Just how inclusive is ‘Future Earth’?

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

Future Earth is a vast plan to draw together the big international global change research programmes, and funders, together, to deliver, as ICSU president Yuan Tseh Lee (interviewed here) says, “action-oriented research that society really needs”.

Anyone uneasy at how pratical, inclusive and nimble this behemoth of a collaboration can be (read our latest story on Future Earth here) was invited to a Town Hall session last night, to quiz Future Earth’s behemoth of a transition team.

One worry was how Future Earth would ensure it didn’t just “recycle basic knowledge and not actually be able to generate action”.

The reply was that, as agencies like UNEP are part of the collaboration, it would be forced to stay “action-oriented”.

But most of the questions probed just how inclusive this project, which aims to include just about everyone in setting its research goals and implementing them, will really be. The most upset member of the audience was a biological scientist who felt Future Earth was being driven by the climate and geosciences communities. Emphatically not, said the panel — we have DIVERSITAS, the biodiversity people, on board for a start.

Also: yes – there would be engineers; yes — humanities (there’s an environmental historian on the team); yes – a goal is to recruit and empower scientists from developing countries; yes – social scientist involvement is absolutely critical.

But it’s proving hard, said a member of the transition team, to persuade the last group to join.

There was really only one question that stumped the team: How will you know if you have succeeded?

The team had no answer to this question of metrics, which could be problematic if soliciting funds from outcome-obsessed funders like the UK’s Department of International Development.

But it felt like Future Earth has won the greater argument – that researchers need, urgently, to find out what the outside world needs from them and then pool their frames of reference to deliver it.
This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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