Transformative Innovation, the 4th Industrial Revolution and Sustainable Development

Find out about this project, exploring innovation in Africa and Sustainable Development Goals.


The topic of a Fourth Industrial Revolution has taken central stage in both academic and policy debates due to its potential for the transformation of economies and societies across the world. The impact of rapid technological advances, if not carefully considered, could exacerbate existing social challenges. A commonly identified risk is that Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies could leave millions of people across the world without jobs, intensifying income inequalities. Consequently, the challenges faced by African countries are considered greater than those faced by technologically advanced countries, as disruptive technologies would be implemented in a context often characterised by low technical skills, deficient education and training systems, predominance of labour-intensive industries, severe inequalities and endemic unemployment.

This new project aims to develop and test a new framework to understand transformation, in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and from an African perspective. In addition to exploring innovation in African countries, the programme will also look at the governance and policy issues of how to exploit the transformative potential of these technologies to address the Sustainable Development Goals.


The programme will work with the existing Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium (TIPC) currently coordinated by SPRU. The aim is to develop a Community of Practice in the area of “transformative innovation policy” by building a TIPC Hub in Sub-Saharan Africa. This Hub will build not only a research network but also a set of sustained policy engagements focused on policy experimentation and evaluation for transformative change.

The project will also aim to build African scholarships in two areas related to the fourth industrial revolution:

  • developing new frameworks to examine transformative innovation
  • scholarship on transformative innovation policy.

The main aim is to ensure that the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is harnessed for the specific conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa and in particular South Africa and Kenya, the countries focused on.

The research aims to understand how changes in socio-technical systems are influenced by the rapid technological developments under the Fourth Industrial Revolution and how the transformative potential of these changes can be exploited to encourage sustainable development.

Impact and outreach

The project aims to meet the three following objectives:

  • develop new frameworks to explore transformative innovation
  • promote and build the capacity of younger scholars to help develop the next generation of African thinkers
  • engage with policy makers as key stakeholders and research partners, to influence policy change.

During the first five years, the programme intends to support four training workshops for policy makers in African countries. This will help to create wider impact and to disseminate the findings from the research activities. This activity will lead to a community of practice connected to the TIPC Africa Hub. Policy makers will be invited to become alumni of a policy maker TIPC Africa Hub association. They will also be able to participate in the wider TIPC activities including the annual conference and international workshops.


The Trilateral Research Chair programme is a collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the British Council under the Newton Fund.

The aim of the programme is to build long term research collaborations with the three partners below, while also providing opportunities for mentoring and mobility of Early-Career and Emerging Researchers who are mentored and supervised by the Research Chairs and/or Leading and Established Researchers.