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activities

Action Agenda 2007-2010


1. Introduction

At the end of 2003 the ISSC embarked on a strategic reform process. Between 2004 and 2006 this generated a rich set of ideas and recommendations, all of which offer the Council a broad, forward-looking agenda for fostering social science in a globalised world. Milestones in the reform process included:

* The creation, in December 2003, of a Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) to initiate the process of re-assessing and reforming the Council’s role, activities and operational modes. The SPAC recommendations were approved by the XXVth General Assembly of the ISSC, which took place in November 2004, at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing.
* The setting up, in 2005, of two ISSC Task Forces (TF1 and TF2), which were asked to advise the Council on the operationalisation and implementation of the SPAC recommendations. The proposals made by these two groups were discussed and endorsed – with some modifications – by the XXVIth General Assembly, which was held at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt, in November 2006.
* A meeting, in November 2006, of national and international scientific organisations and funding bodies working in the field of the social sciences. Apart from ISSC members, participants included UNESCO, the European Commission, European Science Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre. An important aim of the meeting was to consult key ISSC stakeholders about future directions and priorities for the ISSC.

This Action Agenda seeks to consolidate the ISSC’s reform discussions of the last three years and to set out a concrete programme of work for the period 2007 to 2010. It is based, for the most part, on the ideas and recommendations that have been made by those who participated in the activities listed above. The document also incorporates the ideas of the Council’s new Executive Committee as discussed during its meetings in November 2006 and April 2007.

2. The ISSC’s vision

In today’s world, new theories, new technologies, new data sources, and new analytical tools allow the social and behavioural sciences to address issues of individual behaviour, social organisation, political process and economic development to an extent which was inconceivable even ten years ago. At the same time, social science research findings are increasingly in demand by policy makers, business and community leaders. There is a growing recognition that the big challenges facing the world in the coming decades require a much greater understanding of human, social and economic behaviour. For these decision makers, social scientific knowledge – be it about demography, trade and dislocation, the relationship between science and religion or a myriad of other topics – is becoming necessary knowledge.

The social sciences are also increasingly important for many natural scientists, who recognise that the key challenges facing them – in the management of disease and illness, of energy and food security or climate change, in the adaptation and acceptability of new technologies, in cognitive development, and in the understanding of science itself – require high-quality work in the social sciences, just as much as in their own fields.

International social science becomes ever more critical in this environment, and the ISSC’s role is developing accordingly. Social sciences need to develop fresh capacities to address global complexities, while still recognising the significance of local variety. For the Council, the challenge is to become a major global scientific player alongside – and in collaboration with – the International Council of Science (ICSU), and the goal is to achieve this within the next decade. For the social sciences, the objective is to build new capacities for robust research spanning cultures and countries, which can provide insights and understanding to the myriad problems facing our planet. High-quality research and knowledge production are the essential cornerstones of valuable contributions to policy. To this end, the ISSC will act as a catalyst, mobiliser and co-ordinator of social sciences across disciplines, domains, and national cultures, encouraging the development and use of strong conceptual, evidence-based, methodologies. To fulfil these goals, the ISSC and its membership will take the lead in bringing together social science researchers, scholars, funders and policy makers from all parts of the globe.

3. Objectives: 2007 - 2010

Delivery of the ISSC’s vision for the future requires a significant enhancement of both its role and contribution over the next four years. During this time the Council will undertake activities that fulfil the following objectives:

* To establish a strong global presence and authority for social sciences;
* To promote the growth of social sciences in developing and transition economies;
* To stimulate high-quality, innovative, inter- and trans-disciplinary research, training and knowledge exchange at a global level; and
* To ensure that social sciences capture and harness the potential of new technological and methodological developments.

These activities will be prepared with the following two main operational objectives in mind:

* To actively engage ISSC members in the Council’s work, foster networking between them and strengthen relations with ISSC partners; and
* To enhance the ISSC’s organisational capacity and achieve recognition as an international professional institution.

In all its work the ISSC wants to avoid the fragmentation of efforts by promoting co-ordination and collaboration with ongoing actions of its members, associates, and other stakeholders. For example, the ISSC will work in conjunction with an international project initiated by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in the USA and supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Many of the activities comprising this project relate closely to actions that the Council will prioritise in the 2007-2010 period, and there is considerable scope for co-operation and synergy. The Council will be exploring the potential for similar synergies with actors in other parts of the world.

