ISC on new and innovative collaboration methods

The work and role of the ISC
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CEO of the International Science Council, Heide Hackmann, discusses how today’s global challenges require new and innovative collaboration methods.

The International Science Council (ISC) is a non-governmental organisation with a unique global membership that brings together 40 international scientific Unions and Associations and over 140 national and regional scientific organisations including Academies and Research Councils. It is the only international non-governmental organisation bringing together the natural and social sciences and the largest global science organisation of its type.

The vision of the Council 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.

The Council convenes the scientific expertise and resources needed to lead on catalysing, incubating and coordinating impactful international action on issues of major scientific and public importance.

SciTech Europa Quarterly speaks to CEO Heide Hackmann about all things ISC after their recent merger with the International Social Science Council; including a discussion surrounding today’s global challenges which require new and innovative ways of collaborating across cultures and disciplines.

Can you start by explaining the work and role of the ISC?

The ISC was launched in 2018 following a merger of the International Council for Science, which was created in 1931, and the International Social Science Council, created in 1952, so there is a lot of important and impactful history behind this new organisation.

The Council works at a global level to catalyse and convene scientific expertise, advice and influence on issues of major concern to both science and society. It does this through our global membership of national academies, research councils, international scientific unions and associations, and affiliated members. Through this membership and our broader global scientific networks, the ISC is unique in its capacity to bring together and integrate scientific excellence and science-policy expertise from all fields of science in all regions of the world.

One of our key roles as the global voice for science is to advocate for the protection of scientific freedom and to advocate on the principles for the responsible practice of science. We do this through our international Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science, which is led by our President.

Another key role is our work as co-convenor of the Major Group for the Scientific and Technological Community at the United Nations. We work with the World Federation of Engineering Organizations to secure a mandate for science at the UN and to integrate science in major global policy process. For example, we will have a strong presence at the upcoming UN Climate Action Summit and Sustainable Development Summit in September 2019. This is a critical moment for world leaders and decision-makers. They must unite behind the science and bring political will to the table.

What are some of the current research programmes happening at the ISC?

The ISC itself is not a research organisation however, the ISC initiates and sponsors international programmes, committees, networks, observing systems and data bodies, many of which are also co-sponsored by other international organisations and UN agencies.

For example, we sponsor two observing systems – the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). The GCOS plays a crucial role in regularly assessing the status of global climate observations of the atmosphere, land and ocean and the GOOS will be an essential partner during the United Nation’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The World Climate Research Programme and Future Earth, which continue to be co-sponsored by the ISC are essential partners if we are to win the fight on climate change.

We have recently signed MOUs with the UNDRR and UN-Habitat that will see us continue to work in the disaster risk reduction community and urban health and wellbeing programmes. We’re in the process of reviewing the Sendai Hazard Definitions and Classifications, an important review given that extreme weather events and human-made conflicts are likely to increase in the coming decade. The way we respond to them will determine the health of our communities.

In terms of global collaboration, what is the importance of this? What would you say are some of the challenges that global collaboration brings, and how are these overcome?

The scientific community has always been collaborative, it’s the nature of science. Today’s global challenges require new and innovative ways of collaborating across cultures, across disciplines and across sectors. They require engaged science.

We currently have two programmes that look at transdisciplinary science – Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) and Leading Integrated Research in Africa (LIRA). T2S promotes research on the complex social transformations needed to address problems of global environmental change, as well as on interrelated societal problems such as poverty, corruption, migration, social discontent and conflict. LIRA is a 5-year programme that seeks to increase the production of high-quality, integrated (inter- and transdisciplinary), solutions-oriented research on global sustainability by early career scientists in Africa. One of the interesting aspects to these programmes is the way they are collaborating with citizens to assist in the research. A LIRA project on air quality in Ethiopia saw researchers working with the local community to identify talented young people who, through training, worked with the researchers to collect the data.

This is an example of collaboration at the local level, bringing communities and disciplines together. But then there is collaboration on an international level, and that is a challenge that really needs to be addressed. We recently convened a global forum of funders where we discussed the challenges faced by science systems in striving to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, asking how strategic partnerships can help navigate these challenges, and how to maximise the impact of research investments. The result of this meeting was agreement on the need for a common call for a decade of global sustainability funding action. A well-coordinated and collaborative programme of accelerated innovation and funding mobilisation is urgently required to boost the chances of the SDGs being realised.

What is next for the ISC?

Our first priority is our members and ensuring we realise our vision of science as a global public good. We are just about to publish our Action Plan which will drive our work up until the next ISC General Assembly and global science knowledge dialogue, which will take place in 2021 in Muscat, Oman.

The Action Plan is itself, a call to action – not just for the international science community, but the community at large. Through consultation with our members, we identified four domains of impact framing our various projects – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; The Digital Revolution; Science in Policy and Public Discourse, and The Evolution of Science and Science Systems. We now need to collaborate with the membership, international scientific organisations, funders and stakeholders in the public and private sectors who are inspired by the convening power of the ISC to help empower science-led solutions to the challenges facing humanity.

In the medium term, we will be working with our patrons, Mary Robinson and Ismail Serageldin to advance science as a global public good by ensuring the public value of science is understood and supported by all. We want to harness the opportunities that the digital revolution provides, but be mindful of the way it can disrupt science through disinformation. We want to ensure that science is open and agile and accessible to all so that we can identify transformative pathways towards the sustainable and equitable use of planetary resources. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the international scientific community.


Heide Hackmann


International Science Council

+33 (0)1 45 25 03 29

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