Operation of a Strategy Center: Lessons learned from a four year institutional experience

Abstract

 

 

Although research in sustainable development is mainly justified by social needs, the impact of research activities on the "real” world, where decisions are taken and directions for the future are set,  very often remains small. This is because "decision makers”usually are not much aware of the results of scientific research, but also because researchers very often go into purely academic and abstract considerations, who are then very difficult to connect to the realities and the constraints of the day-to-day world.

 

            To alleviate this problem, one has evolved the concept of "participatory research” or "transdisciplinarity”. Like interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity necessitates special institutional settings, and one speaks in this context of "Strategy Center” or "action center”, whose goals are to translate the decision  needs of society into research questions, and to communicate the results of research in a form which can be useful to decision making in politics and society.

 

            The International Academy of the Environment was founded in 1991 as a Strategy Center , i.e. a strictly transdisciplinary  Institute.  In this paper we analyze the conclusions from the experience gathered in the first four years of existence of the Academy. Very concisely one can summarize these conclusions in  the following way: firstly, transdisciplinarity encounters the same intrinsic difficulties than interdisciplinarity, but to a much higher degree; secondly, the concept of transdisciplinarity is intuitively rather  convincing  and also original, so the Academy met with substantial support , intellectual and financial. But the concept of transdisciplinarity  is also sufficiently different from what is usually done to raise a lot of criticisms in academic and non academic circles.

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

I.INTRODUCTION.

 

Although research in sustainable development is mainly justified by social and political needs (caused  themselves mainly by environmental problems), the impact of research activities on society ,  where decisions are taken and directions for the future are set,  very often remains small. This is because "decision makers” usually are not much aware of the results of scientific research, but also because researchers very often go into purely academic and abstract considerations, who are then very difficult to connect to the realities and the constraints of the day-to-day world.

 

This concern of establishing a better contact between science and society[1] is of course not particularly original, nor new, nor restricted to the field of sustainable development. There have been in the past spectacular successes in science-society relations: the conquest of the moon, the Manhattan project, the fight against AIDS etc. But these successes usually concern big projects with a strong component of natural/technical sciences, and with rather short time horizons. It has proven more difficult to establish a fruitful collaboration in long term problems with a large socio-economic  content, like the ones occuring in sustainable development. Very recently the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society both initiated a vast rethinking of the relationship between Science and Society [2]. They both came to the conclusion that one needs to formulate a new contract between science and society (Pielke and Byerly (1998); Lubchenko (1998)). The very basic ingredient of this new contract is to establish, above and beyond the classical (linear/reservoir) scenario (basic science -> reservoir of knowledge -> applied science->technological development -> applications ), new interfaces between science and society that may help to steer (part of ) research in directions more immediately useful. This calls for new ways of collaboration between science and society (di Castri, 1989) . This need is particularly urgent in developing countries, that don't have the resources to copy the large scientific projects of the industrialized world (Goldemberg, 1998) .

 

In sustainable development , the  new Social Contract for Science  would need in particular (Lubchenko (1998)) "more effective bridges between policy, management and science". This would require "interdisciplinary scientists [to  acquire] the skills and savvy to work at the policy-science and management-science interface". The European Union delegation to the CSD6 plenary session recently made the following recommendation: " Every possible effort should be made to improve the processes of generating, sharing and utilizing science for sustainable development. This will include  a commitment to overcome the communication gaps within the scientific community and between scientists, policy makers and the general public....". "New processes and institutions are needed for quality assurance in science and technology applications. The old conception of a largely one-way traffic of information from the experts to the public... is being replaced by a more reciprocal partnership.." (ESEE, 1998). In Switzerland, the necessity of a closer collaboration between science and society has been emphasized  in particular within the Priority Programme Environment (Haberli, 1995; Minsch, 1995; Roux, 1995)

 

Transdisciplinarity is often  meant as a kind of perfected interdisciplinarity (Mittelstrass, 1995;  Cazenave and Nicolescu,1994; Klein, 1996), in which the identity of the individual disciplines disappear, in favour of a new kind of knowledge. This concept implies both a transcendental meaning (beyond academic disciplines) and a dynamic  transfer between the different disciplines. This concept goes back to prestigious thinkers like J. Piaget, E. Jantsch, E. Morin and A. Lichnerowicz[3] .