4. Priority Actions

The ISSC has identified priority actions to address each of the objectives it has set itself for the period 2007 to 2010. To ensure effective delivery of these actions the Council will establish a number of new committees and working groups. These bodies will comprise ISSC members, partners and stakeholders from around the world. They will be asked to advise on the detailed design and implementation of the actions described below, to ensure synergies between them and, where possible, to assist the Council in raising the resources necessary for their implementation.

4.1 Social science presence and authority

A pressing goal for the ISSC is to establish a strong presence and authority for the social sciences, so that national and world leaders take account of social science findings and their relevance for the issues with which they struggle. To this end, the ISSC will prioritise the following two actions:

(a) Launching a World Social Science Report Series and a World Social Science Forum

As with other fields of study, great benefit is to be had from periodically taking stock of the global social scientific enterprise – its systems and communities, major findings and breakthroughs, developing areas, opportunities for new co-operation across boundaries, and challenges for the future. This type of undertaking should promote debate within and between the disciplines. Equally importantly, it should make information available in a way that enhances the reception and application of research findings amongst policy makers, business and community leaders, funders, the broader public, as well as scientists from complementary fields. For the social sciences, the ISSC will address this need by launching a World Social Science Report (WSSR) Series and a World Social Science Forum (WSSF).

The periodic production of a WSSR is a major remit, which has been given to the ISSC by UNESCO. The first and only such report so far produced was published – by UNESCO – in 1999. The ISSC’s objective is to produce a first report in 2009, and then to renew it every two to three years.

The WSSR will call attention to social scientific expertise on big questions of the day. It will monitor trends in the development of social scientific knowledge systems and anticipate future developments and opportunities. It will reflect on major policy and funding issues facing the social sciences across the world. These will no doubt be scientific, institutional, infrastructural and ethical. The report will provide both a ‘state-of-the-world’ and a ‘state-of-the-art’ account, presenting regional and disciplinary perspectives of topics covered. It will not be merely descriptive in nature; its goal is to impact on policy as well as research practice, and it will include recommendations for action. Operationally, the ISSC will ensure that its other priority actions in the period 2007-2010 provide information which feeds into the production of the WSSR.

Reports of this stature need also to be debated, and future WSSR themes need to be determined in consultation with ISSC members, partners and stakeholders. This is one of the principal, complementary purposes of the WSSF. This Forum will bring together major stakeholders in international social science co-operation to discuss substantive topics of world relevance and priorities for the future of international social science. It will stimulate dialogue across the disciplines, connect research and practice, and provide a platform for debate, exchange of experiences, innovative ideas and good practices. The first session of the WSSF will be held in Bergen, Norway, on April 26-28 2009, in conjunction with the launch of the ISSC’s first WSSR.

(b) Engaging and advising international decision makers

As the only genuinely global organisation for the social sciences, the ISSC has an important role to play in making the voice of social science heard in international policy arenas. The Council will make this happen by seeking regular consultation and strategy development meetings with international decision makers from the United Nations Organisation and its associated agencies, as well as other regional and global organisations such as the OECD, IMF and the World Bank, the European Union, African Union, NAFTA, ASEAN and Mercosur. The primary purpose of such meetings will be to identify the research and policy agenda on which the Council can work with these organisations, and topics on which social science research should be encouraged.

In the coming years the ISSC will also be working to develop for itself a policy advisory capacity. The Council’s policy advice will include social science for economic and social policy, as well as policy for science, technology and innovation. Its contribution should include the publication of position papers and statements, and the organisation of debates. The ISSC will also promote social scientific involvement in the study panels of regional and international scientific advisory bodies such as the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the international science advisory council created by the world’s science academies, the InterAcademy Council (IAC).

To connect to the relevant research base and ensure high-quality policy advice, the Council intends to create a Science, Technology and Innovation Committee (STIC) comprising leading researchers and policy practitioners. This committee will primarily undertake ‘policy for science’ advisory activities. The Council also intends to establish a Global Social Science Leaders (GSSL) Group, which would include the presidents of international disciplinary associations, many of which are ISSC members. The aim will be for this Group to lead the Council’s ‘science for policy’ activities by, for example, addressing UN bodies such as ECOSOC on specific topics such as poverty. This will serve to promote the contributions of international social science institutions at the same time as connecting international organisations such as the UN to the best research-based advice.

