Presented as part of the INGSA2021 Plenary - Where to from here? The next steps for INGSA, award presentations and announcements

Watch the whole plenary here

Many thanks Peter for this superb overview of INGSA accomplishments since 2014. Truly amazing & in large part due to your commitment and passion for science advice everywhere in the world.... You are the global face of science advice.

If INGSA is where it is today it is mostly because of you and a team of devoted partners, chapters & divisions as well as long standing sponsors such as the Wellcome trust and IDRC.

I have enormous shoes to fill as incoming president and will not succeed without your continued help and support and that of all members of our rapidly growing community. Merci encore pour tout et bonne chance avec la présidence de l’International Science Council. INGSA always had good relationships with its parent body and we hope to be able to do even more in future years.

I will now like to summarize briefly my main priorities over the next two years.  Early days and will certainly evolve following discussion with our newly elected board and inputs from our membership. I am counting on you.

I also did not have the time to digest & incorporate the rich discussion of the past three days  on topics such as transdisciplinarity; ethical guidelines in science advice;  optimal foresight, trust & transparency in periods of compressed times; & more effective public engagement & genuine co-production of advices just to name a couple of debated thematics. I now need time to properly reflect on all that.

Three major priorities stand out for me:

First—gouvernance & long term sustainability including continued capacity building & finances.

Second-the role of ‘cultural & linguistic contexts’ in the delivery of truly effective science advice.

Third-how to deliver impactful & effective science advice at different levels of government – from global to national, regional & local including citizen engagement. We need to consider how to link and integrate better our efforts across levels.

Let me address the latter two first.

Cultural-linguistic contexts of science advice

This may seem strange to most of you who are saying ‘science advice is science advice’ no? Well no….

Throughout my involvement with INGSA, I have made it my priority to ensure that cultural and linguistic contexts are taken into account in the way we approach science advising practice. Language and culture affect our interpretations of the world around us and even if the science is as universal as it can be, the way evidence is assembled, conveyed & understood by recipients is contextually embedded.  We need to recognise this to create a truly global understanding of evidence-informed policy to face our collective challenges.  This is science diplomacy in action.

Moreover, and most importantly, cultural ways of doing things often have significant impacts on the uptake of the advice by officials & support by the public. I have observed it here in Canada, but I have no doubt that colleagues in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe would agree. To succeed, we will need a greater involvement of experts in social sciences & humanities in all our activities.

In many ways, english speaking countries often have a head start on the organisational structures for science advice thanks to active networks fostering exchanges as to best practices & lessons learned.  This might be related, at least in part, to science networks created by the commonwealth years ago. 

The advantage was made clear during the pandemic as anglophone countries seemed to exchange information and ideas quickly, taking for granted that english was the language of research. But as Quebec chief scientist, I noted the absence of similar exchanges – at least in francophone countries – and set about organising a few gatherings to fill the void.

I am keen to learn more about experiences across Latin America and elsewhere, such as in subregions in Asia – even if the language is not shared, may be there is sufficient underlying cultural similarities to facilitate cross-border information exchange and knowledge brokerage? INGSA’s recent work with a grouping of south east asian science advisors is a new institutional experiment in this regard.

For my part, these observations and experiences have convinced me of the need to address this challenge further and what better place for a Québécois to start than with the francophone community?  Tomorrow we have a whole day dedicated to issues of science advice in the french-speaking world and I will share details of a new initiative within the INGSA structure.  It will take the form of a network that will be nurtured under the guidance of a coordinating committee of experts from many countries, chaired by professor Lassina Zerbo from Burkina Faso. Stay tuned for more information about its development in the coming months, when a call is issued by the Fonds de recherche du Québec in partnership with INGSA.

It is my hope that we may see more such networks develop within the INGSA family. Can we even dare to dream of an international indigenous network in science advice that can open our eyes to true epistemic diversity and ways of knowing and acting? INGSA, as a network of networks, could be the right place & it would enrich us all.

