Today’s complex economic, societal, environmental and cultural challenges require science, technology and innovation (STI) to be woven into the fabric of society. They require a society where knowledge is co-created through science-policy-society interfaces, processes that connect and allow for fertile exchange between the three. They require countries to actively invest in educating and empowering citizens in using science and evidence-based research to make judicious, political, professional and personal choices. For only through strong linkages between science, policy and society can knowledge societies be created where policy- and decision-makers and citizens alike have the capacity and power to choose the future we want for our planet and all its inhabitants.
Since its inception, UNESCO has been strongly committed to strengthening the links between science, policy and society.
Explore UNESCO's initiatives and activities:
Science and Society
As the lead UN agency for science, UNESCO stresses the importance of science in, and for, society. UNESCO takes the lead in many UN celebrations dedicated to science, such as World Science Day for Peace and Development. World Science Day is an outcome of the World Conference on Science (1999), which established a new social contract for science. With the creation of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science in 1951, UNESCO was the first to introduce an international distinction awarding outstanding contributions of individuals in communicating science to society and promoting the popularization of science. To this day, it is the only prize of its kind in the UN system.
Dialogue between science and society
UNESCO is committed to facilitating and promoting ongoing dialogue between science and society in order to enable science to effectively respond to people’s needs and the general public to effectively contribute to science. UNESCO‘s key initiatives in this field include:
- World Science Forum: a major biennial event co-organized by UNESCO that provides a platform for science and society to come together and discuss the emerging issues affecting science, policy and society;
- Global Innovation Forum: a unique occasion for all agents of innovation, including research professionals and societal actors, to come together and share ideas, knowledge and experience in order to catalyse and promote a culture of innovation, technopreneurship and the transfer of knowledge and technology;
- Future Earth: an initiative that actively seeks to include society in formulating the research agenda in order to find sustainable solutions to global challenges.
A culture of science
UNESCO is strongly committed to promoting a culture of science in society, where all people can discover the wonders of science, learn about the influence of science in their daily life, and explore how they themselves can contribute to science. To this end, UNESCO focuses on:
- World Science Day for Peace and Development: an international celebration on 10 November to highlight the importance of science in and for society and that science, peace and development are interlinked;
- UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science: an international award for individuals that have made important contributions to communicating science to society and promoting the popularization of science;
- Providing assistance to science centres and science museums: in order to support them in fulfilling their multi-functions in society, ranging from sharing the wonders of science to empowering people in making well-informed decisions;
- Latin American and Caribbean Network for the Popularization of Science and Technology (RedPOP): a network established by UNESCO in 1990 that to this day brings together centres and programmes for the popularization of science and technology in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
UNESCO participates in global partnerships to bridge the science-policy interface and provides technical advice to governments and policy-makers to make informed decisions on scientific issues.. In order to bring the scientific and policy-making communities closer together and encourage mutual understanding, there is a need for ongoing dialogue, easy access to a wide range of scientific assessments and effective scientific advisory systems for government and parliament.
Science-policy interface at the global level are important for the international community to ensure that decisions and international agreements, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are made based on the best available evidence. UNESCO is also involved in many mechanisms that aim to strengthen the links between science and policy:
- International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA): UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU) have formed an official partnership to work together, through INGSA, to improve national scientific advisory systems and capacities, more information;
- Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary General: UNESCO established its board and hosts its secretariat;
- Future Earth: as a partner of this international research initiative for accelerating transformations to a sustainable world, UNESCO focuses on building and mobilizing relevant expertise in developing countries, promoting the mainstreaming of relevant findings into education curricula, and encouraging the uptake of scientific findings in policies and practices;
- Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): UNESCO contributes to generating knowledge and assessing the status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services, identifying possible policy responses and building capacity at the biodiversity science-policy interface. In addition, UNESCO strongly encourages the recognition of and respect for indigenous and local knowledge in all aspects of IPBES.
- Broadening the Application of the Sustainability Science Approach: through this project, UNESCO aims to identify good practices and develop policy guidelines to help countries harness the potential of sustainability science in their sustainable development strategies.
UNESCO also organizes international forums that bring together scientists, policy-makers, and civil society:
- World Science Forum: a major biennial event that sets out the path ahead for science, policy and society;
- Global Innovation Forum: a biennial forum that provides a unique occasion to promote a culture of innovation by sharing ideas, knowledge and experience on nurturing innovation.
A strong science-policy interface at the national level is crucial for governments and parliaments to effectively respond to national challenges. As part of its work in STI policy, UNESCO offers platforms for dialogue at national level though:
- National STI policy and reform consultations and forums: UNESCO actively collaborates with national governments to initiate dialogue between central STI stakeholders and facilitates inter-ministerial coordination and communication with scientific communities;
- Parliamentary Fora in STI policy: through these Fora, UNESCO aims to mobilize the participation and engagement of all key stakeholders in science governance processes to foster better governance of STI and create sustainable societies.
Science, due to its international and universal nature, has the power to cross borders and connect different peoples, communities, and societies. Science diplomacy builds on this power of science, using science as a tool to achieve foreign policy objectives where, not only the research outcomes, but also science itself as a process and way of communicating, may serve to promote peace and sustainable development.
UNESCO plays an important role in the field of science diplomacy, built on three comparative advantages:
- Legitimacy; UNESCO’s universal mandate for science for peace and development ever since its inception in 1946, has made the Organization the cradle of modern science diplomacy. One of its first success stories was the creation of CERN in the early 1950s.
- Credibility; UNESCO has extensive institutional expertise and a longstanding history of launching and implementing ground-breaking initiatives and projects that have gained international recognition. One of the most high-profile initiatives of this century concerns the SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).
- Universality; UNESCO can promote science diplomacy based on its universal mandate and, through its vast network of partners, bring diverse stakeholders, scientists, decision makers, and diplomats, from around the world together.
Science centres and organizations
UNESCO has been at the origin of many remarkable centres and organizations within the field of science diplomacy, fostering cooperation between scientists living in regions marred by conflict. More information
International science programmes
Each of UNESCO’s international science programmes itself instantiate and promote science diplomacy in its specific thematic area. More information
International science-policy interfaces
International science-policy interfaces are important mechanisms for linking and facilitating the communication between scientists and policy makers around the globe. Through this linkage, international science-policy interfaces can promote cooperation and deepen understanding across borders, and as such help peacebuilding processes. More information