4.2 Social sciences in developing and transition economies

Assisting the positive and rigorous development of the social sciences in developing and transition economies is a key priority for the ISSC. The Council has identified four actions to deliver this objective in the next four years. It is in the process of appointing a Committee on Developing and Transition Economies (CoDATE) to advise on the detailed design and implementation of these actions, and to assist the Council in raising funding for them. The Committee will also be asked to help ensure that the Council’s objective of building global social science capacity is embedded in all of its activities, including other priority actions included in this Action Agenda. The establishment of CoDATE is being generously supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

(a) Mapping social science training and development needs

CoDATE will advise the ISSC on the potential value and feasibility of a study of existing capacity in 20-30 of the more social science-advanced countries in developing and transition economies. Such a study would look critically at future challenges, including, for example, postgraduate and post-doctoral training, access to data and evidential collection, and access to advanced technology and advanced methodology. The study would also benchmark current strategies for international collaboration, shared training programmes, networking and partnerships. The results of such a mapping exercise could usefully feed into the WSSR and would inform further social science capacity development activities to be developed by the ISSC.

(b) Networking social science research centres

The ISSC will identify leading social science research centres in developing and transition economies, and try to develop new networking arrangements to connect these centres with parallel centres in more well-resourced countries. Following the example of initiatives such as the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), the aim will be to promote South-South networking which is also embedded in North-South relations.

(c) Enhancing the impact of funding research capacity development

Many agencies are involved in funding research capacity in developing countries. This group of actors includes international organisations, international development agencies, national development agencies, international foundations, charitable organisations, and some national research councils. There is a plethora of investment, but much is poorly co-ordinated, and even ignorant of other parallel efforts. The ISSC believes there is an urgent need to bring these organisations together to share information, look for common strategies and priorities, and agree on complementarities.

To take this forward, the Council intends to work in collaboration with other key partners such as ICSU to identify and put in place appropriate strategies for fostering synergetic approaches and agreements between funding agencies on common concerns and new routes for co-operation. The aim of such efforts will be to optimise outcomes in terms of research capacity in developing and transition countries, and also for the policies and practices of funding organisations, including those that are ISSC members.

The ISSC will lead into this particular action with a programme of preparatory activities. These are likely to include a survey of academic support systems for young researchers (curricula, fostering, coaching, champions), an inventory of funding opportunities provided by research councils, aid agencies and international organisations to researchers from developing and transition economies; and guidelines for managing successful joint activities between research groups, institutes, networks of institutes and individuals. In addition, the instruments of funding agencies for promoting research in developing countries, as well as existing modes of collaboration and coordination between national research councils and development aid agencies, may be benchmarked.

(d) Understanding variety in the frameworks and priorities of social science knowledge production

The ISSC is committed to the multi-directional exchange of ideas across national and regional boundaries. The Council, therefore, insists that there is much to be learnt from the countries and cultures where social science institutions, structures and practices are less well developed than, for example, in Europe and North America. The ISSC sees the need to improve understanding in the developed world about the conditions in which social science knowledge is produced in developing and transition economies, and about the ways in which the societal demands for that knowledge and expertise vary according to local circumstances.

The ISSC will ask CoDATE to review the scope for a workshop which focuses on international variations and imbalances in knowledge production and use in one or two specific areas. The long-term aim of such a meeting should be to expand the debate on ‘knowledge divides’ in the production and use of the social sciences by bringing in perspectives from across the spectrum of ISSC membership.

4.3 Research, training and knowledge exchange

The Council’s mission commits it to advance high-quality social science research across national and regional boundaries; to broaden inter-disciplinary collaboration among the social sciences; and to promote positive interactions between the social sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities. As part of its delivery on those commitments, it will seek to stimulate and support international innovation in research, training and knowledge exchange. In this, it will look to strengthen collaboration with key partners, and promote connections between ISSC members; more specifically, between social scientists represented by ISSC member associations and social science funders represented by the Council’s member organisations.

The Council recognises the importance of this part of its work and the need to improve the resources available for the scientific activities it seeks to promote and the awards it wishes to make. In the coming four years, efforts will be concentrated on three activities:

(a) Establishing an ISSC Programme Support and Conference Fund

The Council intends to play a significant role in supporting internationally significant research programmes, as well as agenda-setting events in the social sciences. Such support will include pump-priming or contributory funding, as well as efforts to mobilise research resources from other regional and international sources.

In addition to promoting the development of international inter-disciplinary programmes, including existing programmes supported by the ISSC, the Council will aim to co-sponsor up to two major global inter-disciplinary events per annum. These events will be organised in collaboration with ISSC members and other regional and international scientific organisations, particularly ICSU and the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (CIPSH). Their purpose will be to promote research networking across disciplines and research fields and to help shape national and international research agendas and programming activities.

