Surprise success – moving SA-TIED seminars online makes them more engaging and fruitful

In September 2020, due to the ongoing pandemic, SA-TIED moved its seminar series online. What once took place at the National Treasury in Pretoria, now takes place once or twice a month on Zoom.

The SA-TIED seminar series is designed to bring South African and international researchers and local policy makers together, to discuss research findings and to work towards solving the economic and social challenges faced by everyday South Africans.

While engaging in person is often preferable as it fosters relationship-building, the online format of the seminar series has had unexpected success in generating meaningful policy discussions.

Policy makers from across South Africa, not just in Pretoria, are now able to participate. Researchers and economists from different institutions around the world are also becoming frequent attendees — diversifying discussions with new perspectives.

The informal nature of the online seminar series, designed to feel more like a meeting among colleagues as opposed to a formal webinar, has led to riveting Q&A sessions — sometimes even lasting upwards of 45 minutes.

‘The discussions are, by design, non-technical, which forces researchers to get the key research findings and policy messages across in a clear and concise manner. This engagement with policy makers, facilitated by UNU-WIDER and SA-TIED, is important and necessary for the work to be understood and genuinely considered by the relevant authorities,’ expressed Professor Heinrich Bohlmann after his seminar on Petrol price regulation in South Africa.

As Zoom meetings have become normalized, and the idea of presenting on camera has become less daunting, the online seminar series has yielded more participation from audience members. Researchers and policy makers feel more comfortable asking one another tough and important questions – leading to further research and policy changes.

‘It’s very helpful for researchers to be able to engage directly with policy makers, a key audience for research findings. Seminars of this type provide the freedom to have unconstrained discussions on real issues confronting the economy and the country,’ said Professor Rod Crompton, another prominent speaker from the seminar series.  

While the pandemic has caused SA-TIED to change much of the way it operates, the online seminar series has been a welcome silver lining, and a significant way in which SA-TIED research reaches the hands of those it’s intended for.

To watch the SA-TIED seminar series, please click here.