A brief history

The International Science Council (ISC) was created in 2018 from a merger of the International Council for Science (founded in 1931) and the International Social Science Council (founded in 1952).

A brief history

At their joint General Assembly in Taipei in October 2017, the members of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) took a decision to merge the two organizations to become the International Science Council (ISC).
More information

Highlights from the history of the International Council for Science (ICSU)

Over the years, ICSU addressed specific global issues through the creation of Interdisciplinary Bodies, and of Joint Initiatives in partnership with other organizations. Important programmes of the past include the International Polar Year (2007-08), International Geophysical Year (1957-58) and the International Biological Programme (1964-74). Major current programmes include the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), DIVERSITAS: An International Programme of Biodiversity Science and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP).

In 1992, ICSU was invited to act as principal scientific adviser to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and, again in 2002, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Prior to UNCED, ICSU organized an International Conference on an Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the 21st Century (ASCEND 21) in Vienna, in 1991, and ten years later, ICSU mobilized the scientific community even more broadly by organizing, with the help of other organizations, a Scientific Forum in parallel to the WSSD itself. ICSU also actively participated in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, 2003 and Tunis, 2005.

More highlights from ICSU’s history

9 October 1899Foundation of the International Association of Academies, Wiesbaden, Germany. World War I effectively ends this first attempt at grouping the world’s academies together.
1919-31International Research Council — inaugural meeting in Brussels, preparations for foundation of ICSU to include Scientific Unions as Members.
1931ICSU founded in Brussels. Unions now full members
1947Formal relations established with UNESCO
1957Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) established
1957-58International Geophysical Year, also the 3rd International Polar Year
1958Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) created
1960Launch of the Scientific Committee on Frequency Allocations for Radio Astronomy and Space Science (IUCAF)
1962-7Years of the Quiet Sun — A follow-up effort to IGY, which had been organized during a solar maximum, this programme aimed to undertake research during a solar minimum
1964-74International Biological Programme — inspired by the IGY, this was a decadal effort to coordinate large-scale ecological and environmental studies.
1966Committee On Science & Technology in Developing Countries (COSTED) created (the precursor of the Regional Offices), Committee on Data (CODATA) established, Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) established
1967Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) (precursor of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)) founded (with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO))
1980WCRP succeeds GARP
1985The ICSU “Ringberg Conference” explores the future of science and ICSU’s role in it. It calls for a broadening of the disciplines involved in ICSU’s activities, specifically naming social scientists, engineers and medical scientists.
1985Villach meeting: The joint UNEP/WMO/ICSU conference “International Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and of other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts” is remembered as a turning point in creating global awareness of climate change.
1987Launch of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).
1989Advisory Committee on the Environment set up to guide ICSU’s multidisciplinary work on the environment
1990ICSU accepts invitation to become principal scientific adviser to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992) and has a visible role at the event
1990Visegrad conference on International Science and its Partners continues the Ringberg effort to enlarge ICSU’s reach including to the private sector
1991Launch of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) (with UNESCO IOC, WMO, UNEP)
1991ICSU organizes Conference in Vienna on An Agenda of Science for Evironment and Development (ASCEND 21)
1992INASP created as the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (with UNESCO, The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS))
1992Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) launched (with WMO, UNESCO IOC, UNEP)
1996International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) created – co-sponsored ICSU-ISSC, based on ISSC’s HDP created in 1990. ICSU becomes a co-sponsor of DIVERSITAS.
1996Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) created (with WMO, UNESCO, UNEP, FAO)
2002-2007Regional Offices established in Africa, Asia & Pacific, Latin America & Caribbean
2007-08Fourth International Polar Year
2008Launch of Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR, with ISSC and UNISDR) and of the World Data System (WDS)
2011Launch of Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment (with UNU & IAP)
2012Launch of Future Earth at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 as a merger of IGBP, IHDP and DIVERSITAS
2014Launch of the International Network on Government Science Advice (INGSA)
2015Launch of the “Science International” partnership with ISSC, IAP and TWAS
2017Members vote overwhelmingly in favour of a merger of ICSU and ISSC
2018ICSU and ISSC merge to become the International Science Council (ISC).

