High-Level Strategy of the International Science Council

The High-Level Strategy describes the overall strategic goals and ambitions of the International Science Council.

4. Realizing the mission

4.1 Priorities

Issues and target audiences

The Council will realize its mission by convening the international scientific expertise and resources needed to provide leadership in catalysing, incubating and coordinating action on issues of priority to both the scientific community and the society of which
it is a part.

This will involve the Council directing its voice both externally, on matters of major relevance to society, and internally, to support effective scientific responses to such matters, particularly where new knowledge, capacities, resources, or ways of working are required. External engagement about “science-for-policy” priorities thus creates demand-led imperatives for internal engagement about “policy-for-science” priorities.

External engagement:

Instances that would motivate external engagement and examples of relevant priorities include cases where:

  • Scientific understanding is appropriate to the formulation of major policy frameworks: e.g. energy systems, antibiotic resistance, risk in complex systems;
  • Existing policies have failed to take relevant scientific knowledge into account: e.g. health policies based on homeopathic solutions, implementation of the law of the sea that ignores scientific understanding of the oceans;
  • Ongoing scientific input and advice is required: e.g. international strategies for disaster risk reduction, migration, climate change, environmental degradation, inequalities, infectious diseases, security, and sustainable development;
  • Issues arising from new scientific understanding have major but unrecognized implications for society, which call for awareness-raising: e.g. artificial intelligence and the future of work, potential transformations of the human through implantation or genetic manipulation;
  • The freedom of scientists to express their scientific understanding and its implications is denied, where the free movement and association of scientists is restricted, or where scientists are being persecuted in the pursuit of their work.

The United Nations (UN) and its specialized agencies represent a priority target for work on these kinds of issues, and the Council will strive to be the major conduit for strong, systemic interaction between the UN and the scientific community. Other important target audiences for external engagement would include:

  • Regional inter-governmental organizations and their respective scientific advisory structures, e.g. the European and African Unions, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the G8/G20;
  • The international private sector, which plays an increasing (albeit informal) role in global governance, in managing global resources, and in the innovation and marketing of powerful new technologies; and
  • Civil society; a difficult target but arguably the most important as, in the modern world, the development of a scientific ethos, an understanding of the nature of scientific evidence, and access to knowledge and its potential uses, are all vital ingredients for a politically vigorous and aware population.

Internal engagement:

Instances that would motivate internal engagement and examples of relevant priorities include the need to:

  • Mobilize support for new research, or the improvement of existing scientific understanding of contemporary challenges: e.g. causality in the climate system, the characterization of complex systems, conflicts, cyber worlds;
  • Address inequalities in science, critical capacity needs, and conditions for effective international scientific collaboration: e.g. modern data science capabilities, strengthened support for the social sciences in low- and middle-income countries, the promotion of opportunities for early career scientists, gender equality in science, the role of indigenous knowledge;
  • Develop updated and more effective policies and practices: e.g. on expert systems for non-experts, science education and scientific careers, peer review, the evaluation of excellence and societal impact of science, scientific ethics and integrity;
  • Promote new ways of working, to adapt to the changing social dynamics of science, or to exploit changing technologies: e.g. the practice and evaluation of trans-disciplinarity, translational research, cross-disciplinary data integration, reproducibility, scientific publishing.

The international scientific community itself is a priority target for work on these types of priorities. This includes the Council’s own constituent organizations, as well as the international scientific bodies listed in section 5.3. Other important target audiences
include:

  • International networks and consortia of science policy makers and research funders, e.g. the Global Research Council (GRC) and Belmont Forum; and
  • United Nations (UN) agencies such as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other inter-governmental structures that convene ministers of science and have a specific mandate for promoting  international scientific collaboration, e.g. the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), European Commission and Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).

Developing an agenda

An agenda for potential action will require access to high levels of scientific comprehension and far-sighted strategic thinking across a broad spectrum of  scientific fields. Based on open and deliberative processes of consultation aimed at drawing fully on the resources of the Council’s members and broader networks of expertise, the Council’s Governing Board will develop a three-year agenda of priorities, to be discussed and endorsed at each General Assembly.

In a fast-changing world where reliance on scientific knowledge and understanding cannot be taken for granted, it will be important for the Council to be able to intervene in a timely manner on major, science-relevant public issues. It should, therefore, ensure the maintenance of sufficient operational flexibility to act in this opportunistic fashion.

Criteria for choice

It is equally important that explicit criteria are applied to the choice of priorities for action such that:

  • The choice of issue is timely and relevant to the Council’s mission;
  • It offers a clear, and ideally, unique role for the Council;
  • There is a clear target audience and pathway to influence, and a strong possibility of positive impact;
  • The issue speaks to the interests of multiple disciplines; and
  • There is due regard to the contexts, cultures and structures of relevant political settings.
4. Realizing the mission

4.2 Activities

Areas of work

In line with its key objectives (as presented in section 3.2), the Council’s activities will focus on three principle areas of work. Each depends on effective international scientific collaboration and coordination and each should serve to demonstrate the inherent value of science to society. They are:

  • Science-for-policy (stimulating and supporting international scientific research and scholarship, and communicating science that is relevant to international policy issues);
  • Policy-for-science (promoting developments that enable science to contribute more effectively to major issues in the international public domain); and
  • Scientific freedom and responsibility (defending the free and responsible practice of science).

Approach

The Council’s response to selected priorities in these three areas of work will involve membership-engaged initiatives – projects and campaigns – that are time-bound and that draw on a toolbox of instruments, including:

  • Establishing and supporting international programmes, networks and/or other relevant coordinating structures;
  • Publishing advisory reports, policy narratives and statements;
  • Organizing (or co-organizing) events, including meetings, workshops, seminars and/or conferences;
  • Developing and delivering or commissioning training and/or fellowship schemes; and
  • Designing communications and outreach actions, including media events.

Modes of delivery

Depending on the availability of resources, the role of the Council headquarters in delivering focused projects and campaigns may vary between:

  • Leading on design and implementation;
  • Leading on design and engaging others, including groups of Council members, programmes and networks or partners to lead on implementation; and
  • Providing international legitimacy and leverage for Council members and others, as appropriate, to lead on design and implementation.
4. Realizing the mission

4.3 Planning, monitoring and reporting

At each General Assembly, members will discuss and endorse a prospective Agenda of Priorities (see section 4.1.2) and associated Activity and Business Plans, which the Governing Board will be mandated to implement during the inter-sessional period.
Activity and Business Plans will provide a system for regular activity monitoring and reporting to members, funders and stakeholders. They should be based on the principles of results-based management, specifying for each project or campaign:

  • Anticipated outcomes and target audiences;
  • Key performance indicators that will be used to assess efficacy;
  • Outputs necessary to achieve each outcome;
  • Sources of funding and key resources needed, including staffing and additional skills and expertise; and
  • An identification of relevant partners and membership engagement opportunities.
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