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Nurturing a Sustainable Future: Collaboration, Empowerment, Trust, and Resilience in Science at the ISC Mid-term Members Meeting

On 10 - 12 May, the International Science Council held its Mid-term Meeting of Members, the first all-member event since its creation in 2018, under the theme "Capitalizing on Synergies in Science".

Held in Paris, the meeting brought together more than 300 delegates from 80 countries for networking opportunities to strengthen relationships and provide a global platform to discuss the role of science in finding solutions to our complex global challenges.

“The world needs science – all science, packaged into actionable knowledge, ready to be acted upon to solve practical and pressing issues,” said Irina Bokova, ISC Patron and Co-Chair of the Council’s Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, in the meeting’s final address.

Scientists’ collaboration to achieve concrete solutions for sustainable development was a pivotal point of discussion during the three days. Members not only exchanged views on enhancing science as a tool for diplomacy and decision-making, but also explored ways to make significant advancements in advancing gender equality and the inclusion of young scientists from all regions within the scientific community.

Apart from thematic sessions addressing today’s challenges through science, several meetings focused on the ISC’s structure and future, with Member-led dialogues on the importance of the ISC in addressing global scientific issues and fostering collaboration among scientists worldwide.

An end to “business-as-usual” for global science

With the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadline approaching, it is vital for governments and international organizations to commit to science to provide solutions for global problems, said Bokova.

To that end, the ISC announced last week the launch of an in-house think tank, the Centre for Science Futures. The Centre will offer science-based guidance to policy-makers and undertake initiatives related to the future of the global scientific ecosystem. The Centre will focus on emerging trends in science and policy, gathering evidence and resources and providing analysis, says Mathieu Denis, Head of the ISC Centre for Science Futures.

The ISC Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, which offers science-based solutions to policy-makers, will report in July to the UN High-level Political Forum in New York, the main international forum monitoring progress on the SDGs. The Commission, composed of more than 20 committed experts, is working on making a compelling case for stepping out of our business-as-usual approaches towards structuring science, funding science and doing science.

“We are talking about a call to the active scientific community about the need for science to engage with society to produce actionable knowledge to promote long-term sustainability, locally and globally,” said ISC CEO Salvatore Aricò. “The goal of this new way of doing and funding science is to promote a viable model for global cooperation which foregrounds complex local and regional challenges and solutions.” 

Women’s participation in science

The need to push forward on gender equality in science was also a key topic among Members. While some institutions have made improvements, much more remains to be done. 

The discussions revolved around concrete steps to accelerate progress – including regularly gathering and publishing data to measure progress on leadership, and the inclusion and participation of women at all levels, including leadership roles. There was also a strong emphasis on developing codes of conduct, ensuring greater inclusion of women on selection panels, and sharing stories that highlight lessons learned and successful examples of positive change. Members were invited to engage with the Standing Committee on Gender Equality in Science.

Promoting young scientists

Members also emphasized the importance of empowering young scientists and increasing their representation in leadership positions. They exchanged ideas about how institutions can support this goal through initiatives that genuinely promote and engage young scientists, fostering a dynamic and inclusive scientific community.

More young scientists need to be in leadership roles – and when young scientists offer their perspectives to decision-makers, there needs to be clear follow-up to show how those ideas influence policy, said Priscilla Kolibea Mante, a neuropharmacologist and executive committee co-chair of the Ghana Young Academy.

“We need to put young scientists where their voices are actually making a difference”

Priscilla Kolibea Mante

Rebuilding trust in science

Promoting public trust in science and enhancing the public’s understanding of the scientific process emerged as recurring themes during the conference. Participants actively discussed strategies to cultivate trust by bridging the gap between scientists and the general public. These discussions aimed to foster a greater appreciation and comprehension of how scientists work, ultimately strengthening the relationship between science and society.

“We are all faced with this challenge of the erosion of trust in science. Tackling that problem will involve broad, interdisciplinary efforts across the international science community, encouraging clear communication to help the public understand the scientific process and make it more transparent.”

Salim Abdool Karim, ISC Vice-President for Outreach and Engagement.

Supporting science through enduring crises

It is increasingly difficult for scientists to work amidst escalating, complex crises: “There is a strong trend in global decline in scientific and academic freedom,” said Vivi Stavrou, Executive Secretary of the ISC’s Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in Science. 

The global scientific community has rallied behind Ukrainian scientists, helping many find safety and continue their work. ISC Members from around the world discussed ongoing efforts to protect colleagues – including from Magdalena Sajdak, Director of the Polish Academy of Science’s Scientific Centre in Paris, about her Academy’s work with Ukrainian scientists – and how to apply lessons learned in future crises. As complex crises continue, more must be done to protect individual scientists and the continuity of institutions, said Mathieu Denis, Senior Director at the ISC.

What’s next? 

“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the last five years; particularly what we’ve achieved in the last year and a half, since COVID allowed us to work in person again. But I’m also conscious that we’re about two steps up a fairly long stairway, and the stairway will never have an end,” said ISC President Peter Gluckman. 

ISC Members will meet next at two upcoming Global Knowledge dialogues, which aim to be venues for practical discussions about how science can push global progress on major issues like climate change and pandemic response. 

Members in Asia and the Pacific will meet in October 2023, and Members in Latin America and the Caribbean will meet in 2024. The council’s next General Assembly will take place in 2025 in Oman.

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