I had recently placed a post on the CPUT Food Technology Facebook page (for Alumni, feel free to join it since it is a page since it is a valuable tool for networking). The post itself dealt with grey knowledge (or retirees in the industry to be more precise) but there is a bigger picture to this request.

This bigger picture relates to elements of the food innovation chasm as it exists in South Africa toward identifying products, processes and stakeholders for the design of, and implementation plan towards, the utilization of existing, under-utilized or un-utilized solutions to problems in industry. The actual identification of some elements that constitute this chasm may be explored by:

  • Researching the literature and using retired industry experts (grey knowledge) to assist in specifying innovation gaps;
  • Matching unused solutions to existing problems;
  • Identifying not-yet-explored problems and possible solutions to these.

In terms of a number of national policy-based statements as well as rhetoric in the public domain, the term “innovation chasm” has cropped up regularly over the past few years. This is true for the Department of Science & Technology (DST) via the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Higher Education and Training and also the Provincial Government Western Cape (PGWC) as well as numerous other state, public/private and private organizations.

In the second draft of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (February 2011) of the DTI, this particular issue of the chasm is addressed. On page 76, three levels of intervention are suggested regarding commercialization, one of which is exactly something which this blog addresses viz.:

Consolidation of existing commercial opportunities from research work previously carried out but which has not been fully commercialized and with respect to technologies that can be acquired in order to upscale production capabilities in defined sectors where opportunities exist.

These references or statements about the “innovation chasm” have different connotations, including those related to very broad issues and also, at the other end of the spectrum, very narrow ones e.g. international, continental, national and local. This is further narrowed per economic and industry sector. This is so for the food industry.

For the purposes of this blog, the term “innovation chasm” will be deemed to include the following general concepts:

  • The gap between the fields of academic study versus the needs of the industry itself;
  • The existing body of knowledge with respect to these fields that had not yet been applied and
  • The existing body of un-expressed needs and potential solutions vested in experts (retired or otherwise) in the field.

As mentioned in the previous Facebook post, my own observations when talking to highly experienced and/or retired experts, they usually tend to expand on a range of problems (old and new) that have not yet been properly remedied in their respective industry sectors for whatever reason. As a University of Technology, these practical problems are just what we need to conduct research on and also supply solutions for.

To actually conduct such research and also to assess the viability of setting up a database of retired experts will require that personnel involved, individually or collectively, must themselves have an extensive general knowledge of the national food product development game, processing and packaging experience (preferably from primary agriculture upstream), including appropriate networks and also the gravitas associated with the nature of interrogation required by such an endeavor. This includes an appropriate scientific and technical background to identify potential gaps to be further investigated by specialists in the field.

ATS will attempt to investigate both these solutions i.e. a database of experts and also identification of innovation chasm gaps. Mind the gap and watch this space.

Larry Dolley
p.s. Alumni, please feel free to contribute your thoughts on this!