International Workshop on Science for Development: Building Bridges Across Disciplines

This experimental workshop aimed to stimulate new conversations and collaborations to support socio-economic development.

An international, interdisciplinary workshop on “Science for Development” was held on January 30-31, 2020 at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. The aim of the workshop was to create a space for interaction between natural scientists, technology experts, social scientists and development practitioners, in order to encourage and develop interdisciplinary initiatives with tangible benefits to society which could contribute to the achievement of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda.

ISC President Daya Reddy, in a keynote address, emphasized the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the role of science as a “global public good”. He stressed the importance of interdisciplinary work between the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences in understanding and promoting science for development, and encouraged participants to use the SDGs not only as a method of measuring progress but as a policy driver. International Astronomical Union (IAU) President Ewine van Dishoeck shared the progress made in astronomy over the past 100 years, and how the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)’s flagship projects are promoting socio-economic development, and have championed science for peace-making. She also spoke about the need for fundamental scientific research in the developing world as a driver of science for development – i.e. you can’t have astronomy for development if there is no development of astronomy in the country.

Overall, the workshop stimulated thinking and action on several themes in science for development. It encouraged participants to interrogate how their research is relevant in people’s lives, some of the major challenges facing the developing world – particularly in the context of the global climate crisis – and the lack of relevant data, and how to ensure that projects are developed in collaboration with the communities affected.

The workshop was jointly hosted by the ISC Regional Office for Africa (ROA), which is based at the Academy of Science of South Africa, and the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), which is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory (a facility of the National Research Foundation). Both the ISC ROA and IAU OAD are supported by the Department of Science and Innovation.

The workshop was further supported by several partners: South African Institute of Physics, Inter-university Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy, DataFirst, Human Sciences Research Council, Academy of Science of South Africa, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cosmopolitan Karoo, Stellenbosch University, Research on Socio-Economic Policy, University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, African Astronomical Society, UCT School of IT, Centre for High Performance Computing, South African National Space Agency, and Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy Big Data Project.