 

In practice, the need for transdisciplinarity is often invoked in connection with important societal problems, and it has turned out that a close collaboration of academics with stakeholders from society on a problem involving different disciplines in a complex way was one of the methods that has led to a true transdisciplinary "attitude" from the academic participants. In this context, one has evolved the concept of “transdisciplinary research process” (Defila et al 1996), or "Mode 2" knowledge production process. (Gibbons,M. et al ,1994)  . In a transdisciplinary research process , research is not developed “for” but “with”: the main constituencies concerned with the field of research are involved from the beginning, and all along, with the research effort .  The main advantage of the transdisciplinary process is that, unlike in the traditional approach, "where results are communicated through institutional channels, the results are communicated to those who have participated ... and so, in a sense, the diffusion of the results is initially accomplished in the process of their production” (Gibbons,M. et al ,1994) . Although transdisciplinarity in this sense is a slightly restrictive and specialized concept, it has proved useful, and we will use it in the remnant of this paper, without losing sight that it is just one of the ways to realize this perfect "problem driven" transdisciplinarity to which many authors refer.

 

The power of this concept of transdisciplinarity , which is very well adapted to complex socio-economic-ecological problems like the ones connected to sustainable development, is that it moves collaboration between science and society from the realm of ethics (one "should" collaborate more and better) to the realm of methodology (what are the rules of transdisciplinarity, the best practices, the evaluation criteria  and so on). This concept of transdisciplinarity also allows to draw analogies with the problems and obstacles of interdisciplinarity, which have been discussed since a long time.

 

This kind of thinking is naturally very close to the principles of "Participatory Research" (PR), or "Participatory Action Research"  (PAR) , whose origins are largely in the developing world (Sclove,1997).

 

It took many years to understand that interdisciplinarity needs special institutional settings. It is not enough to ask that "different disciplines should collaborate closely", one must also fund, protect, officially support this kind of activities. The same must hold true for transdisciplinarity. The reason for this fact is that inter- or transdisciplinarity require special knowledge and skills about project leadership, programme management, contacts, networking, organization of proper dialogue capabilities and so on. It would not only be unpractical  to expect scientists to all become experts in all these activities, it would be wrong. The principle job of the majority of scientists is to produce good science, not to spend time in exploring these difficult methodologies. The job of preparing, defining, co-ordinating, managing inter- or transdisciplinary projects must be taken over in special institutional settings.

 

One way of establishing the necessary  institutional setting is through so-called "Strategy Centers", whose role is to provide an interface between science and society. In 1991, we founded an institution called "The International Academy of the Environment", whose mandate was to be such a Startegy Center.

 

In this paper, we first discuss in general the concept of Strategy Center and the conceptual problems one has to face with such an institution, then we trace the early years of the Academy (1991-5), and finally we draw some lessons from this experience.

 

 

 

II. SRATEGY CENTERS: DEFINTION AND THE BASIC QUESTIONS

 

A. Introduction and definition.

 

The necessity of bridging the gap between research and its practical applications through the establishment of appropriate institutional settings is particularly well expressed in the Annual Report 1996 of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (World in transition, 1997). It proposes the creation of a "Strategy Center on Global Change" . "Possible responsibilities and fields of activity for such an institution" would be:

 

"Researchers on all subjects relevant to the particular problem and potential research users, i.e. decision makers and actors at the various levels of society, must contribute jointly to a multidimensional, interdisciplinary analysis of the problems as well as to the formulation of appropriate research questions.

 

On the user side, the formal and specific requirements to be met by problem-solving global change research and its expected research results must be formulated."

 

Such an institution would necessarily build on a large base  of competent scientists, hence the importance of going beyond in-house capabilities and establishing appropriate networks.

 

We would like to define the mandate of a Strategy Center in the following way:

 

The mandate of a Strategy Center is to be an interface: it must bring together researchers and decision makers into a continuing collaboration in order to:

 

            - contribute jointly to the analysis of the problems;

 

            - bring to the attention of decision makers potentially interesting ideas from the world of             research and discuss the potential applicability and relevance of these ideas;

 

            - discuss possible future research and training orientations for the academic community from             the needs of decision makers.

 

 

B.  Some basic questions.

 

(1) Supply driven or demand driven, relation with financing.

 

As stated above, a strategy center is supposed to bring together researchers and decision makers into a collaboration for the joint analysis of "problems". But which problems? Who must decide which problems are both interesting for the academics and relevant for the decision makers?

 

One must realize at this point that the university system is, by its very nature, not demand driven. It is driven by its own production, free research. This is the reason why  it is usually badly equipped to respond to society demands, except in very general and theoretical  terms.

