The world's economies are undergoing a fundamental transformation to knowledge-based industries. The role of government is changing. The democratic process is making the decision-making process more complex.

Countries need to respond with policies, programmes, institutions and partnerships which maximize their economic opportunities while sustaining social fabric. Governments must re-evaluate not only where they spend their S&T resources but also how they can spend them more effectively. They also need to focus on establishing partnerships, networks and an innovation system that enhance a country’s ability to share knowledge and information.

The role of UNESCO in science, technology and innovation (STI) policy is threefold: a think tank on policy development; a guide on national policy reforms; and a catalyst for regional and international cooperation.

UNESCO's role covers:

A think tank

UNESCO conducts analytical work in cooperation with other institutions, including the OECD, the United Nations University and other UN bodies. The fruit of this work is published in the UNESCO Science Policy Studies series and via the UNESCO Reference Works series, or as prospective studies.

For the complete list of publications and documents published by UNESCO on science policy since 1965, many of which may be consulted online, click here.

A Guide on national policy reforms

Countries wishing to (re)formulate their national STI policy can address requests to UNESCO’s Division for Science Policy and Capacity-Building. Countries having benefited from the programme in recent years include Lebanon, Lesotho, Mongolia, Mozambique and Namibia. Current projects include those for the Republic of Congo and Nigeria. (See Country Studies)

A catalyst for regional and international cooperation

UNESCO has been a catalyst for the establishment of regional networks which contribute to national science policy reform. These networks operate under the auspices of UNESCO. They include the Science and Technology Policy Asian Network (STEPAN), hosted in Jakarta by UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science in Asia, and the Science and Technology Management Arab Regional Network (STEMARN). In Latin America and the Caribbean, the two most recent networks were launched in 1998: the network of R&D and science programmes in the Caribbean (Cariscience) and the network of R&D for postgraduates in science in Central America (Red-CienciA).

The University-Industry Partnerships (UNISPAR) programme is currently focusing on the development of science parks, as a means of strengthening ties between universities and industry in R&D for sustainable development.

Regional parliamentary fora on S&T have been set up on every continent since 2004 to strengthen science legislation.

For details of regional programmes and projects, see the pages with a regional focus.

At the global level, UNESCO organized the World Conference on Science in 1999, in tandem with the International Council for Science (ICSU). The conference has given rise to a number of new structures, including the World Science Forum, World Science Day for Peace and Development, and the World Academy of Young Scientists, an informal body devoted to making the voice of young scientists heard on policy issues.

For a brief history of UNESCO’s science policy programme since 1965, click here.

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