the policy-makers and practitioners themselves. Through this approach policy-makers are engaged with the research throughout the process and thus the research organically interacts with their own policy-development processes.
• Open Source Approach
Through the duration of MISTRA’s research projects a series of workshops are held involving a wider network of experts and policy-makers to test the hypotheses and outcomes of the research at its different stages and ensure that the final outcome adequately addresses the policy-making challenges. At the end of the research project a public conference is held to communicate the outcome of the research and to broaden the public discourse.
Combining the Academic and the Experiential
• For policy-relevant research to have any impact and effect, it must be based on a sound understanding of the policy-making and implementing environment and realities.
• The MISTRA Council of Advisors, Board of Governors, Management and staff are made up of a combination of people with the highest levels of academic and intellectual capacity as well as extensive, high-level experience in policy-making and implementation in the public, private and civil society sectors.
• The project teams conducting the MISTRA research projects, as well as the broader networks involved in the various project workshops, are also made up of a combination of academic and experiential expertise.
• MISTRA has a unique network into the South African governing party, all organs of government at national, provincial and local levels, into the private sector, the academic sector and the diplomatic and international communities.
• It provides an extensive channel for identifying critical issues for research, for engagement of this network in the research itself, and for influencing the impact of the research on policy-making and implementation.
• It enables MISTRA to bring together different sectors of society to brainstorm around critical issues of policy and practice affecting areas of social and economic development that require the cooperation and coordination of different social actors.
• MISTRA’s expertise and value-add encourages many in the public and private sectors to commission the Institute to undertake consultancy work on a range of issues of concern to policy-makers.
• Such requests also arise from the involvement of these sectors in MISTRA’s research projects.
• Such consultancy work includes requests from a range of government departments at national, provincial and local levels, from private sector corporations and from universities and other research institutes on a range of topics, including political and economic prospects for South Africa, the effectiveness of government policies in the areas of policing, social cohesion, heritage and so on.
• In order to ensure focus on its core research projects, MISTRA has established a principle of limiting such consultancy work to 25% of its research work.
• MISTRA’s extensive network uniquely positions it to bring together various sectors of society to brainstorm difficult issues in a non-pressured environment, free from the constraints of formal, mandated interaction.
• Such retreats take place over a few days under Chatham House rules.
• They are particularly effective in bringing together leaders of the private sector and government to thrash out issues of mutual concern.
• A highly successful retreat between leaders of South Africa’s uranium mining sector and a range of relevant government departments and agencies in the nuclear energy sector is a key example of the role the Institute can play in ensuring strategic synergy between the policy-makers of key sectors of society.
Roundtables, Seminars and Lectures
• MISTRA facilitates a range of roundtable discussions in its own name or in partnership with other institutes on a wide range of topics of relevance to policy-makers.
• The topics for these roundtables arise either from the Institute’s research programme or from discussion and consultation with partners in the policy-making and research communities.
Examples of these roundtables include:
o A roundtable on Employment Statistics, which brought together StatsSA, Adcorp and academics to debate the vexed but critical issue of the methodologies around calculating South Africa’s employment statistics.
o A session with Dr Gauhar Raza, head of the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR), CSIR, New Delhi, in partnership with the SeTAR Centre at the University of Johannesburg on the topic Engagement with science: a necessary condition for the survival of democracy.
o A dialogue on the lessons from the Tunisia uprising in partnership with the IDT, Women’s Development Bank, the SOMAFCO Trust and the National Youth Development Agency.
o A seminar on anti-poverty strategies and programmes in partnership with the University of Johannesburg.
o A roundtable on inequality, with a leading input by Emeritus Prof. Richard G. Wilkinson (University of Nottingham), co-author of The Spirit Level
o A roundtable on the results of Census 2011, bringing together statisticians and demographers from UCT and other institutions to debate contrasting analyses on fertility statistics. MISTRA Annual Lecture
MISTRA organises an Annual Lecture as well as occasional lectures on a variety of strategic themes. The Inaugural MISTRA Annual Lecture in March 2012 featured Professor Thandika Mkandawire
, Chair in African Development at the London School of Economics, on Building the African state in the age of globalisation – the role of social compacts and lessons for South Africa.
In March 2013, we hosted Prof. Mahmood Mamdani,
Professor and Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University, Kampala, who presented on the topic: Beyond Nuremberg: The Historical Significance of the Post-Apartheid Transition in South Africa. Partnership in Implementation
• The Institute, where possible, works with decision-makers and implementing agents in managing the practical realisation of the outcome of its work.
• This is facilitated by its ability to offer a blend of academic and intellectual expertise, on the one hand, and practical experience in policy implementation, on the other.