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Strengthening Cooperation between National Commissions for UNESCO and International/Intergovernmental Scientific Programmes

Findings of the Workshop

The following findings complement the recommendations of the Framework Action Plan. They have been derived from the presentations and discussions during the work-shop. While it is believed that among the workshop participants these points are uncon-troversial, it has to be emphasized that no formal agreement has been established on these.

About the ISPs on a regional/inter-regional level

  • The ISPs have a key role in facilitating and strengthening regional and inter-regional scientific collaboration. They fulfil their core tasks in a very efficient way and therefore they should be maintained and be equipped with sufficient means to fulfil their tasks.
  • The message that UNESCO is not a funding agency for science has to be delivered more coherently. However, the success of programmes such as the IGCP, which has made an important contribution to international geo-scientific collaboration with extremely limited funds, shows that the provision of small-scale funding has an important impact.
  • As a rule, the ISPs respond to regional and inter-regional requirements, not to na-tional needs. Thus, in different regions programme implementation of the ISPs may assume very different shapes.
  • The high degree of decentralization (roughly 50% of UNESCO's budget) is a response to this issue and has to be taken into account when evaluating the ISPs. Decentralization creates new possibilities for obtaining new funding for programme implementation and for increasing synergies. However, decentralization needs to be carried out carefully to ensure the accountability of the ISPs and to maintain steer-ing capacity of the ISP's governing bodies.
  • New approaches on the regional level, such as the proposal of regional scientific boards for the IBSP, or the MOST regional forums of social development ministers, appear very promising. - In the light of the decreasing number of natural sciences students world-wide, the issue of science education at UNESCO should be treated in a greatly more strategic and coherent manner: activities are too scattered between the sectors and divisions.
  • Programme elements of the ISPs addressing education and capacity building meas-ures should be treated strategically and coherently. The capacity building strategy of the IOC serves as an example for the desired more coherent approach.
    Collaboration and communication between the ISPs and of the ISPs with the other activities of the UNESCO science sectors must be improved dramatically. While the joint statements of the chairpersons of the ISPs' boards since 1993 echo this again and again, the progress on this issue is far too small.
  • Additionally, much remains to be improved on collaboration between UNESCO's science sectors and other sectors. Existing structures such as the Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge should be integrated more closely into the activities of the science sectors. The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development can serve as an excellent platform for interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaboration.
  • In contrast, collaboration between the ISPs on the national and regional level has often proved efficient. For example, fruitful ad-hoc coordination meetings between ISP National Committees have taken place in 2005 in the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and Germany. - The lack of efficient communication of the ISPs with the political level can only partially be traced back to failure at the national level. Much better means of deliv-ering the messages of the ISPs to political stakeholders must also be found on the level of the ISPs' governing bodies and the ISPs' secretariats.
  • UNESCO chairs and UNESCO institutes should be taken into account more inten-sively for programme implementation and for obtaining better visibility.

About the ISPs on a national level

Because of the importance of the ISPs, all member states should make use of them to the greatest extent possible. Since many ISPs touch upon issues of national sov-ereignty, there is little possibility - and little sense - in making too concrete propos-als for establishing the appropriate treatment of ISP issues at the national level. In addition, the ISPs are quite different from each other.

Focal Points

  • The fundamental requirement for participating in an ISP is the existence of a clearly designated Focal Point, which serves as the information contact and as address for document circulation.
  • Designating an individual instead of an institution as ISP Focal Point leads to un-necessary ruptures and should be avoided.
  • National Commissions are often not satisfied with designating a member of their secretarial staff as an ISP focal point.
  • However, especially during the early phases of an ISP, there might be no efficient alternative.
  • In many cases, Focal Points perform this task on a good will basis (e.g. in the UK, see below); the introduction of whole cost accounting is hence a serious threat.