(b) Awarding research prizes

The ISSC will continue to award the ISSC Mattei Dogan Prize for Excellence in Inter-Disciplinary Research and the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Research in the social sciences. The Council believes that the award of prestigious prizes is a particularly appropriate role for an international organisation of this kind. These prizes are critical for purposes of encouraging developments at the leading edge of the social sciences. The ISSC will, therefore, seek to increase the resources available and the range of awards being made. For example, consideration is being given to awarding separate prizes for inter-disciplinary excellence within the social sciences, and for trans-disciplinary excellence with the humanities and other sciences. Other themes under review are innovations in methodology, contributions to policy, younger scholarship, and outstanding contributions to social science by women.

(c) Developing the ISSC-UNESCO Summer School Series

The first session of the ISSC-UNESCO Summer School on “Comparative Research in the Social Sciences” was held in 2000. The fifth session – on the scientific and practical relevance of comparative research in the social sciences – is due to be held in Sofia in September 2008. Support for these training events, which are organised on behalf of the Council by Professor Nikolai Genov of the Free University of Berlin, comes from UNESCO’s Participation Programmes. The Summer Schools are held every two years. They cater for approximately 30 young university teachers, researchers and advanced doctoral students under the age of 35 years.

The ISSC will continue to support this instrument and intends at the same time to link it more closely to the Council’s new activities in developing and transition economies. Member associations will also be invited to participate more in the design and implementation of the Summer Schools.

4.4 New technologies and methodologies

The ISSC has an important role to play in ensuring that social sciences from all parts of the world harness – and are in a position to harness – the potential of new technologies and new methodological developments. This is a time of rapid change in both arenas, providing transformational opportunities for research practice and for social sciences’ contributions to policy and practical understanding.

The Council has identified a number of key actions in this area, and will seek the necessary resources to appoint an Information and Communication Committee (ICC) to take these forward (this Committee will also be asked to develop a longer-term networking and communications strategy for the ISSC; see point 4.6(b) below). The three key actions for the coming years are:

(a) Supporting the work of the International Data Forum

Comparative research can be significantly advanced over the next decade through improved access to major datasets; by linking of data from a variety of sources (academic, public, commercial, health); and by the use of advanced technology to establish new rigorous and robust conceptually based analytical tools for data examination. These tasks are best addressed at an international level, not only to establish the range of available databases, but also to determine how new comparative databases can be established and accessed.

A major step in this direction has been taken with a meeting in Beijing in June 2007, in which representatives from 22 countries and 3 multi-national organisations agreed to establish an International Data Forum (IDF) through which data resources for cross-national collaborative research on social scientific issues can be identified, prioritised and made available for international research purposes. The ISSC was one of the co-sponsors of that meeting and will participate in and work with the new Forum to help foster a co-ordinated approach which ensures that access to databases and data examination tools is equalized across countries and regions.

The ISSC is represented in the founding committee that was mandated by the participants in the Beijing meeting to take forward ideas from that meeting, and to produce and cost a strategic plan for the formation of the IDF. The founding committee’s work should be completed by the beginning of 2008. The second meeting of the IDF will be held as part of the ISSC’s Worldl Social Science Forum in the spring of 2009.

(b) Harnessing the benefits of cyber-science and e-social sciences

The ISSC recognises that the growing availability of grid technologies and systems can provide significant new, innovative ways of handling and using a variety of research materials – ideographic as well as numerical. The Council has identified the need to participate in and support these developments, working with its members and associates and other interested parties to ensure a co-ordinated approach and the widespread diffusion of leading-edge practice.

The ISSC will contribute to these efforts by bringing together researchers from different disciplines, geographical areas and starting points to share benefits and help shape future directions. Based on the advice of an ICC, and under its guidance, the Council may also undertake a study of the international application of these new tools for research networking.

(c) Disseminating new conceptual tools and modelling methodologies

Taking advantage of new technologies, many new approaches to research are emerging in the social sciences. Advances are being made in methodologies in core disciplines such as economics, psychology, and demography, and just as importantly, at the interstices between different disciplines in the social sciences, and between the social sciences and other sciences – for example in the health, life, and environmental sciences.

Over the next four years, the ISSC will seek to contribute to these developments by organising workshops, training events and/or reviews to support the further development and dissemination of new methodologies. Where possible, these events should be organised in co-operation with ICSU. Linking or integrating them with the ISSC-UNESCO Summer Schools (see point 4.3 (c) above) should also be explored.

