International panels of experts have proliferated to marshal scientific knowledge. There are panels on climate change, biodiversity, chemical pollution, food security and nuclear proliferation. All are concerned with long-term issues that have profound economic, social, political and cultural ramifications.
Those issues, and the uncertainties around them, represent unprecedented challenges for our societies. Many of the obstacles to the identification and implementation of solutions to the ‘wicked problems’ — those that are multifactorial and exceptionally complex — come from inertia and misalignment in institutions, conventions and forms of collective action. Meanwhile, we are still facing many classic threats — war, violence and terrorism produce major disruptions and instabilities while widening inequalities put increasing strains on social cohesion.
All this questions our collective capacity to deliver on global sustainability goals and to ensure a viable future for subsequent generations. The absence of a positive and cohesive long-term vision of what we could collectively aim for is one key factor responsible for this helplessness and impotence.
That vision is the mission of a new panel convened last year, the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP). It comprises more than 300 social-science and humanities scholars coordinated by the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris and by Princeton University in New Jersey. The IPSP is preparing a report on directions that could be taken in the twenty-first century to create better societies.
In the next few months, the IPSP will release the first draft of its report and calls on researchers, policymakers, think tanks, companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and citizens to provide feedback during the comment period. From August to December 2016, interested parties will be able to weigh in on the panel website, www.ipsp.org, which will host a comment platform, discussion forums and surveys. Informed by these views, it is hoped that the final report will reflect an open and broad international debate on ‘mobilizing utopias’.