Highlights from the history of the International Social Science Council (ISSC)

The origins of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) lie in the aftermath of the Second World War, an era marked by the expectation that the social sciences would contribute directly to solving social problems. In September 1950 the World Congress of International Sociological and Political Science Associations advocated

“the development, as rapidly as possible, of an International Council for Social Research to serve as a clearing house, a centre of information and consultation, an instrument for facilitating co-operative and comparative studies”.

A year later, the 6th General Conference of UNESCO followed this up by passing the resolution which formally led to the founding of the ISSC, authorising the Director-General “…to establish an International Social Science Research council and an International Social Science research Centre for the study of the implications of technological change”, as well as to survey existing social-science research institutes

“…with a view to subsequent examination of the contribution of these institutions might make to the scientific solution of the most important problems of the present age and for the purpose of aiding their development and cooperation”.

It was clear from the start that the motive behind the creation of the ISSC was the expectation that the social sciences would contribute directly to the solving of social problems, and this mission informed all of the ISSC’s subsequent initiatives. The activities of the ISSC were guided by the principles of academic freedom, pursuit of excellence, equitable access to scientific information and data, unfettered conduct of science, open communication and transparency, accountability, and the use of knowledge for societal value. In addition, the Council supported the participation of women, minorities and others under-represented in social science research. Some highlights from the ISSC’s history are outlined in the commemorative booklet available here, and below:

Some highlights from the ISSC’s history, 1952 – 2018

October 1952Constitutive Assembly of the International Social Science Council held in Paris, France, followed a year later by the first General Assembly and elections of the Executive Committee. The ISSC’s first Secretary-General was French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and its first President Donald Young, a sociologist from the United States.
1953The International Bureau for Research into the Social Implications of Technological Progress (BIRISPT) was created in 1953 as a research arm of the ISSC. It was led by Georges Balandier, a French anthropologist.
1962The ISSC started publishing Social Science Information (SSI)/ Information sur les sciences sociales, a bilingual, pluri-disciplinary journal reporting on critical intellectual and institutional social science developments worldwide.
1963The ISSC established the Coordination Centre for Social Science Research and Documentation – better known as the ‘Vienna Centre’ – to support cooperation and collaborations between Eastern and Western European social scientists on problems of shared relevance and interest.
1965Standing Committees were established for programmes of research in three new areas: comparative studies, data archives and environmental disruption.
1972The ISSC statutes were revised, making the ISSC a federation of international disciplinary associations, following the model of ICSU, and of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (CIPSH). The structural change increased membership, with the accession of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), the International Law Association (ILA), the International Geographical Union (IGU), the International Society for Criminology (ISC), the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) and World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH).
1973The ISSC established the Conference of National Social Science Councils and Analogous Bodies (CNSSC, now the International Federation of Social Science Organizations, IFSSO) to facilitate cooperation between national social science bodies.
1973Stein Rokkan was elected as ISSC President in 1973. Together with Secretary-General Samy Friedman, he initiated four new areas of thematic and structural work: World Models, to study and review computer models for forecasting long-term trends of change; Urban Networks, to advance comparative analysis of interactions among cities and the consequences of locational patterns for inequalities; World Social Science Development, a Committee of ‘Third World’ social scientists developing a set of joint activities, and Social Conditions, an advisory group identifying priority tasks for research and action in the social sciences.
1988In the context of growing public concern about the environment, the Human Dimensions of Global Change Committee (HDGC) was formed to study interactions between human activities and the whole Earth System.
1992The Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) was established in 1992, with support from the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway. CROP’s mission is to build independent and critical knowledge on poverty, and to help shape policies for preventing and eradicating poverty.
2008The Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Programme (IRDR) was launched by the ISSC, ICSU and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). IRDR is an integrated research programme focused on dealing with the challenges brought by natural disasters, mitigating their impacts, and improving related policy mechanisms.
2009The first World Social Science Forum took place in Bergen, Norway, on the topic ‘One Planet: Worlds Apart?’
2010The World Social Science Report on ‘Knowledge Divides’ was published. The Report reviews how social science knowledge is produced, disseminated and used in different parts of the world.
2012The World Social Science Fellows programme was launched with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The aim of the programme was to foster a new generation of globally networked research leaders who would collaborate in addressing global problems with particular relevance for low- and middle-income countries. Between 2012 and 2015 over 200 early-career scientists were selected to participate in a series of seminars, conferences and networking events on urgent global challenges.
2012Launch of Future Earth at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 as a merger of IGBP, IHDP and DIVERSITAS.
2013The 2013 World Social Science Forum took place in Montreal, Canada, on the topic of ‘Social Transformations and the Digital Age’.
2013The 2013 World Social Science Report was co-published with the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The topic was ‘Changing Global Environments’. The Report issued an urgent call to the international social science community to deliver solutions-oriented knowledge on pressing environmental problems.
2014The Transformations to Sustainability programme was launched with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The programme aims to support inter- and trans-disciplinary research led by social scientists to contribute knowledge on social transformations towards sustainability.
2015The 2015 World Social Science Forum gathered around 1000 participants in Durban, South Africa. The topic was ‘Transforming Global Relations for a Just World’.
2016The 2016 World Social Science Report was produced by the ISSC in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The topic was ‘Challenging Inequalities: Pathways to a Just World’.
2017ISSC Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a merger with ICSU during a joint meeting in Taipei.
2018A new phase of the Transformations to Sustainability programme developed by the ISSC, the Belmont Forum of research funders and the NORFACE network of social science funders was launched. It will fund twelve international projects for three years.
2018ISSC merged with ICSU to become the International Science Council (ISC).