 

Most academics would tend at this point to define the "problems" themselves, usually as a reflection of their own research interests, and hope to convince important decision makers to come and listen to them. This will in general not work, and certainly not lead to any real collaboration.

 

The only logical way of defining the relevant "problems" is through dialogue, in which there is equality of presentation and discussion time between the potential partners. Hence the importance of "Policy dialogues " in the functionning of a Startegy Center.

 

This point has also enormous relevance to financing, because a "problem" which seems relevant to decision makers will find financing much easier than a "problem" defined in the academic world alone.

 

(2) The scope and the lifetime of the Programme activities.

 

A Strategy Center on Sustainable Development must define in which areas of this (enormous ) field it wants to operate. This again is much harder than in a university system. A university supply driven system must choose a field of activities that is timely, related to the teaching activities  and susceptible of good research activities. This can be done with the advice of a good international research committee and/or by choosing good confirmed scientists as professors. Once the field of activities has been chosen, one must stick to that choice for a reasonable length of time, at least ten years for a research group, at least 20 years for a department, because good research needs time.

 

A Strategy Center must work on problems which are "relevant". If one chooses a subject which is too narrow, one may find oneself quickly sidestepped by the evolution of politics and society, and the subject choosen may quickly become irrelevant. So the programme activities must be chosen in a way which ensures relevance for a reasonable length of time. and thus be wider and vaguer than what one would do for a research program. It may also be that the definition of the programme activities may have to be changed on a shorter time scale as what on usually does in a university system.

 

(3) The justification of innovation.

 

A  Strategy Center must be justified to the outside. It is not enough to convince the authorities, one must convince also parlementarians, the media, university colleagues and so on. But the concept of Strategy Center is certainly innovative, and thus one encounters the basic problem of justifying  institutional innovation. As university professors, one tends sometime to forget how much the justification for universities rests on a very long time of trust between science and society. The university institution is indeed one of the oldest and one of the most successful of human history. Some people think that the university institution was born from formal information-storage institutions, that attracted scholars and then disciples. This would trace back the university institution as far back as the reign of the assyrian king Assurbanipal (668 to 627 B.C), who created a royal library in Nineveh that stocked over 10’000 works. From this free scholarship has evolved one of the most fruitful and important activities of human society, that of basic research. Thus in traditional academic life, the order of priorities starts with basic research. Education is (usually) considered as a kind of by-product of good research, and training / applications has a very low priority. This situation of course gives rise to a constant soul serching for the academic community: is it really appropriate to base the entire academic reward system on the “publish or perish” law?

 

But all this does not alter the basic fact that today's contract and trust between universities and society is essentially based on the goos name of basic research. Any step towards somthing different, and a step towards a Startegy Center is a large one, must be accepted by the community, and this is no easy task.

 

(4) Politics.

 

(5) Visibility. On what is reputation going to be built?  Research quality or process quality?

 

A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III.THE MANDATE AND THE ACTIVITIES OF THE ACADEMY

 

 

A. The mandate of the International Academy of the Environment.

 

           

 

 

            The International Academy of the Environment was established in 1991 by the swiss Confederation and the government of Geneva in order to create an institutionalized link between science and decision making in the environmental dimension of sustainable development. More specifically its mission was to:

 

            - provide decision makers with the basic knowledge and management principles that will enable them to take decisions compatible with sustainable development;

 

            - examine, through collaboration between experts and decision makers, new management solutions that will satisfy the requirements of sustainable development.

 

            The mandate was therefore very close to the idea of a "Strategy Center” as discussed in the introduction, with perhaps a little more emphasis on training[4].

 

 

B.The operational principles of the Academy: the activities.

 

            In order to fulfill its mandate, the Academy relied  on four activities: policy dialogues, training,  synthesis research and communication.

 

            The very basic activity of a strategy center is, almost by definition the policy dialogue.

 

1.Policy dialogues:

 

In order to make choices that meet the principles of sustainable development - choices that will be economically efficient, socially equitable and responsible, environmentally sound, and viable - it is important to bring together, already at the conceptual stages, all the key actors and/or dimensions potentially influencing not only the design of new policies and strategies, but also those who will be affected by, or called upon to implement them.

 

To maximise the success of new political, social, economic, and technical initiatives, it is important to include the various perspectives and the latest pertinent information covering all the dimensions of a given debate to reach meaningful consensus.

