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UJ’s Prof Danielle Nel-Sanders focuses on mitigating wicked risks through alternative service delivery

The Professorial Inauguration of Professor Danielle Nel-Sanders took place on Tuesday 21 November 2023 at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s Ubuntu Chambers at the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.

In attendance were esteemed guests including the Vice-Chancellor functionary Ms. Nolwazi Mamorare, Dean of the College of Business Economics, Professor Lungile Ntsalaze and Professor Nel-Sanders’s loved ones.

Prof Danielle Nel-Sanders

Professor Nel-Sanders, a Full Professor at the School of Public Management, Governance and Public Policy presented her inaugural professorial address titled, “Mitigating wicked risks through effective alternative service delivery”.

Professor Nel-Sanders shared that her research aims to understand public sector risk and its impact on important policy programmes via alternative service delivery. She argues that alternative service delivery is crucial for enhancing government service delivery, especially since government simply does not have the capacity to ensure innovative service delivery to adapt to the demands of the Fourth and Fifth Industrial Revolutions.

Her research considers wicked problems and the role that alternative service delivery plays in addressing wicked problems. Her research has concluded that traditional hierarchical methods of bureaucratic governance are no longer sufficient to address wicked problems. Government, she says,  does not have the capacity, expertise, or resources to address wicked problems, such as sustainable development problems, by itself. Hence, the significance of network and collaborative governance is on the rise, particularly in addressing complex problems.

From left to right: Professor Lungile Ntsalaze; Dean of the College of Business and Economics; Professor Danielle Nel-Sanders;  UJ Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Nolwazi Mamorare

Wicked risks and their challenges to society

Prof Nel-Sanders said wicked risks pose several risks for society, that if left unmitigated, can escalate. ”If left unmitigated,[these risks] can escalate into more severe forms of risk, namely existential and systemic risks. Wicked risks are overlapping, unstructured, and multifaceted in nature. Wicked risks are presented in problems with wicked features, such as energy policy, disruptive technology, environmental governance, and innovation, all of which are necessary for the realisation of sustainable development,” she said.

She added that leaders or those involved in governance should explore alternatives to conventional governance as it is not sufficient to mitigate risks.

“And government alone does not possess the capacity to mitigate the risks. Effective alternative service delivery is needed to overcome wicked risks amidst turbulent times. Specifically, three alternative service delivery approaches are suggested, namely: partnerships, digital governance, and service delivery innovation.”

She concluded by stating that robust governance responses are needed to mitigate wicked risks.

“My research suggests that robust governance responses are needed to mitigate these wicked risks, and that alternative service delivery presents robust features to mitigate these risks given that it is more flexible, agile, adaptable, and decentralised in nature than simply relying on traditional government responses. Lastly, risk-informed decision-making should be placed at the centre of the reform agenda for a super smart and sustainable society”.

A brief response by Professor Fanie Cloete, Emeritus Professor at the University of Johannesburg and Stellenbosch University followed the address by Professor Nel-Sanders.

A career of studying risk

Professor Nel-Sanders’ research interests lie within the area of Public Sector Risk Management, Sustainable Development and Alternative Service Delivery. She lectures Research Methodology at the postgraduate level.

During the course of her career, Professor Nel-Sanders has supervised 174 Honours research projects, 15 Master’s and four (4) Doctorates successfully to completion, and she has published 43 journal articles. Moreover, she is the Chief Editor of Administratio Publica, a journal accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training. Professor Nel-Sanders is a National Research Foundation rated researcher. She has received various research grants over the last decade. She has also presented Research Methodology workshops at selected universities in Africa.

Watch the Inauguration here:


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