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Networking has always been one of UNESCO's most important functions.  From its inception, the Organization's task of building 11 the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind" has included helping intellectual communities to become organized and group together. Over time, this function has evolved. Where once its approach was to promote networks in discrete professions, UNESCO now emphasizes "transdisciplinarity" - co-operation among professionals in many fields around programmes that draw on the distinct contributions of each.

Moreover, UNESCO increasingly reaches out beyond the governmental and academic communities to involve organizations in civil society.


The science sector provides several good examples.  Since its inception UNESCO has built networks around four major intergovernmental research programmes to advance knowledge in the environmental sciences, particularly earth, water, and ocean resources.

 Each of these programmes provides a vehicle for co-operation and dialogue among professionals from UNESCO's member countries.  Each is a highly valuable network in its own right, but by the iggos it had become clear that something more was needed. 


The 1992 Earth Summit (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro was a milestone in the growing understanding that environmental issues are bound up inextricably with social and economic development.  Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted in Rio, advocated the integration of socioeconomic development with efforts to conserve a healthy environment.  Development, the Summit concluded, must become sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own.  Environment and development issues are complex and multidisciplinary.  They require responses that recognize this.  UNESCO could see, in particular, that there had to be more effective ways for natural scientists to work with social scientists on ways to promote sustainable development.  Therefore, in I994 UNESCO launched the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme with the aim of mobilizing the social sciences community world-wide.  MOST is a research and training network.  It addresses vital questions such as how social cohesion can be achieved in multi cultural and multi-ethnic societies, and how urban communities can cope with constant change.  One of the key objectives of MOST is to develop closer co-operation between social and natural scientists, and to bring both into dialogue with policy makers.

UNESCO now supports several projects that involve transdisciplinary networks.  For example, the initiative "Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI)" brings together expertise in natural and social sciences, culture, communication, and education, to assist countries move towards sustainable development of coastal regions.  CSI addresses issues such as mitigating the impacts of coastal erosion, managing fresh water in coastal cities and small islands, and strengthening coastal communities through sustainable management of biological resources.


UNESCO is now working to broaden the nature of its networks by bringing in a much wider range of people and organizations in civil society.  In the field of sustainable development, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on Agenda 21.  UNESCO recognizes that organizations in civil society have a critical role to play in advocating policies and providing the momentum needed to move decision-makers to action.

The World Conference on Science in Budapest in June 1999 had as its theme the relationship between science and society.  Scientists themselves recognize that there is a growing desire for public involvement in, and control of, scientific research in areas formerly restricted to discussions between researchers.   This can be seen in the establishment of national and international NCOs concerned with specific scientific issues.  With similar purposes, ethics committees have been created in many countries as well as internationally.  Scientists now need to be more attentive -as specialists and as citizens- to the potential economic, political and ethical problems raised by certain scientific developments, as can be seen particularly in the biomedical field.  The Programme of Action adopted by the Conference calls for increasing participation by all sectors of society in the scientific enterprise.

There are several examples in other sectors of UNESCO's effort to be more open and inclusive in the construction of its networks.  The International Bioethics Committee (described in Sheet 13) has reached out to interest groups and individuals outside of the usual governmental and academic networks for contributions to its process of reflection.  The Wommed/Femmed Network was created at UNESCO's Toronto symposium on Women and the Media in 1995 (see Sheet 13).  It brings together women and men from around the world who are working to redress gender imbalances in access to expression and decision-making in the media.  UNESCO aims to strengthen and expand this network.  It gives priority to exchanges between communications specialists and leaders of women's NCOS, particularly those working at the local level.  Wommed/Femmed is a decentralized network with no formal structure or general assembly.   Its members seek to develop local and regional actions in concert with other members.

UNESCO has also supported the creation of a multi-stakeholder network around the issue of children and media violence.  The network is served by the International Clearing House on Children and Violence on the Screen, based at Gothenburg University in Sweden.  Membership is diverse; it includes researchers, policy-makers, media professionals, teachers, voluntary organizations and interested individuals.  Canada's Media Awareness Network is among the members.  The network facilitates exchange among people involved in research, education, and training around the issue of children and media violence (see Sheet i5).

A similar network is now taking shape around the issue of sexual abuse of children, child pornography, and paedophilia on the Internet.  It is made up of specialists in child care and child protection, Internet specialists and service providers, media practitioners, law enforcement agencies, and government representatives.  Like the network on children and media violence, it aims to promote the exchange of information and co operation among groups concerned with child rights.  It plans to broaden its membership to include parents' associations, teachers, and other civic groups.

IF YOU ARE INVOLVED with UNESCO through its Canadian Commission, you are no doubt already participating to the exchanges of information or as a member of one or more of the Organization’s many networks.  You are invited to play an active role in linking your action to a network and then making your network vital and relevant to the needs of your profession, your community, and the world.


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