 

One of the key aspects of the Academy's mandate is to establish bridges between experts and decision-makers, between various sectors, disciplines and geographic representations. It is also to establish bridges between research and the policy-making process.

 

The Policy Dialogue activities of the Academy provide a complementary consultative mechanism for communication, cooperation and negotiation of complex issues pertaining to the environment dimensions of sustainable development.

The primary objective of policy dialogues at the International Academy of the Environment was to assist both international and national policy makers and decision makers in governments, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector in addressing the major environmental challenges of sustainable development, through a substantive and creative dialogue, outside of formal fora. These dialogues aim to facilitate and potentially influence decision-making processes.

 

The Academy organised such policy dialogues :

 

•          to develop new insights on complex policy issues and implementation strategies;

•          to broaden or deepen understanding of decision makers by exposing them to other perspectives, and sharing experiences;

•          to encourage the formulation of options and recommendations towards the resolution of a particular issue;

•          to raise the level of consensus amongst participants;

•          to promote contacts amongst individuals in a common field of interest that could lead to future networking and exchange.

 

The Academy's policy dialogues were not a formal negotiation (although it can contribute to the negotiating process); it is not a scientific workshop or seminar aimed at developing or reviewing a research paper (although it will usually involve scientific experts as participants); and it is not a didactic training session (although it will be a learning experience and promote insights through a stimulating exchange among equals).

 

Participants are asked to attend in their individual capacities rather than as formal representatives of a government or agency. The purpose is to promote an open-minded, informal atmosphere conducive to a free flow of ideas and encourages exploration, creativity, brainstorming and innovation.

Policy dialogues focus on identifying existing or potential obstacles, attempting to break existing deadlocks, and developing alternative approaches and strategies.

 

 

Characteristics of Academy's policy dialogues include:

 

•          short duration of the activity, generally limited to one or two days

 

•          a carefully prepared annotated agenda and focused background material specifically designed to stimulate and facilitate an action-oriented discussion;

 

•          limited groups of approximately 20 to 30 participants in order to encourage maximum interchange;

 

•          experienced chairmanship which fosters group dynamics conducive to innovative option identification;

 

•          use of the Geneva/Conches Academy site, or similar location where participants can meet and interact in an informal, retreat-like atmosphere;

 

•          production and distribution of a short report on the proceedings, which may include policy options or recommendations;

 

Initially the Academy chose to focus on a relatively small number of critical areas, primarily ones that are the subject of international debate - Population, Desertification, Climate Change. As the Academy's programmes develop and evolve, policy dialogues are becoming an integral part of all the programmes' activities. EST CE LE CAS ?

 

As in the past, (A quoi fait reference ce as in the past??) policy dialogues will be carefully prepared by an ad hoc group of experts in a short preliminary "policy workshop," designed to focus issues for discussion and to develop an annotated agenda.

 

Academy's initiated this program in 1991 with a policy dialogue on Climate Change Challenges: The Problem of Burden Sharing, organised jointly with the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Between 1993 and 1995, the Academy organised the following ten policy dialogues :

 

•          Legal Aspects of the Convention to Combat Desertification;

•          Population, Environment and Sustainable Development;

•          Developing a Facilitating Mechanism for the Equitable and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity: Achieving National Objectives through Regional Collaboration - Latin America and the Caribbean;

•          Financial Implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification;

•          Internalising Environmental Costs to Attain Both Trade and Environmental Objectives;

•          Co-ordinated Arrangements for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Genetic Resources, Material and Technology Transfer, and Benefit Sharing - Africa;

•          Assessment, Conservation and the Sustainable Use of Genetic Resources: Achieving National Objectives through Regional Collaboration - Asia;

•          A Clearing-House Mechanism to Promote and Facilitate Technical and Scientific Cooperation under the Convention on Biological Diversity;

•          Implementing the Objectives of the Restructured Global Environmental Facility;

•          Industrialised Country Commitments under the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

 

Peut on trouver des évaluations formelles qui auraient été faites au moment de certains de ces pol dial et les inserer ici pour valider notre lecture.

 

2.Training.