ICSU-ISSC merger

At their joint General Assembly in Taipei in October 2017, the members of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) took a final decision to merge the two organizations to become the International Science Council (ISC).

The founding General Assembly of the new Council took place in Paris, France, from July 3 to July 5, 2018.

The strategy of the new organization emphasizes that the importance of scientific understanding to society has never been greater, as humanity grapples with the problems of living sustainably and equitably on planet Earth. It stakes out a space for the Council to defend the inherent value and values of all science at a time when it has become harder for the scientific voice to be heard. It will strengthen international, interdisciplinary collaboration and support scientists to contribute solutions to complex and pressing matters of global public concern. It will advise decision makers and practitioners on the use of science in achieving ambitious agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015. And it will encourage open public engagement with science.

The vision of the new Council, as stated in the High-Level Strategy, is to advance science as a global public good. Scientific knowledge, data and expertise must be universally accessible and its benefits universally shared. The practice of science must be inclusive and equitable, also in opportunities for scientific education and capacity development.

According to its mission statement, the new Council will act as the global voice of science. That voice will:

  • Speak for the value of all science and the need for evidence, informed understanding and decision-making;
  • Stimulate and support international scientific research and scholarship on major issues of global concern;
  • Articulate scientific knowledge on such issues in the public domain;
  • Promote the continued and equal advancement of scientific rigour, creativity and relevance in all parts of the world; and
  • Defend the free and responsible practice of science.

For detailed background information on the merger process, see this Gitbook that was updated on a regular basis during the merger.


2015Exchange of letters between the ISSC and ICSU Presidents on the future relationship between the two Councils
November 2015Agreement reached on Terms of Reference for an ICSU-ISSC Working Group to explore closer institutional alignment, and possible amalgamation, between the two Councils.
January 2016First meeting of the joint ICSU-ISSC Working Group
April 2016Executive bodies of ISSC and ICSU follow the Working Group’s recommendation for the two Councils to merge, and recommend this course to the Council’s members
June 2016Joint meeting of the ISSC and ICSU Executives
October 2016Joint ICSU/ISSC General Assembly decides in-principle to pursue a merger
November 2016Call for nominations for the Strategy Working Group and the Transition Task Force
December 2016Strategy Working Group and Transition Task Force appointed by the Executives of ICSU and ISSC
February 2017Strategy Working Group and Transition Task Force meet
end February 2017Draft strategy submitted to Executives
end March 2017Draft strategy submitted to ISSC and ICSU members
by 15 May 2017Members submit feedback on draft strategy
30-31 May 2017Strategy Working Group meeting
June 2017Final strategy submitted to Executives of ISSC and ICSU
28-29 June 2017Joint meeting of the ICSU and ISSC Executives
July 2017Final strategy and final outputs of the Transition Task Force submitted to members
23-26 October 201732nd ICSU General Assembly and extraordinary ISSC General Assembly approve strategy and transition plans
3-5 July 2018First General Assembly of the International Science Council (ISC)

Skip to content