UNESCO’s science policy schemes face funding crisis

Science policy can guide research towards renewable energy and other priorities Copyright: Flickr/ PRI's The World

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Two UNESCO (the UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization) projects to strengthen capacity and the democratisation of decision-making on science policy in the developing world are facing funding constraints.

The Global Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Instruments (GO→SPIN) has been successfully rolled out in Latin America and the Caribbean, with plans to expand its use globally, covering 130 developing countries by 2015.


  • UNESCO science policy initiatives hit funding wall due to financial crisis
  • Delays efforts of GO→SPIN database going global, building on Latin America success
  • Already over 1,200 users of GO→SPIN in Latin America

UNESCO is also working on STIGAP (the Science, Technology and Innovation Global Assessment Programme), a long-term project focused on capacity building in developing countries. STIGAP aims to create a critical mass of experts to foster innovative methodologies for analysing STI policies and to search for new indicators and propose new strategies for development of science.

But the funding restrictions at UNESCO have meant the programmes have not received the funding originally earmarked for them, according to Guillermo A. Lemarchand, a science policy consultant at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters.

"Restrictions in the organisation’s present budgetary situation have prevented us from receiving the whole budget," says Lemarchand. However, "during 2012 we still received some funding for both projects from UNESCO’s Emergency Funds," he adds.  

Lidia Brito, director of the natural science division at UNESCO, tells SciDev.Net: "Unfortunately, the financial crisis that is facing UNESCO these days is delaying the programmed activities. At the present time we are looking for extra budgetary resources to develop both initiatives fully."

Brito says that up-scaling the GO→SPIN programme will involve considerable preparation efforts. These include conducting surveys on ST&I governmental bodies, reviewing national research and innovation systems, and organising training workshops to generate relevant information.

Some of these are underway in a handful of African countries — Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe — and a training course for francophone countries will be held in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, in February 2013, according to Lemarchand.

UNESCO’s Science Policy Information Network (SPIN, the precursor to GO→SPIN) was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean to generate reliable and relevant information about different ST&I policy landscapes. In 2011, UNESCO expanded the network to cover the rest of the world, renaming it GO→SPIN.

It is comprised of a cluster of databases equipped with powerful graphic and analytical tools, including, among others: a detailed inventory of each national innovation system in the region; descriptions of more than 900 different technical and financial science policy instruments; and a digital library specialising in STI.

"We have a long history of working on a nation-by-nation basis of helping member states construct STI polices," Gretchen Kalonji, assistant director-general for natural sciences at UNESCO told a meeting of science ministers in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, last month (23 November). Kalonji said that the launch of these "two major global initiatives" is part of UNESCO’s work on science policy embarking on several new directions.

"GO→SPIN is an effort to create a dynamic database of science policy instruments worldwide, including the data about what their impact has been," Kalonji said. "STIGAP is an initiative on designing from the bottoms up, with science policy experts worldwide, new types, more effective types of indicators [for science policy]."

The original GO→SPIN prototype provided a pilot system for standardising and systemising STI policy. To date, there are more than 1,200 registered users, including some science ministers in the region.

As an example of its impact, Brito says that UNESCO was told in 2010 that GO→SPIN initiative had saved Mercosur, an economic bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, at least three years’ work on the review that the Union of South American Nations planned to undertake of all its STI national systems.