 

In training as in research one must make a very clear distinction between supply driven (top-down) programmes and demand driven (bottom-up) programmes. In university tradition, education and training are supply driven Je crois que c’est vrai pour trainig, mais quand meme beaucoup moins pour l’education au sens large): for a training programme, one starts from the competences of the available teaching staff, competences usually determined by their research activities, and one builds a training session or programme around these competences. The result may be of high value, but it will always ressemble closely the traditionnal university education: long lectures, some exercises. In a demand driven training programme, one first asserts the needs, and one then builds up the training programme according to these needs. The difficulty there is of course that the needs defined in this way will amost never correspopnd to the competences of the available staff, be it in the institution itself or in close by universities.

 

Given the general philosophy of the Academy, it is of course the second type of training that it had to strive for. The Academy was fortunate at the beginning of its existence to be in close contact with the organizers of the LEAD Programme, and were able therefore to profit from the preparatory work of the scientific committee of this programme, headed by prof. G. Goodmann, then director of the Stockolm Environmental Institute. The Academy had also the good fortune to start very early a close collaboration with the METAP Programme of the World Bank, then directed by Ms A. Kudat, who had already done the home work of defining the needs for training.  (((Ici on cite GG et AK, si on le fait il faudra s’assurer que certains le sont aussi………) ou bien on ne cite personne, ce qui me semble finallement preferable…….)

 

The conclusion of these two sources was of course very different from any thing that would have produced "top-down” by local resources: in particular, from METAP, a large emphasis on participatory management techniques.

 

Training for sustainable development is relatively new and calls for pedagogical approaches different from traditional ones as it implicates people so profoundly in their life, culture and values. In this context, knowledge on the subject is only useful in so far as it initiates a process of change in professional and personal attitudes and behaviours.

 

Keeping in mind the North-South dimension of the institution's mandate and its target audience, the training policy of the Academy aims at inciting dialogue and reflection on sometimes controversial issues, and at establishing bridges between theory and practice, rather than transferring the knowledge and know-how of specialists from the North to decision-makers of the South. The challenge is to never lose sight of the various visions of the world and to permanently link global issues and scenarios to the immediate concern of the participants. Consequently, the focus is on producing a new and effective knowledge based on the complementarity of various perspectives and elaborating tools that respond to the beneficiaries' needs. With a target audience of decision-makers, the scope is definitely more on the political and strategic aspects of these tools and their use rather than on their technicalities.

 

 

This approach is translated into the following guiding principles:

 

•          training activities feed back and forth to the research and policy dialogue activities of this and other programmes;

•          the objective of training activities is to incite dialogue and provoke reflection leading to action;

•          the strategy is to establish bridges between theory and practice, to re-place various tools in their policy and strategic perspectives, and to produce a new knowledge which goes beyond that of the participants' and speakers';

•          the training activities are not isolated but part of a process including permanent monitoring and evaluation, and follow-up at the regional and national levels thus ensuring lasting and multiplied effects;

•          contents and methods have to be tailored to the specific needs of an adult public on the basis of a structured process allowing for a precise assessment of needs; and,

•          a multidisciplinary and multidimensional perspective is indispensable, placing as much emphasis on relationships between persons or human organisations as on the relation man-environment.

 

Following the LEAD example, the Academy established the Training Course on Environment and Development -which, since 1992, is organised in Geneva on a yearly basis. In collaboration with METAP, the Academy organized a large number of executive seminars in the Mediterranean region, mainly on Environmental Communication and Negotiation and on the strategic aspects of  Environmental Impact Assessment /see the Annual Report 1994 for details.

 

 

Rather than organising one-shot, quick-fix training activities, the Academy’s strategy aims at initiating and developing processes which permit continuous identification and response to the evolving needs of the beneficiaries, and ensure lasting and multiplied effects. Such process- and action-oriented parti-pris, necessarily entails mid-term and long-term perspectives which fit with the requirements of capacity building. The strategy is characterised by the emphasis given to assessment of training needs, to accompanying measures and follow-up, and by the implementation of operational processes.

 

3.Synthesis research.

 

One often distinguishes three main categories of research :

 

•          fundamental research, which is driven by the motivation to expand a field of knowledge;

 

•          applied research, which is motivated by the development of a well defined application;

 

•          oriented research, which is driven by an actual societal problem, such a combating inequalities, or preserving biodiversity.

 

The research at the Academy was mainly of the third category.

 

The first, and most fundamental activity in an oriented research programme is “synthesis research”. Before engaging in any effort to clarify things beyond what is already known, it is essential to take thorough stock of the existing knowledge and study the interlinkages between the different aspects of a problem, identifying carefully where additional effort is needed. This was especially pertinent at the Academy, where the main goal was to address the needs of decision-makers. The immediate need of a decision-maker is for a comprehensive review of existing knowledge, rather than for new research results. To have value, the synthesis needs to cover all aspects of the problem, not only the technical or scientific ones, but also the policy and societal aspects.

