Monday, September 04, 2006

Status Report on the Evaluation of UNESCO's Science Programs

The Overall Review Committee for UNESCO Major Programs II (Natural Sciences) and III (Social and Human Sciences) has now met three times (13-15 March, 10-12 May and 12-13 July 2006). A brief status report has been prepared on their work for the 175th session of the Executive Board of UNESCO, which is to take place from 26 September to 12 October 2006.

The Second Phase of the Committee'’s activity is under way. It is to be a "full, evidence-based exploration and development of a new strategic framework for UNESCO'’s sciences work." This phase is to culminate in the delivery of the Committee's report to the 176th session of the Executive Board in April, 2007.

The Committee has met with the officers of and reviewed background documents on the staffing and budgets of the large intergovernmental and international science programs (ISPs), namely:
* Management of Social Transformations (MOST)
* Man and the Biosphere (MAB)
* International Hydrological Program (IHP)
* Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)
* International Geoscience Program (IGCP) and
* the International Basic Sciences Program (IBSP).
It has also sought documentation on the historical development of priorities in the Sciences Sectors, on the interactions with other parts of the United Nations system, and on United Nations country-level planning processes.

The Committee also held an information session was held with Permanent Delegates of the member nations to UNESCO and has met with a number of informants and representives of programs and scientific organizations.

The Committee members, during the First Phase of the review, noted that:
(i) UNESCO has a unique role to play in the sciences in today's world, given its international credibility, its special mandate for science within the United Nations system, its ability to act as a facilitator for developing countries to participate in research and development, including the support of networks, and to ensure the articulation of research results in global, regional and national endeavors. These strengths are central to its vital role as a capacity builder.

(ii) UNESCO also has a critical role in facilitating global, regional and country-level science policy development by improving the base of relevant scientific research knowledge and communication of that knowledge. This role is consistent with
UNESCO's multilateral standing, its cross-disciplinary capability, its financial capacity and its respected global reach to both governments and civil society.

(iii) However, the Organization is not exploiting these comparative advantages through dynamic, innovative and interdisciplinprograms, which would exemplify leadership in the sciences, reflect emerging global priorities, and avoid duplication with other United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations.

(iv) The scieprograms lack a high and uniform level of transparency across their management and budget activities, including detailed project-level personnel allocations, and adherence to standard procedures in such areas as selection of projects, evaluation of results, including performance indicators and sunset clauses in the management of activities.

(v) Within the science programs, there are too many small and isolated projects, involving direct action or funding efforts, which show little or no demonstrable impact relative to the efforts of other United Nations agencies.

(v) The numerous ISPs, each with their respective decision-making processes and bodies, operate too autonomously, in separate 'silos'”, despite the considerable mutual overlap both within programs and with many outside bodies. Thus, they fail to exploit their potential for enhancing synergies through more strategic coordination with related activities across the United Nations system, as well as through administrative coordination.

(vi) Intersectoral interdisciplinary activity both within the two Science Sectors and across the Organization is inadequate. In large part, this reflects a staffing and budget structure, which together creates a culture which hinders efforts to promote such activities. Therefore, UNESCO is missing the opportunity to design and manage programs in a manner which reflects the inherent interdisciplinary nature of all of today's major global problems.

(vii) The science programs lack visibility in the international arena, and reflect both their current limited impact and UNESCO's ineffective coordination and cooperation with other international science organizations, such as the International Council for Sciences. Furthermore, UNESCO is failing to take advantage of its National Commissions, field offices, centers, institutes, ISP Committees and Chairs to promote its science programs. The absence of an effective communications strategy involving such proactive outreach, including to various forms of the media, is a great hindrance to UNESCO's efforts to promote its leadership in the sciences.