Balance sheet of the 3rd World Forum on Science and Democracy (Tunis, March 2013)

About WFSD initial challenges.

The WFSD is the result of an initiative launched in 2007, during the World Social Forum which took place in Nairobi, as an answer to the lack of political dialogue between social movements and what could hastily be named « the research world ».

This idea had moved forward, and then two first forums have been taken place a few days before the World Social Forum in Belém, Brazil (2009) and Dakar, Senegal (2011). From mutual learning, this “space” evolved to a sharing of experiences and even more because joint-projects between participants are now emerging.

The 3rd forum has taken place in Tunis from 23 to 25 March, 2013. Its aim was to strengthen the process and to deepen the work on the « science and society » themes: responsibilities of scientists, commons, education, « alternative » research, control of emerging technologies, knowledge, governance of research, transition…

About the WFSD context

The WFSD is a long-term process in which various actors are involved: associations, NGOs, trade unions, research laboratories, universities, etc. They define together topics, common issues and the methodology in order to involve new people and organisations. Two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring and less than one year after the People’s Summit of Rio, the WFSD International Secretariat (Fondation Sciences Citoyennes and Association Française des Petits Débrouillards in 2013) had to initiate a dialogue between former actors and new ones. The expectations of the actors from the host country, Tunisia, had to be taken into account especially in a moving political context, particularly difficult to understand, particularly for foreigners.

Analysis of 3rd WFSD

Preparation of the 3rd forum: new tools and preparatory missions

In order to answer all the expectations from participants and organizers, WFSD proposed a new website and, at the same time, have used social networks. Due to this new website everyone could propose an activity for the forum and/or get connected with organizers or with the participants who proposed workshops. Furthermore several preparatory missions have been organized in Tunis. The first one led to connect organizers with the board and professors of the Faculty of Humanities at Tunis (FSHST). The second one consisted in introducing WFSD and WSF challenges to stakeholders during a meeting. And the third one, the longer, aimed to present the WFSD to students and teachers and to check if required conditions were there to organize the 3rd WFSD.

Involvement of actors in spite of a difficult political context

On January 6th, 2013, less than two months before the beginning of the forum the murder of the lawyer and human rights activist, Chokri Belaid, disturbed deeply the political context in Tunisia and, indirectly, the end of the organizational process. Despite this fact, and thanks to reassuring signals from Tunisian colleagues, preparation keeps going. The next weeks proved that the choice to hold the forum in spite of previous events was the good one.

An important investment of the host institution (FSHST)

In Dakar, the involvement of a « local » NGOs, Enda-Diapol, and the Senegalese office of the IDRC (a Canadian Crown corporation which aims to solve local problems in southern countries through research programs) play an important role in the achievement of the second forum, in 2011.

In Tunis, WFSD organizers, thanks to their several preparatory missions, have been able to lean on the direction of the host faculty (FSHST), its teachers and its students. Support and help boosted this 3rd forum.

The organization of an « off » WFSD offered the participant the possibility to take part in activities, events of scientific and technic culture but also to discover initiatives linked to the field of « sciences and society » whatever local or international.

Students of FSHST were widely involved in the preparation and management of this event.

3rd WFSD: some quantitative and qualitative elements

With nearly five hundred participants, from around twenty countries, the WFSD keeps “growing”. Once again, the host country was the one, which was the most represented. We deplore the quasi absence of Asian countries (even if India and Japan were represented). The fact that a broad number of former participants were present has to be underlined. It is a guarantee of continuity and deepening of analyses and studies.

From the qualitative point of view, the “historical” main themes of WFSD (commons, emerging technologies, participatory research, educative challenges, etc.) have reached a significant degree of maturity.

The improvement of the website, the work on the dissemination process and collaborative tools implemented by some project managers have also played an important role in the building of the programme agenda.

Moreover, the number of workshops’ proposals led to the use of the “agglutination” principle, a specific methodology of the social forums: before the official launch of the forum, organizers contacted people who registered “close” activities and proposed to merge; this methodology is a good manner to impulse collaborative work.

These progresses in methods and contents cannot prevent the WFSD from working on issues such as: How to satisfy all participants whereas they haven’t the same background on a specific topic (from layman to expert)? How to enhance the result of the work achieved during the 3 first forums but also during the associated events? That led us and will lead us to adopt an action plan and to modify the virtual network space of the WFSD in order to improve it.