 

The recommendation of the International Scientific Committe had been for the Academy to concentrate on this type of synthesis research. In developing the research activities, care has been taken to address the major issues connected with either international negotiations or decision-making related to topics within the programme themes. In this way the Academy aims to focus research on topics that can connect directly with its seminars and policy dialogues. The research activities at the Academy can be seen, on one hand, as initiators for the seminars and policy dialogues and on the other hand, as an important professional contribution of the Academy to the frontier level discourses on vital topics in the field of environment and development. Particular attention was given to research covering environment and development issues for both the North and the South.

 

 

 

 

C.The operational principles of the Academy: the organization.

 

 

1.Organization by programmes.

 

The Academy is organized by thematic programmes and engages in four main types of activities : executive seminars, policy dialogues, oriented research and publications. A programme is defined by an integrated and interdisciplinary set of goals relevant to an actual environment/development problem. Programmes may have been initially focused on training, policy dialogue, or research needs, but gradually all four types of activities were to be integrated into each of the programmes.

 

The four programmes at the Academy were mainly chosen because of their relevance to international negociations in Geneva, or in relation to its training activities: 1. Policies and tools for sustainable devlopment,  2. Biodiversity7 Biotechnology, 3.Consumption and Sustainability, 4. Trade and Environment.

 

Cette section n’ajoute pas beaucoup a l’analyse…… je laisserai tomber en tant que section et glisserai cette info plus haut dans le texte

2.Networking

 

By their very nature, training and policy dialogues are strongly demand driven. It is usually  not possible to satisfy this kind of demand by  relating  to a single group of researchers, which, by its very nature, is usually very specialized. One has therefore to build networks of specialists in the different domains of interest, and appeal to them when needed. Thus the Academy built each Programme in the following way: a small operational core at the Academy, with a couple of specialists and a administrative support, and a network of renowned experts around the world. In some cases (in Programme Biodiversity/Biotechnology) the direction of the programme was shared by a specialist who was not even in Europe! (prof. W. Lesser at Cornell) (Meme question sur les noms de personne)))

 

Of all the management principles at the academy, this concept of networking was probably the most innovative. (((((But in the era of increasing communication, an international institute of this kind is perhaps the solution of the future.))) je couperais

 

 

 

IV.  The International Academy of the Environment as a Strategy Center: lessons learned.

 

A. Generalities.

 

In a Strategy Center, the quality of the process turned out to be  of primary  importance. In fact a  Startegy Center tries to realize in a particular case the basic participatory dynamics of  Sustainable development. Sustainable development is not a concept: everyone who has tried to define it with precision has encountered very basic difficulties, or even contradictions. Sustainable development is a metaphor, which tries to give an idea of the constraints which weight on the future of mankind. The intrinsic contradictions, or at least extreme difficulties of the realization of sustainable devlopment, can only be handled in a democratic, participatory  process.

 

A strategy center is essentially a center for increased participation of society with science. What counts most of all is that the dialogue really takes place, and is fruitful.

 

B.On the activities:

 

1.Policy Dialogues.

 

As any new activity, "Policy Dialogues” seemed at first sight a rather easy thing to manage. Like all new ideas, the brilliance of the colors at first hid a little the real complexity of the process. In reality a Policy Dialogue treads a very narrow path in a very difficult landscape, which came gradually into focus. We summarize below the main conclusions:

 

1) The main characteristics that we gave to policy dialogues from the first were confirmed as sound ones: need asserted by an outside body (in general sevretariats of conventions),  careful preparation process, confidentiality (an open forum cannot possibly be termed a policy dialogue, because it prevents progress being made beyond known and well publicized positions).

 

But:

 

2) Policy Dialogues do not form an homogeneous genre. There are in fact a wide variety of possible policy dialogues, depending primarily on the purpose of the activity: it can in particular:

 

- help disantangle serious difficulties at a crucial moment of a negociation;

 

- prepare a research programme by defining carefully what is or is not relevant in research ideas;

 

- prepare long term policy options for government;

 

- strive to make progress in a general way in a difficult area.

 

These forms of policy dialogues are very different in their purpose and orientation. They require different organization forms and different processes. Our main lesson from this finding is that a policy dialogue, or a policy dialogue series  must be embedded in a very carefully defined and planned process.

