2.1 Towards a merger of ICSU and ISSC
Reflecting on current challenges facing both science and the societies of which it is a part, the 2014 External Review of ICSU concluded that ICSU and its counterpart organization for the social sciences, the International Social Science Council (ISSC), “need to accelerate their partnering relationship, as there are few major science policy issues whose framing can do without major social science input”. Following publication of the Review, and based on a proposal by the ICSU Executive Board, the Executives of both ICSU and ISSC appointed a Joint Working Group to explore closer institutional alignment, and possible amalgamation, between the two councils.
The Group was co-chaired by Khotso Mokhele, former ICSU Vice-President for Scientific Planning and Review (nominated by ICSU) and Pierre Ritchie, former Secretary-General of the International Union of Psychological Science (nominated by ISSC). The ISSC delegation comprised Alberto Martinelli (ISSC President), Saths Cooper (ISSC Vice-President for Information and Communication Outreach) and Renée van Kessel (ISSC Executive Committee Member). The ICSU delegation comprised Gordon McBean (ICSU President), Jinghai Li (ICSU Vice-President for Scientific Planning and Review) and David Black (ICSU Secretary-General).
The Group met twice between January and April 2016. Based on its advice, the Executive bodies of both ICSU and ISSC unanimously agreed to propose to their members that the two councils merge to form a single international organization for the social and natural sciences. In preparation for a decision on this proposal by ICSU and ISSC Members, the Working Group developed a narrative report on the need for a unified, interdisciplinary voice for science at the global level; a draft planning framework with options for the strategic, governance and organizational arrangements of a new organization; as well as a proposed roadmap for membership engagement, consultation and decision-making on the proposed merger.
2.2 Oslo General Assembly
As a first milestone on the proposed roadmap, ICSU held an extraordinary General Assembly to coincide with the ISSC General Assembly in Oslo, Norway, in October 2016. This historic meeting was hosted by the Norwegian Research Council, a member of the ISSC. Its main purpose was to secure an in-principle agreement of the membership of both Councils to pursue the idea of a merger. Members were asked to discuss and provide feedback on the motivation to merge, as well as on the draft planning framework, and to agree on the appointment of a Transition Task Force which would lead the development of detailed plans for a proposed merger. In addition, ICSU members were asked to extend the mandate of its current Executive Board by one year, i.e. until October 2018, in order to ensure leadership continuity in the transition planning and possible implementation phase of the proposed merger process.
The Oslo vote was overwhelmingly positive. It showed strong support by ICSU Members for the Council to pursue the idea of a merger with the ISSC (76% positive votes), and to extend the mandate of the current ICSU EB by one year (80% positive votes). Members of both ICSU and ISSC supported the appointment of a Transition Task Force (TTF), and further agreed on the need for a separate Strategy Working Group (SWG) that should engage member representatives in preparing a high-level strategy proposal that should provide a clear framework for the substantive development of a new, merged organization.
The two working groups were set up in December 2016 following an open call for nominations to ICSU and ISSC members.
The SWG is co-chaired by Jinghai Li (ICSU Vice-President) and Saths Cooper (ISSC Vice-President), and includes an additional 12 representatives of the Members of each organization. The task of the SWG is to provide strategic proposals for vision and mission, core values and principles, and priorities of a new, merged organization.
The TTF membership includes the Presidents of both ICSU and the ISSC, namely Gordon McBean and Alberto Martinelli respectively, two additional members of the Executive bodies of each organization, as well as nine representatives of the members of each organization. Khotso Mokhele, a former ICSU Vice-President for Scientific Planning and Review, and former member of the ISSC Committee for Developing and Transition Economies, acts as Facilitator of the group. The TTF is responsible for developing proposed new statutes and rules of procedure for a merged organization, including a new membership structure, governance and secretariat arrangements and a detailed financial analysis.
The outputs of the SWG and TTF will be submitted to ICSU and ISSC members in July 2017, ahead of the ICSU General Assembly and ISSC Extraordinary General Assembly scheduled to take place in Taipei in October. It is at this meeting that our members will take the final decision on whether they want to go ahead with the merger.
2.3 Unions Meeting
The triennial meeting of the International Council for Science’s International Union Members took place at the Fondation Simone et Cino del Duca in Paris, France on 12-13 April 2016.
At the meeting, representatives from the Council’s 31 Union Members received updates on its activities since the General Assembly in Auckland in 2014, shared their own reports on major activities, and discussed the way forward for the Council and the Unions over the coming 18 months until the General Assembly in Taipei in October 2017.
Union Members were given an update on key challenges and concrete actions of the ICSU Executive Board’s response to the 2014 External Review. One such action was the redesigned ICSU Grants Programme, which provides three grants of up to 300,000 € each for a period of three years. The goal of new ICSU Grants Programme is to support Unions to lead on the development of impactful international scientific initiatives.
A particular focus of the discussion was on the ongoing process to develop a new strategic plan for the organization. The meeting also provided the opportunity for participants to network informally with members of the Council’s Executive Board and the Directors of several of its interdisciplinary bodies.