Social Science and UNESCO's MOST Programme

By Auriat, Nadia | Canadian Journal of Regional Science, Spring-Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Social Science and UNESCO's MOST Programme


Auriat, Nadia, Canadian Journal of Regional Science


Nadia Auriat

UNESCO Headquarters

Sector for Social and Human Sciences

France, Paris 75015

The United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is the branch of the United Nation's family mandated to develop, apply and promote international social science teaching and research. In this framework, over 180 Member States of UNESCO approved in 1994 the establishment of an international social science programme baptised MOST (Management of Social Transformations). The Programme's general objective is to improve the process of social sector policy planning, by funneling research results derived from social scientific enquiry to those individuals working in administration, bureaucracy and government who are responsible for policy decisions. The purpose of this article is to present the philosophy behind this UNESCO undertaking and to brifely overview the relationship between research and policy from the Programme's perspective. The article concludes with a case study of one of its international collaborative projects demonstrating how results from social research can be translated into policy and action.

General Background

In order to understand the philosophy of the MOST Programme today, it is helpful to recall the role bequeathed to the social sciences (1) in UNESCO by its founding Member States in 1946. From its very outset, the governing bodies of this organisation noted that "the social sciences occupy a central position in the programmes of UNESCO", that it is "the social sciences that secure the essential unity of UNESCO's task", that "one of the principal general functions of UNESCO will be to help improve the methodology of the social sciences" (2) and that "UNESCO should seek to strengthen a world outlook in the social sciences". (3)

On the basis of this unique mandate bestowed on UNESCO and captured by these four quotations, the Organisation played an effective pioneering role in international social science particularly from the 1940's to the 1960's. Its work flowed from the dual objectives attributed to the autonomous social science programme, which were: the application and utilization of the social sciences in the definition and implementation of UNESCO's programmes in its fields of competence, being education, culture, communication, human rights and peace, and relations between science, technology and society; and, the world-wide scientific and institutional advancement of these disciplines so that they generate reliable knowledge on social processes, structures and human behaviour and that their ouput constitute a relevant information base for policy making. Achievements from these decades include strengthened social science research and teaching institutions in developing countries; promotion of international and regional networking within and across social science disciplines; and development of documentation and information on social science teaching, training and research.

The establishment of MOST in 1994 was prompted by the concern amongst social scientists, Member States, and development and UN agencies that governments' across the globe resorted to social science analysis on a fragmented and disorganised basis, calling on policy research for specific ad hoc tasks and shrugging off the fundamental need to base development and policy decisions on longer term, analytical social research. This observation was reinforced at that time and in subsequent years by the recommendations contained within the Reports on the five United Nations World Summits, beginning with the Summit on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, June 1992), the Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, September 1994) the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen March 1995), the World Conference on Women (Beijing September 1995) and the Conference on Human Settlements (Istanbul, June 1996). One element common to these five Summits, is the sweeping concensus for a new approach to development that puts people and social equity at the heart of the development agenda. …

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