1. Advancing science as a global public good

2019 was marked by the development and launch of the ISC’s first action plan, Advancing Science as a Global Public Good, which sets out the Council’s strategic priorities from 2019 to 2021.

The Action Plan 2019–2021 was developed over the course of 2019, through consultations within the ISC membership and with the broader international science community, and many months of discussions within the ISC Governing Board. It contains an ambitious programme of much-needed initiatives that will position the ISC as an impactful global voice for science. This programme is framed by four ‘domains of impact’ that reflect urgent priorities for science, in areas in which the ISC can provide leadership through its unique membership and convening power. The Action Plan also sets out a new regional strategy and fundraising plan for the Council, as well as a major project on scientific freedom and responsibility.

The Action Plan identifies twelve solutions-oriented initiatives to address major opportunities and challenges within the four domains. The projects and programmes presented are diverse in their nature, timescale and need for resources. Some are already in progress, building on previous work and existing partnerships, and some have been identified for further development beyond 2019. All work in synergy with the ISC’s portfolio of existing activities. The Action Plan is designed to be a living document, with project proposals that will be elaborated in consultation with members and partners, and flexibility to allow the Council to respond to major external developments, new opportunities and emerging issues.

Solutions-oriented projects

Domain Two: The digital revolution

Data-driven interdisciplinarity

Implemented in partnership with the Council’s affiliated programme, the Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), this project will enable more effective, evidence-based solutions for complex global challenges. These solutions will be based on interdisciplinary collaboration enabled by data integration policies and practices across scientific fields and disciplines. Having successfully completed a series of pilots, in 2019 CODATA designed a ten-year initiative, ‘Making Data Work for Cross-domain Grand Challenges’, to develop good practice in data integration and technologies that are applicable across a large range of disciplines. The programme will be launched at the 2021 ISC General Assembly.


Global data resources and governance

This project is intended to generate a global, cross-sectoral coalition of support for the principles and processes of data access, for the adoption of priorities for its federated governance, and for sustainable business models relating to key scientific databases – in a way that aids the global scientific enterprise. Scoping work for the project will begin in late 2020.


Our Common Digital Future

In partnership with the German Federal Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), Future Earth and others, the ISC is developing a global charter on ‘Our Common Digital Future’. A draft charter was available for review until January 2020. The partners have further agreed to collaborate on proposing to the UN the convening of a World Summit on ‘Sustainability in the Digital Age’, to be held in 2022, 30 years after the Rio Summit. Heide Hackmann (ISC CEO) and Dirk Messner (WBGU co-chair) co-authored an op-ed on the need for a charter (published in the German Frankfurter Rundschau, the Mexican online periodical Excelsior, and The Conversation).

Domain Three: Science in policy and public discourse

Science–policy interfaces at the global level

This project aims to create a strengthened mandate for science in global policy, supported by effective and coordinated mechanisms in the science–policy interface. Towards this aim, work in 2019 concentrated on an analysis of science in and for the United Nations system. The main development outputs from this work are a synthetic overview of the entry points for science in UN processes and structures, and an analysis of challenges and opportunities. This work, to be published in 2020, gathers together the experience and expertise of ISC members and partners at the interface between science and policy, and will make recommendations for how ISC actions can achieve increased impact in this area.


The public value of science

This project aims to increase awareness among the wider public, policy-makers and decision-makers of science as a global public good. Scoping work to convene expertise on issues around the public value of science is underway. This has included a meeting with the Australian Academy of Science to consider collaboration on a project, which was presented to members of the Council’s Committee for Science Planning and Committee for Outreach and Engagement.

See the 2020 update

Work will begin in 2020 to launch the project, which will see opportunities for Council members to be involved at national, regional and global levels.

“The Action Plan is agile, relevant, well communicated – but the international science community needs to find ways and means to lift its voice in the media.”

Roger Pfister, Swiss Academy of Sciences

Science in the private sector

With the private sector’s share of global science and innovation growing, this project aims to explore and build understanding on the norms of responsible conduct, transparency and ethical standards that are needed to protect science as a global good in both the public and private sectors. In order to initiate conversations on these issues, the ISC convened a panel of experts to reflect on scientific knowledge gaps and research priorities related to the development and deployment of technological solutions for the SDGs at the 2019 G-STIC (Global Sustainable Technology and Innovation Community) conference.

Domain Four: The evolution of science and science systems

Gender equality in science: from awareness to transformation

This project aims to increase gender equality in global science through improved sharing and use of evidence for gender policies and programmes in scientific institutions and organizations at national, regional and international levels. Towards this aim, the ISC and InterAcademy Partnership worked with Gender InSITE to survey academies on effective policies, programmes and practices to advance gender equality in science. A similar survey of the ISC union and association members is underway, and the results will be published in 2020.


Refugee and displaced scientists

This project – to raise awareness of and attention to the issue of refugee and displaced scientists – will be initiated in 2020, thanks to funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency in 2019. The project is led by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) under the auspices of Science International (a partnership involving the ISC, TWAS and the InterAcademy Partnership).


Open science in the Global South

In collaboration with its Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), the Council has been working with its regional offices and other partner organizations to create open science platforms that will convene and coordinate the regional interests, ideas, people, institutions and resources needed to advance data-intensive, solutions-oriented research in the Global South. A three-year pilot for an African open science platform ended in 2019, and planning is underway for the launch in 2020 of the platform’s operational phase. Inspired by the African example, there are now parallel initiatives under development in Asia and the Pacific, and in Latin America and the Caribbean.


The future of scientific publishing

With the current model of scientific publishing increasingly questioned by scientists and research funders, the Council will review the role of publishing in scientific enterprise, as a basis for identifying pathways for change that maximize the potential for rigour, creativity and impact. The aim will be to agree a set of principles for scientific publishing that can maximize benefits to global science and to the wider audience of scientific research.

“Where a professional society is involved in a journal, normally the people within the society are very motivated to maintain standards. I’ve been in professional societies all my life, and it’s been a major motor for me to be able to ensure standards of refereeing and training… As the ISC is the home for most of the scientific societies in the world, it’s an important issue for the ISC as well.”

Michael Spedding, Secretary General, International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, speaking in a blog for the ISC.

Science publishing blog series

In the first half of 2019, the International Science Council launched a mini-series of blogs on scientific publishing. This series was sparked by Plan S, an initiative launched by the European Commission in September 2018 and supported by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funders. Plan S requires that, from 2021, scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant open access journals or platforms.

The announcement of Plan S and later consultations on its development sparked a lively debate within the science community, and revealed many differing perspectives on methods for widening access to scholarly publishing, both for readers and authors. The ISC blog series, far from representing a set position, sought to give space to this diversity of views, through interviews with individuals such as Sabina Leonelli, co-author of the Global Young Academy’s statement on implementing Plan S, and Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer and member of the management board of Springer Nature.

The series launched with an interview with Robert-Jan Smits, then Open Access Envoy of the European Commission, who spearheaded the development of Plan S. We also heard from the community of ISC members, such as Luke Drury of the Royal Irish Academy and European ISC Members group, Michael Spedding, former Secretary General of the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, and Dominique Babini, Open Access Advisor to the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.

These pieces formed some of the year’s most-read stories on the ISC website, and gave an added impetus to the development of project 4.4.

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Knowledge production and diffusion as global public goods

This project aims to identify and promote systems of metrics, and rules for their use that could be adopted at the national level and which would enhance the value of research in serving the public good. Scoping work for the project will begin in late 2020.


Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR

Next up: Celebrating 2019, the International Year of the Periodic Table of Elements ▶

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