Towards a systems and complexity perspective of the national system of innovation.
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The national system of innovation (NSI) is well entrenched within South Africa’s policy discourse, as a conceptual framework for understanding the nature and functioning of the country’s totality of science and technology efforts. The NSI is proving to be a powerful concept in that it permits, for instance, a holistic view of how scientific activity relates to economic performance. However, the NSI is a relatively new construct in the South African context. For this reason, there is a need for a proper understanding of what constitutes the NSI, how it functions and how best to make sense of it. This study undertakes a hermeneutic exploration and assessment of the NSI as a conceptual framework for understanding the structure and performance of knowledge institutions within South Africa. To this end, the NSI concept is unbundled into its constituent elements and then subjected to a deep theoretical analysis in order to critically examine the core ideas behind the constituent terms. Drawing on the writer’s hermeneutic-phenomenological input, the study critically examines the salient features of the NSI as they find expression in various official science and technology policy documents and reports. The elements that make up South Africa’s national system of innovation are identified and their roles defined. An argument is presented as to why, collectively, these elements demonstrate system behaviour. Chaos and complexity frameworks are then employed to shape a conceptual platform to underpin this philosophical enquiry with an ultimate view to developing a robust theoretical framework of the NSI. The study demonstrates the usefulness of chaos and complexity in explaining, for example, the evolution and current organisation of the NSI. Recommendations have been made about how chaos and complexity perspectives could be applied in general and strategic management of the NSI, as well as in research.