Science advice at different levels of government—from global to local & full circle

This critical topic was discussed in few sessions this week. The consideration of context is also important when giving science advice to different levels of government. They are each institutionally bound in different ways and this affects how they see problems and possible solutions. This is true at all levels, from global to national, regional and local, city governments. Even if we know this, we don’t always take it into account, which can lead to frustration on all sides.

In Canada, health and education-related policies & rules are under provincial jurisdiction. The pandemic really shone a light on the sometimes vast differences between what was suggested at the national level and the decisions and actions of provincial governments. It too often led to confusion at the level of local governments; their staff having to operationalise protocols.

Civil servants and elected officials of local governments have to implement higher governments’ guidelines and rules often without having the benefits of strong internal capacity in science and science advices. Of course, they can partner with academic experts but this is often not sufficient for optimal, timely responses & implementation during a crisis.

Recently, the FRQ established strong links with the city of Montreal and a few other cities in Québec. The aim is to increase internal capacity in science advice at the city level. Mayor Plante referred to our partnership in her opening remarks.

Can we go a step further and have chief science officers and the likes in local governments to ensure long term continuity of expertise? What are the existing models and best practices for this in global cities? Through INGSA and its partnerships with other global organisations, we can learn and share practices and increase capacities.  After all, local governments are often where the action is ...just think about the climate crisis & many of the SDG.

At INGSA, we can do more to help identify gaps and work with municipal leaders & established experts to increase internal capacity in science advice & delivery at the local level, which is the closest to our fellow citizens.

Talking about citizens, I am hoping that INGSA will consider developing an ambitious strategy aimed to promote their greater engagement in our organisation. As J. Wilsdon reminded us yesterday, INGSA was established, to some extent, with that in mind. Moreover, strong public engagement in science advice, circling back to higher levels of governments, can contribute to fight disinformation and loss of confidence in science and science experts—a key issue raised by peter in his talk. Trust, transparency, honesty & partnership are key words we need to put in action and engage more directly with our citizens of all age groups and cultures. We must explain better to them the in and out of the scientific method and truly act as honest brooker as coined by Roger Pielke.

Finally, let me address the priority of governance & sustainability for INGSA

It may seem a rather pedestrian and even somewhat dull topic to conclude with, however, I would argue that this is key to the future of INGSA. Our new constitution provides for sound and open governance, which will bring with it a focused strategic plan.

Luckily, thanks to the work of the New Zealand head office, we have made major progress over the past few months. Specifially, under INGSA’s new legal constitution, INGSA’s new governing board now takes effect and today I am very pleased to announce the results of the recent election by our membership for the three vice-president positions…

  1. Dr Clare Craig (UK) as inaugural VP evidence
  2. Dr Binyam Sisay Mendisu (Ethiopia) as inaugural VP capacity building
  3. Dr Soledad Quiroz Valenzuela (Chile) as inaugural VP policy

Please join me in congratulating our new governing board executive officers and consult their impressive CVs and bios on the INGSA website.

I also wish here to thanks the other candidates who agreed to have their names stand for election. You can be sure that you are not off the hook and that we will call on your expertise in the very near future!

In addition to these elected positions, the INGSA board also includes non-elected positions which will help us strengthen the voice of our chapters within the structure, as well as create a formal link to the global young academy. It will also give us the scope to focus on key geographies such as small island developing states and on key issues represented by our special interest divisions.

Over the next few months, I will work with the new board to develop a robust strategic plan aimed at extending and amplifying INGSA’s reach and relevance, which goes hand in hand with ensuring its sustainability through diversified partnerships.

You as members will be asked to contribute at various phases of development of the strategic plan. It must be our plan… not my plan! With our small but highly effective head office led by Kristiann Allen & Grant Mills in Auckland, with our new board members, and with the diverse and enthusiastic INGSA membership, I look forward to INGSA’s continued success and new opportunities.

Merci et au plaisir de travailler avec vous.

Rémi Quirion
Quebec Chief Scientist