WFSD evolution after the Tunisian forum

Since 2009, WFSD is structured around 3 entities: the Executive Secretariat, the International Council and the wide category of participants. As the step of mutual learning is now overcome, we have to think about co-construction, development, dissemination and collective projects rather than in terms of events and meetings. Our work will consist in ensuring activities and reflexions coherence through the implementation of thematic commissions (with the providing of collaborative tools and virtual libraries) but also of more practical commission, which would deal with communication, logistic, financial aspects…

This solution seems relevant as it serves a growth of reflexions and proposals from the WFSD. We think that the thematic approach would lead to closer links between organizations, institutions and networks. Thus it would facilitate common productions and would enable new actors (especially those, which are only interested by few or even one thematic) to access WFSD actors’ reflexion or even participate to these reflexions.

Each one could be involved regarding its possibilities but has to take its responsibilities toward the WFSD “members” too.

At the same time, both, the actors involved in WFSD and the International Secretariat (consisting only of the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes until 2015) would lead different public missions about the WFSD process, consisting mainly in meeting with key actors, on different geographic scales.

Main proposals of the 3rd WFSD

For the first time since 2007, several concrete proposals have arisen from collective reflexions (obviously, the new commission system will brought new ones). These proposals were made public during the closing sessions of the 3rd WFSD. Some of them have already led to action with substantial results. Among these proposals, which, it has to be underlined, come directly from reflexions within the WFSD for the last four year  (workshop in situ, international meeting, etc.) we could mention:

  • The foreshadowing of an international network on the Community Based Participatory Research, based on joint works done by the University of Toronto and the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes. This idea was supported during the 6th conference Living Knowledge (Copenhagen, april 2014). This network would be the result of workshops convened year after year within the WFSD.
  • The implementation of a Citizen University, an international academic program, which would facilitate student moving and propose new curricula. It is supposed to involve four universities (but it will be extended): the El Manar University in Tunis (Tunisia), the University of Evry (France), the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar (Senegal) and the Federal University of Bahia (Brazil).
  • The participation of the WFSD member organizations to an observatory of emerging technology, a project drafted by the Canadian organization ETC Group. From now and on it is opened to everyone. This observatory aims to unify information and experiments linked to new technologies, specifically geo-engineering, nanotechnologies and synthetic biology.
  • The drafting of a collective publication (participant’s guide), not only to enhance the progress which were made by the WFSD since its launched, which stems from our action in 2007, but also to establish a list of proposals and concrete actions to implement in the sciences and society field.

Other areas of work will be added in the future (and thanks to commissions’ work). Among these reflexions, the question of the WFSD within the United Nations agenda could be highlighted (a work which could be linked to the STEP Centre – Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability – from the University of Sussex). We could also work on the question of the responsibility. Finally, during the closing session, one of the initial goals of the WFSD, its inclusion in the World Social Forum, was acted. Therefore the WFSD will be part of WSF in the future.

Dissemination of WFSD’s idea and contact sharing

The idea arisen from the WFSD would mainly be disseminate through the

WFSD website, social networks and different communication actions led by WFSD “main actors” (conferences, thematic training, publication, press article, websites). As we often say: “The WFSD is built and fed by propositions and activities initiated by involved actors.”.

Concerning the process of contact sharing, the Executive Secretary (Fondation Sciences Citoyennes) and involved organizations, transparently leads it.

Conclusion

The third WFSD was a success regarding the host faculty feedback (this faculty is considering launching an Association Sciences Citoyennes as a result of the large amount of attention, which have been paid by not only its teachers and students but also its direction. That said, after these months of reflexions, we have to transform the try we scored (to use a rugby metaphor) and to develop WFSD topics and values, especially within the World Social Forum. Indeed, the WFSD actors have chosen to be part of the WSF what is a significant step and even an achievement as it was one of the initial aim of the WFSD process.

Fabien Piasecki
Executive Secretary of the World Forum on Science and Democracy
Coordinator at Fondation Sciences Citoyennes
PhD in Information and Communication Science

Disponible en / Available in: French

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