 

3) One of the main obstacles to interdisciplinarity is well known to be the much greater distance between disciplines ( in their epistemology, methodologies etc) than anticipated at first. In a transdisciplinary process like a policy dialogue, we have an analoguous difficulty, but much larger than in interdisciplinarity. To becoms effective, one has here to overcome the differences in motivations, understanding, ptiorities in a very diverse group of people from industry, government, academia etc ( Professors love to teach, decision makers hate to listen). If it does not succed, at least a little , in bridging a little those differences, the policy dialogue will fall very easily in irrelevance or superficiality.

 

Avec le recul que les 2 dernieres années nous donnent, je ne saurais pas comment conclure cette section sur les Pol dial et leur succes en terme d’outils pour la transdisciplinarité…… Il aurait fallu un suivi réel, un retour au sein d’un processus continu et les circonstances n’ont pas toujours permis ce suivi. La encore on fait face a un probleme d’echcelle de temps. On reunit bien, de facon quasi instantanée les bons ingredients (en terme de personnne, institutions, idées etc…) mais le temps, le retour et les mecanismes de feedback ne sont pas la)) Je sais bien que cela n’aide pas de dire que je ne vois pas quelle conclusion mettre a ce paragraphe, mais cela me permet de veritablement replonger la dedans……. Je pense que lors de la prochaine lecture-ecriture, je serai plus a meme de suggerer des pistes. Aujourd’hui je me ré imbibe de L’esprit de l’AIE et de son équipe.

 

 

 

C.On management:

 

1.On the constraints of "bottom up” activities.

 

A "bottom up” activity is, by definition, constrained by a carefully anaylzed demand. If this demand corresponds to a stable long term need, an institution has time to gradually adapt to it, hiring experts in the corresponding domain, and establishing a good network of experts. This turned out to be the case in training; in policy dialogues however, the demand was sometimes changing with a very short time constant. This was intellectually quite challenging, but prevented in many cases a careful building up of expertise. Any demand driven institution will always meet that problem. Probably, but the time of experience was too short to draw any significant conclusion, some types of policy dialogues should perhaps be organized by other kinds  of institutions, like OECD or other international organizations. ((Pourquoi cette piste??)) C’est vrai par ailleurs, je n’ai aucun doute la dessus. Je pense que les secretariats des conventions pourraient faire la meme chose.

 

2.On the constraints on people.

 

A Strategy Center is by its very essence, bound to be very flexible. Fistly the demand may vary quickly, subject to changing political or environmental focus. Second, when one starts some kind of dialogue with different people with different interests and priorities, one is led to ever evolving problems and directions. This is opposed to ponderously defined and lengthily discussed programming and setting of priorities.

 

            In fact, organizations tend to be more and more slow and unflexible as time passes on. As emphasized by di Castri "Institutions ..tend to generate..increasingly heavy machinery for management...” . And  " by their very size and structure... institutions are able to resist efforts to change their way of working”. In the Academy, the need for flexibility and creativity made some collaborators very happy, and others significantly unhappy. The former were happy with a small piece of a rapidly expanding insitution, and the freedom and the money to expand this piece, and others were trying to establish power strucutures where everything would be discussed at length by everybody and decided only after a careful process. Perhaps most human beings need stability and predictabilty, whereas sustainable development needs flexibilty and creativity.

 

            The other problem, already alluded to, is the tension between process and contents. As emphasized above, in universities, where the distance between education and research is not too large, tension between pedagogy and research is already often quite difficult to manage. Between demand driven training, which demand a very high quality of process quality, and the interest in a part of the content, the distance is much larger, and much more difficult to travel.

 

            So, the ideal person in a Strategy Center is something of an impossible miracle: equally interested in process quality as in content, happy in a flexible and changing environment.

 

 

 

 

D.The unsolved problems: visibility , political immediacy and relation to research.

 

 To survive, an institution needs some kind of visibility. In universities, that have been in existence for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, this visibility is insured by the quality of research and the number and quality of alumni. Society has learned to recognize high quality research as a perfectly good justification for high levels of public spending.

 

Other sources for visibility are publication of (highly  publized) advocacy research (like the potential of energy saving or ways to reduce the material flow in our society), or the origanization of mediatized forums of dialogue (like the Davos Forum).