National Committees

  • The establishment of an ISP National Committee in general leads to better visibility and impact in the scientific and administrative communities concerned.
  • There is often dissatisfaction with set-ups in which National Committees function purely as ad-hoc committees of the National Commission.
  • There is no generic way to establish an ISP National Committee. For example, France and Germany, which have quite similar structures within their National Commissions, have chosen completely different set-ups for their ISP National Committees.
  • While the six UNESCO ISPs are structured very differently, it would be reasonable to streamline the purely administrative components of their respective rules of pro-cedure.
  • It has proved successful to compose National Committees in such a way that as many scientific disciplines and diverse backgrounds as possible are brought together. There are examples (e.g. the German IHP National Committee) which have grown into the most representative platform of its scientific community on the national level - this has also benefited enormously the contribution to the programme itself.
  • Clear-cut division of labour, defined roles and responsibilities, and clear terms of reference facilitate the collaboration between the National Commission and the National Committees.
  • In most cases, the impact and the visibility grow significantly with the degree of institutionalization of entities and structures, e.g. by formulating statutes and rules of procedure, also by being mandated by law or by decree. As an additional general principle, National Commissions should consider implementing in fields under their influence the concepts of review, regular evaluation and temporally limited terms of reference.
  • In order to fulfil their role as the main liaison entity in UNESCO issues at the na-tional level, National Commissions must have adequate access to the work of their ISP National Committees. This applies especially to invitation to meetings and to access to meeting minutes.
  • More diverse, especially new young experts should be involved in the ISP National Committees to ensure the continuity of the programmes.
  • While the circulation of meeting minutes is the beginning of stronger collaboration, it is not sufficient. National Commissions should encourage meetings of the National Committees, specifically on the topic of inter-programme collaboration, though it is advisable to organize such meetings around particular themes. The National Commissions, as the main broker of information, should take an active role in inspiring the National Committees' collaboration.

National Commissions

  • Many National Commissions have established "Science Committees", "Science Expert Committees" or "Science Standing Committees", either to advise them on appropriate science policy or to implement UNESCO's programme. However, there are fundamental differences among such Committees concerning the roles. While in some member states they assemble once a year to give general recommendations, in others they assemble every other week actually to carry out the programme implementation. All these possibilities can have merits or drawbacks. It is advisable however, to define roles and responsibilities with particular regard to availability of financial and staff resources. The ISP National Committees should be represented in these Science Committees.
  • Since the main potential of National Commissions is the extent to which they are interlinked with civil society, they should strive to include experts into their work, as many and as representative of scientific disciplines as is adequate. In addition to formal membership in the National Commission or Science Committee, a cluster of informally associated experts and ad-hoc committees may be useful tools for in-creasing the outreach and effectiveness of the National Commission.
  • National Commissions should intensify their contacts with NGOs, the private sector and international and national government agencies to increase the outreach and also stabilize the funding base for the ISPs' implementation at the national level.
  • National Commissions should intensify their contacts with other National Commissions to share best practices (e.g. South Africa has modelled part of the set-up of its National Commission on the example of Australia).
  • To be able to fulfil their tasks in creating publicity and raising awareness for the ISPs, National Commissions should be provided with targeted information material, (cp. the IOC's brochure "Look Deeper"). In general, measures should be under-taken to increase the National Commissions' capacity in public communication - addressing the general public and policy makers (an existing guide in this context is UNESCO's guide on Media Relations, cp. the Internet link in the annex).
  • National Commissions should strive to include an appropriate number of young experts into their work to guarantee a continuous flow of new ideas and to ensure the long-term continuity of their activities.
  • National Commissions should foster close relations with their Permanent Delega-tions and should use this channel for the benefit of the ISP National Committees.
  • National Commissions should establish working relationships with their regional UNESCO office, with appropriately regular exchanges of information, and should define clear roles and responsibilities.
  • Before nominating experts for international conferences, National Commissions should inform and engage the broad scientific community on the national level and should consult with all relevant institutions.
  • In preparing adequately the participation in intergovernmental governing bodies, National Commissions can play an important role in briefing the government, the Permanent Delegation and independent experts. The same applies to the follow-up, when National Commissions can be an important partner in disseminating the results. Even in cases where ISP National Committees and National Commissions are quite independent from each other, value is added when National Commissions' representatives participate in the sessions of governing bodies.


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