UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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Professor Kenneth Wiltshire
President, MOST IGC

Address on the Management of Social Transformations Programme

World Conference on Science
Budapest, 30 June 1999

1. The Concept of MOST

Given their global and complex character, major challenges of our time require policy responses that are based on interdisciplinary scientific knowledge. The theme of our Special Forum today: "Environment and Sustainable Development", covers a number of such global and complex challenges, which call for joint natural and social science research and transfer of reliable knowledge to policy-makers. The international scientific programmes that are present today constitute powerful instruments in this respect. I am glad to represent here the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme, which is an international social scientific undertaking, co-operating actively with some of UNESCO's natural science programmes, such as IHP and MAB. MOST looks forward to opportunities of co-operating also with other scientific programmes of UNESCO, ICSU and ISSC. I hope that this Special Forum will be an occasion to consider such co-operative initiatives.

MOST was established in 1994 as the first, and so far only, intergovernmental social science programme of UNESCO.

Its three main goals are:

  • fostering international social science research, through multinational networks;
  • bringing closer social research and policy-making;
  • contributing to capacity building for research and policy-making in developing countries in MOST-related areas.
MOST focuses its work on three broad areas:
  • the management of multicultural and multi-ethnic societies;
  • the governance of cities, as well as social and environmental issues in urban areas;
  • strategies for coping with the impact of globalization, with a particular focus on environmental and economic processes.
Within these areas, there are a number of transversal dimensions, which concern the above-mentioned areas, such as poverty and exclusion; sustainability and sustainable development; international migrations and governance, are also amongst MOST activities.

MOST participates actively in the follow-up process of major UN Conferences, such as the Rio Conference on environment and development; the Cairo Conference on population and development; the Copenhagen Summit on social development and the Istanbul HABITAT-II City Summit.

MOST research projects are implemented through regional and international networks, involving as a rule researchers from several countries. Users of social science research, such as policy-makers, municipal executives, and NGOs, are involved in the networks, interact with researchers. MOST also implements practically-oriented field projects, in which expertise arising from research groups is used in action in social development projects, in co-operation with Member States and other UN Agencies, such as the UNDP, UNFPA, UNDCP, as well as regional development banks.

In the remaining part of my address, I shall first refer to the connections between the notions of social transformations and sustainable development, and secondly, provide you with insights on the results of some of the on-going MOST projects, which are of relevance to the theme of our Forum, as well as the way they relate to policy-making.

2. Social Transformations and Sustainable Development

Change is a universal condition of societies, and a basic concept of the social sciences. Transformation is a more radical version of change. It conveys the idea of a particularly deep and far-reaching change which modifies, within a relatively limited time span, the configuration of societies.

The conditions created by the end of the cold war, as of 1989, were seen as leading to such transformations in the world. Therefore, the notion of social transformations started to be used widely in the social science research and literature.

The concept of sustainable development initially referred to inter-relations between socio-economic development and the environment. This was the theme of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, the concept of sustainable development was enlarged to involve not only environmental sustainability, but also economic sustainability and social sustainability. These three dimensions of sustainable development require both scientific/analytical approaches and normative/policy approaches. An exposition of such a broad definition of sustainable development can be found in the MOST Policy Paper (N° 1, 1995) on "Searching for New Development Strategies". Another MOST policy paper (N° 6, 1997) on "Sustainability: A Cross-Disciplinary Concept for Social Transformations", elaborates on the issue of sustainability and its inter-relations with social transformations.

It is obvious that today, any meaningful debate and work on sustainable development should bring together the social and economic sciences as well as environmental sciences, to develop joint, integrated research agendas.

3. Some Highlights on MOST Research and Policy Projects Relating to Sustainable Development

I shall illustrate the MOST activities and approaches by presenting a couple of projects concerning sustainability, local-global linkages and urbanization:

3.1 "Sustainable development paradigm and policy: Sustainability as a cross-disciplinary concept"

The natural sciences traditionally are involved in environmental research to a very high degree. There is a need for a more systematic enlisting of social scientific contributions to interdisciplinary research, training and policy formulation in sustainable development. This is why MOST is promoting new strategic efforts for research and policy-making concerning sustainability, which concerns relationships between society and nature over long periods of time.

The project entitled "Towards sustainable development paradigm and policy - Sustainability as a cross-disciplinary concept for social transformations" has concluded its first phase, devoted to "Sustainability as a concept of the social sciences". The results provide a conceptual and methodological framework for interdisciplinary co-operation between natural and social sciences. They attempt a clarification of the analytical, normative and strategic components of sustainability. It also provides guidance towards the elaboration of emphasis to new indicators for sustainability, integrating social, economic, institutional and ecological factors and parameters.

