Social scientists can help formulate the goals, implement policies and measure their effects, heard the World Social Science Forum 2015 in Durban last week (13-16 September).
They should “engage in such a way that policy and social science maintain ongoing conversation,” said Ebrima Sall, a sociologist and executive secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.
“Even in the most difficult circumstances, something is working somewhere.”
Michael Woolcock, World Bank's Development Research Group
Sall spoke on a panel organised by UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST), an intergovernmental science programme that aims to improve policies by bringing social science researchers and policymakers together.
The speakers said that indicators for progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals vary from country to country, and are affected by a number of local circumstances, such as status of economic development. In Africa for example, Sall noted that countries emerging from serious conflict will not be able to meet the goals, which expire this year and are to be replaced by SDGs that will be agreed at a UN meeting in New York later this week.
According to the panel, it is the role of the social scientist to spot challenges and contributors to progress. “We’re not just looking at successes, but also analysing how we achieved success, whether it is sustainable and whether there are new trends of exclusion emerging,” said Sall.
Bringing in international research expertise can also help to define national targets, according to Mathieu Denis, senior science officer at the International Social Science Council. Denis mentioned the Future Earth project, which is partially funded by the council, as an example of an international research hub that provides data on sustainable development to policymakers and others. “Future Earth represents thousands of researchers working globally, with data and syntheses that can provide systemic review to inform a way forward,” he said. This gives countries access to a repository of five to 10 years of research which can help support the SDGs, Denis explained.
“Even in the most difficult circumstances, something is working somewhere,” said Michael Woolcock, lead social development specialist in the World Bank's Development Research Group, and a member of the MOST scientific advisory committee. “Good social scientists should be able to find those circumstances, and celebrate that and share it and try to replicate it.”