4.5 Membership networks and partnerships

In all its work, the ISSC seeks to act as a facilitator, catalyst and partner. It must develop effective networks with other critical actors in the social science world: research and academic communities, funders, policy makers, business and community leaders; international organisations such as the UN and its agencies, international and regional economic organisations, as well as regional political organisations such as the European and African Unions. Many of these actors are in the ISSC membership, and one task is to ensure their full participation and engagement with each other in ISSC activities. Additionally, the ISSC needs to develop positive working relations with significant others, with whom tasks can be shared and resources used co-operatively, to mutual benefit. Future actions come under three headings:

(a) Engaging member associations and organisations

It will be critical for the ISSC to work closely with its individual member associations. Many ISSC activities and new developments will lie primarily in their areas of expertise. New mechanisms need to be developed for this as a matter of priority. The establishment of a Global Social Science Leaders (GSSL) Group is in line with this priority (see point 4.1 (b) above).

The ISSC also needs to work in close partnership with the agencies who are its member organisations. In many cases they will have access to resources which can support ISSC actions; in other cases they may be taking initiatives, which the ISSC can support and benefit from. Other actions may be undertaken on a collaborative funding basis with individual member organisations.

Member associations and organisations will be fully involved in the Council’s processes and activities.

Additionally, the ISSC will continue to look for new members: international associations representing new, hybrid fields of social science, and national research councils and academies not yet part of the Council’s membership.

Over and above this, the Council will give priority to facilitating and supporting active networking within the ISSC membership: fostering collaboration and exchange between its members, including between member associations and organisations. This will be accomplished by means of several actions already described above; most notably, the WSSR, WSSF and the Programme Support and Conference Fund.

Another important opportunity for networking within the ISSC membership is the September 2007 meeting in Canada of an International Forum for Funding Agencies (IFFA). This Forum will bring together research councils in the social sciences and humanities. IFFA will provide a platform for information exchange between the participants and an opportunity to discuss research policy issues of mutual interest. The meeting is being organised by a group of national funding agencies as part of the SSRC-NSF-ESRC international collaboration project. The ISSC supports this event and the Secretary-General will participate in it. It remains to be seen how this initiative will go forward in the longer term, but the ISSC will stand ready to offer its help with future developments in the international networking of research funding agencies.

* First meeting of the International Forum of Funding Agencies (IFFA) for research in the social sciences

(b) Working with others: Associates and other strategic partners

For the ISSC, UNESCO is a major partner, and the Council gives priority to contributing ideas and advice to UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences and his staff. UNESCO provides significant support for the WSSR and the Council will actively look for other ways to enhance this fruitful and complementary partnership and to support the programmes and policies of the Social and Human Sciences Division.

The ISSC will also seek out new opportunities for active collaboration with other significant actors. The Council already works closely with its humanities sister organisation, the CIPSH, and ICSU has now been identified as an organisation with which ISSC must develop enhanced co-operation, to build new links with the natural sciences. A number of ways of doing so have been identified in the Action Agenda; over and above these, the ISSC will seek regular and open dialogue with ICSU. The ISSC will also look for ways in which it can work together with its associated institutes, drawing in their research expertise and diverse interests.

4.6 A professional organisation

The successful implementation of the priority actions outlined in this action agenda will depend heavily on the ISSC functioning as an effective professional organisation. The new ambitions bring with them staffing requirements, which will need to be met in large part by raising funds in connection with the specified activities. Additionally, the Council has agreed on two other major steps to enhance its effectiveness, and thereby also its international standing:

(a) Establishing an International Review and Assessment Panel

The ISSC will create a new International Review and Assessment Panel (IRAP), comprising a small number of internationally renowned social scientists. The Panel’s role will be to put in place a rigorous quality control mechanism for all ISSC-initiated and sponsored activities, programmes and decisions, based on transparent and fair selection, assessment, monitoring and evaluation processes, and taking account of issues of cultural diversity.

(b) Developing a new communications strategy

The Council’s Information and Communication Committee (ICC) (see point 4.4 above) will be asked to work on a dynamic networking and communications strategy. Guided by this strategy, the ISSC will put in place an enhanced ICT platform for all its work, making better use of web-based and other electronic communication tools, bulletin boards and e-newsletters to facilitate consultation, decision-making processes and information flows from the Council to its members.