The outcomes of this first phase offer a promising basis for the forthcoming second stage of this project which is entitled: "Towards Sustainable Development Paradigms and Policies": Capacity Building and Networking for Comparative Research and Policy Formulation.

UNESCO Chairs on Sustainable Development will be instrumental in capacity-building for sustainable development in this second phase.

The UNESCO Chairs with their range of activities, such as international symposia, short-term intensive training courses, summer schools and outreach programmes geared to different stakeholder groups of society often have managed to overcome traditional institutional barriers and to work towards better university integration, both in terms of inter-faculty co-operation and administration.

In UNESCO Chairs on sustainable development a broad variety of course and outreach activities are offered to government officials, NGOs, media representatives, unions, industrialists, community representatives. The Chairs and networks are to constitute platforms of social exchange and participate actively in creative social transformation processes.

3.2 Circumpolar Coping Processes

In a globalizing economy, people living in peripheral regions tend to become more marginalized. But new forms of communication offer opportunities for people in remote areas to participate in economic, political and cultural networks world-wide. The focus of a book recently published by the MOST network: Coping Strategies in the North is how people living in Northern localities develop coping strategies in such a situation. In 1999, with the support of MOST, the Circumpolar Coping Processes Project (CCPP) has undertaken pilot studies to examine issues related to socially and environmentally sustainable development in coastal areas, and management alternatives to cope with global socio-environmental change. One of the pilot projects is devoted to the organization and analysis of a collection of data from communities living in selected coastal and inland communities in Northern Russia, Norway, the Feroe Islands, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, as well as in two Canadian communities. The analytical approach will be focused upon the understanding of globalization and its impact on economy and culture. The assessment studies will be published by MOST.

3.3 Capacity building and training project on sustainable development and globalization

Together with the French NGO, Solagral, teaching tools and awareness-building material have been produced on sustainable development and globalisation with a view to assist Member-States in the training of educators and civil servants. The first set of training material (currently available only in French), entitled "Globalisation and Sustainable Development: what levels of regulatory mechanisms?", deals with the general assessment of globalisation and its actual impact on the conception and implementation of sustainable development policies. It aims at giving the audience a general view of the central problems related to the concept of sustainable development, the various social representations of environment, the actors involved in the definition of concrete solutions to environmental problems, and the various economic and political instruments available for action. It is a practical and simple tool for teaching and awareness-building.

3.4 In the urban projects of MOST, an example is the Network of Mediterranean Coastal Cities:
The intersectoral project "Urban Development and Freshwater Resources: Small Historical Coastal Cities" is a network in the Mediterranean, supported by the MOST Programme, the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), with the backup of the Coastal Regions and Small Islands Project (CSI) and scientific inputs from the IOC.

Its aims and objectives are to sustain innovative experiences and operational actions in the field of integrated approach to urban development in coastal zones with a particular attention to the awareness and the information of municipal decision-makers.

Three pilot projects are under way since November 1997: Essaouira (Morocco), Saida (Lebanon), Mahdia (Tunisia). During the next biennium new project sites will start in the Adriatic sea, for small historic coastal cities in Croatia and Montenegro.

In Essaouira, the action plan for integrated urban development involves priorities such as the restoration of the Median and rehabilitation of the historic habitat; improvement of the quality of life and level of income; protection of freshwater resources from saltwater intrusion; protection of the dunes and coastal environment.

In all of the above examples of MOST projects, there is a strong interdisciplinary element, with the participation of the environmental sciences, together with the social sciences, as well as a concern with linking research, policy-making and action.


The MOST Programme is committed to work on sustainable development issues, from an international and interdisciplinary perspective. We have today three requirements to meet: firstly, global challenges require globally designed and conducted research. Secondly, social sciences and natural sciences are to join forces to generate significant results; and thirdly, we have to be more effective in transferring such results to policy-makers.

MOST is pro-active in its co-operation with the natural scientists and looks forward to a new era of synergy and mutual endeavour, in the follow-up process of the Budapest Conference.

We make the plea for a concerted and joint approach to obtaining greater funding for international, inter-disciplinary research, through all avenues for support. The social sciences in particular need stronger support and funding for the significant contributions they can make to the vital field of sustainable development, which is to be at the core of the new social contract for science in the 21st century.

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