Social science that makes a difference

Serving South Africa for more than 50 years, the HSRC is the largest research institute in Africa focusing on the social sciences and humanities. It produces and disseminates knowledge that contributes to policies and programmes to alleviate poverty, reduce inequality, and stimulate innovations for employment creation. More than knowledge production, the HSRC works towards the uptake of research for policy and impact. Collaborations and partnerships are critical and include local, regional and international public, private and community entities


Poverty alleviation: Through its realigned and engaged research agenda, the HSRC will contribute to government policy options and programmes on poverty alleviation. Reducing the inequality gap: In collaboration with government and civil society role players, the HSRC will work with research peers and communities to develop and test research-based solutions to reduce the inequality gap. Unemployment creation: By strengthening its research focus on economic growth and human capabilities, the HSRC will use its work around the Fourth Industrial Revolution and engagement with young people to identify and develop research-based innovations around employment creation.

Dedicated to development

South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world with high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Research in the humanities and social sciences helps us to understand the causes and history of these challenges, how people are affected, and how to improve lives – for example, through education, healthcare and job creation. The HSRC provides human insights to complement hard sciences and technology and assist policy makers to understand and resolve these societal issues. Our research agenda is strategically aligned with South Africa’s National Development Plan. Our divisions and centres focus on inclusive economic growth, developing the capabilities of South Africans, and building a capable state.

Informing policy

Policies are sets of decisions that guide government interventions to improve the lives of South Africans, for example, through education and health programmes, interventions to curb violence and efforts to stimulate the economy. Including human and social-science perspectives in policy development helps inform proactive and well-targeted responses, especially during times of crisis. Policies must be based on evidence to justify allocating scarce resources to their implementation and to make sure they benefit the most vulnerable people in society while retaining public trust and acceptance of the interventions. The HSRC’s research informs the policy-making process, but we also evaluate and monitor the implementation of policies and programmes, providing objective information to assess the country’s progress in achieving its goals. Examples include our contributions to track South Africa’s national HIV and AIDS strategic plans and policies; our assessments of numeracy and literacy in education; and our annual research and development survey.

Collaboration and capacity building

Collaboration is key to the HSRC’s success. Our local and international stakeholders and collaborators include government departments and their implementation agencies, private sector organisations, civil and community organisations, research councils, universities, United Nations agencies, and basic- and higher-education departments and organisations. Many of our leading researchers serve on international scientific bodies and we have a strong footprint in other African countries. The HSRC also contributes to the development of local human and social science research capacity through its research trainee programme which hosts master’s trainees, doctoral trainees and post-doctoral fellows.

Public engagement and communication

The HSRC conducts and promotes social science and humanities research that is in the public interest. Our research aims to advance South Africa and Africa's understanding of and engagement with its social conditions and their local contexts. We aim to generate knowledge that contributes to local, regional and global understandings of the human and social conditions of people, and the processes and interventions which will assist in the improvement of their social standing. We value the greater inclusion of communities in knowledge production and dissemination. To broaden our understanding of their needs, many of our projects also invite communities to participate in research processes from the outset. The HSRC’s research outputs include reports, occasional papers and scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals, books and a news magazine that allows us to improve the public understanding of science. These publications are disseminated by the HSRC Press, through policy briefs aimed at the government and policy makers, and through the media, including social media platforms, our website, conferences and extensive research networks.

Large-scale surveys

The HSRC has a track record in conducting large-scale longitudinal surveys and providing new understandings of the key societal problems. For example, the HSRC has built scientific capacity and shared practical experience through several key national surveys. Such studies have illuminated the scope of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; contributed to improved approaches to dealing with early childhood development; and revealed the extent of the challenge of learning achievement in literacy and numeracy. Furthermore, the HSRC has extensive technical capabilities in project management, implementation of fieldwork projects, data analysis and data curation.

Our Values


Respecting equality, embracing ideas, and speaking out against discrimination of any kind

Critical friendship

Pursuing non-partisanship but collaborating with all stakeholders, including the government


Conducting business honestly, diligently and underpinned by ethical principles, while embracing, but not abusing, intellectual freedom


Treating colleagues, stakeholders and members of the public with dignity and humility; observing organisational policies and processes; and preserving the environment and natural resources


Undertaking leading-edge research while remaining relevant.


Creating a safe and supportive working environment for colleagues