 

The greatest weakness of the Academy was that none of its principal activities  had, by their very essence, enough visibility. Policy Dialogues must, to be efficient, be conducted away from the media attention, and training in Developping countries, although probably one of the potentially most efficient contribution to Sustainable Development, has almost no visibility at all in Switzerland (although it had sometimes a high visibility in the concerned countries).There are two solutions to this problem: firstly a startegic center must benefit from a very strong support from political and academic powers, second, but this is hard to achieve, some of the Policy Dialogues could be envisaged as side shows of a more public Forum.

 

The problem of political immediacy is of course very closely connected to the problem of visibility. Wether one likes it or not, the main concern of politicians is  reelection and therefore visibility in positive contexts. For a minister to be seen as supportive of a strategy center, he or she must gain some political mileage out of this support. This is probably only possible in a long range and elevated view of a political career, which is not very often seen. ((((Et franchement, cela n’est pas l’exclusivité de la scene genevoise, meme si elle brille particulierement à ce niveau…..)))

 

On research: research plays a very complex role in university life. It is not only research results that are important, because most of these are quickly forgotten, if they ever got noticed at all. The importance of research  in universities has a lot to do with mental alertness and the ethics of science. By doing one’s own research, one is forced to go deeply into a subject, thus training oneself to reach beyond superficiality and generality. Every university professor knows how different the quality of his courses improve when he is in a productive research period, even if the research has no direct relevance to the subject of the courses. So, some level of basic research activity should be maintained by the collaborators of a strategy center. The policy of the Academy was that scientific collaborators had to spend 20 % of their time on some kind of free research. This turned out to be almost impossible. As stated above, the distance between process quality (and the mere organizational work) inherent in a strategy center, and the kind of quiet attention demanded by research proved to be almost incompatible in a single person.

 

 

V.GENERAL CONCLUSIONS   

 

           

            The main conclusion of the four years of the Academy’s existence is perhaps the discovery of something (the transdisciplinary process) much more complex and varied than expected. At first, causing people from different sectors of society to meet and dialogue seemed a  perfectly sensible but rather simple programme, but experience showed that it was a very complex process, richer and more difficult than interdisciplinarity, but also extremely interesting.  It is a little as in hiking in a moutainous terrain. The first hill seems close enough, and easy to climb, but once at the top, one discovers a higher, much more structured mountains range. ((((Je te reconnais bien là……)))

 

            The establishment and management of a Strategy Center was thus a very interesting experience, from many points of view. As hinted above, the Academy was very succesfull from a financial point of view. Its budget went to 6 MIO francs in three years (1 Mio in 1991, 2 in 1992, 4 in 1993, 6 in 1994), and it would have continued to grow in the same manner if left to work in peace. ((((Ces éléments de nature financière devraient arriver dans le corps du texte alors que l’on décrit la bete))) But the pressure became stronger and stronger to turn it into a standard research/think tank institute, and the idea of a Strategy Center is so alien to standard university wisdom, that it became more and more difficult to defend the orientation the Academy had taken. The root of the Academy’s financial success was not, of course such alien words as transdisciplinarity or strategy center, but the priority it gave to the quality of process. This also is very alien to university culture.[5]

 

            But the existence of the Academy pointed to a much deeper problem: governments, especially in our financially difficult times, claim that the university institution must evolve in order to meet new challenges, get closer to society’s needs, and, in the process, find new funding sources. Autorities must hovewer understand that this is only possible if universities or university institutions find also new operationnal priorities: one cannot at the same time save the "research first” principle and get closer to society’s needs. The Academy, by its "process first” operational principle, had found a promising way to explore new ways and financing sources.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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[1]throughout, when we write science, we mean all sciences: natural, human,social etc.

[2]see for example the web site: http://www.sciencemag.org/feature/data/150essay.shl

see also:  http://www.house.gov/science/science_policy_study.htm

[3] Transdisciplinarity is also sometimes defined as the transfer of ideas and methods from one discipline to another (Arber, 1993). In that sense, transdisciplinarity is to be considered in general as a tool or prerequisite to interdisciplinarity. The multiplicity of meanings of the word transdisciplinarity is perhaps connected to the ambiguity of the prefix "trans". It can mean in particular: across or over (like in "transatlantic”); beyond(like in "transuranic”, or "transcendental"); transfering (like in "transportation”); changing.(like in "transmutation”).

 

[4]
                      see Annual report 1994, available at the International Academy of the Environment, 4,ch de Conches 1231 Conches Switzerland.

 

[5]
                  For a recent discussion see the editorial in Science 274, 159 (1966)