Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Report on the Evaluation of the Science Programs


5 April 2007

This is a report made on the occasion of the 176th meeting of UNESCO's Executive Board, in April 1007 (176 EX/7). It reflects a year of work by an expert committee that reviewed the natural science and the social and human science programs of UNESCO. The committee received extensive briefings from UNESCO staff and held a series of public hearings with representatives of the six UNESCO Intergovernmental/international scientific programs (ISPs) within the two Science Sectors:
* The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC),
* The International Basic Sciences Program (IBSP),
* The International Hydrological Program (IHP),
* The International Geosciences Program (IGCP),
* The Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB), and
T The Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST).
Presentations were also made on the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

Click on the title above and you can read the whole report.

Here are some excerpts:
Although the global context has greatly evolved over the past six decades, UNESCO’s mandate in science and in all its sectors is at least as relevant today as since its founding. Today, the world faces new challenges as a result of unequal economic development, environmental degradation, demographic evolution, political transformations and globalization. Major threats to natural and human security such as global climate change, emergence and spread of infectious diseases and loss of biological diversity are testing our intellectual capabilities, while humanitarian imperatives and development needs remain as critical as ever. Sustainable solutions, whether at the global, regional or country level, require more advances in scientific knowledge, discoveries and understanding, stronger integration of research and education and identification of practical measures for action......

UNESCO has one real comparative advantage within the United Nations system: it is the only agency which, through its mission, can integrate science, education and culture. However, given its limited budget, UNESCO cannot be a funding agency for research or development. It can act as a catalyst for actions performed in collaboration with others, thus providing significant financial leveraging and maximizing the Organization’s impact. In this way, it facilitates participation in research, including the development of networks, and in the articulation and application of research results in global, regional and national endeavours. UNESCO’s international credibility, special mandate for science within the United Nations system, intellectual reputation, convening power and global presence provide a solid foundation for its crucial roles as facilitator and capacity-builder.

In particular, the Organization acts as a facilitator of global, regional and country-level science policy development by improving the base of relevant scientific research knowledge and communicating that knowledge by promoting policy work and participating in formulating policy advice, as well as building country capacity in policy-making, scientific monitoring and benchmarking. This collective activity fits UNESCO’s multilateral standing as a United Nations agency, its cross-disciplinary capability, and its respected global reach to both governments and civil society.
Recognizing many problems in UNESCO's current science programs, their management, their reputation, and their impact, their impact, the committee made important recommendations:
The Committee’s vision for UNESCO is an organization recognized for its leadership role within the United Nations system, based on a strategic reorientation of its science portfolio towards contributing to poverty reduction and peace, and consisting of a set of well managed timely programmes, reflecting cutting edge interdisciplinary science, taking maximum advantage of all of its assets, demonstrating its comparative advantages, leading in new ideas, ensuring quality and excellence, attracting the best scientists, and demonstrating to governments that investment in science and technology is vital to human, social and economic progress.

A key feature of this vision is the innovative and synergistic way that UNESCO’s science portfolio will bring together the natural, social and human sciences in programmes and activities designed to tackle the multidimensional aspects of poverty and conflicts.
In response to its main findings, the Committee proposed nine sets of recommendations for UNESCO’s science portfolio:
• Policy advice towards capacity-building needs strengthening.
• Programmes must address new scientific paradigms and “cutting edge” research.
• Interdisciplinary and intersectoral activities need major strengthening.
• Science education should be a high priority.
• The ISPs need better coordination and synergy.
• Outreach and partnerships need improvement.
• Rigorous and transparent selection, assessment and evaluation of programmes and
projects are required.
• UNESCO’s leadership must be enhanced through new global initiatives.
• A Science Advisory Committee is required.
Editor's comment: I suspect that the well intentioned recommendations will not be fully endorsed by the governing bodies of UNESCO. The member States of UNESCO have been relatively unwilling to fund the science programs from the regular budget, preferring apparently to provide extrabudgetary resources for the science programs which they individually prefer. The ISPs, under the control of their governing bodies, carry out programs of great international importance with separate funding and are little hindered by the winds of change within the larger UNESCO. The Centers (which enjoy a large part of UNESCO's science funding) seem to enjoy considerable support from the scientific communities which they serve and the countries in which they are located. If the funding does not line up behind the committee's recommendations, those recommendations will have little impact. More the pity since there is a major need for an intergovernmental body to pull together many disparate lines of support for science, to bring science more fully to bear on the problems of peace and sustainable development, and to catalyze a major global effort to build scientific capacity in the developing world. UNESCO could and should do more! JAD

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