The Seeding of BRIDGES by a previous UNESCO project on Sustainability Science
The establishment of the BRIDGES coalition stems from the project “Broadening the Application of the Sustainability Science Approach,” a two-year project initiated by UNESCO in October 2015 with support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan/MEXT). This project drew upon sustainability experts from around the world to develop policy guidelines intended to help UNESCO Member States harness the potential of sustainability science in their efforts to support and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One output of the project was UNESCO’s policy-guidance document Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education, which proposed a refined approach to sustainability science, emphasizing inclusive transdisciplinary research, education and societal action (among other modalities) to enable more effective integrated responses to global challenges. The importance of including the Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as indigenous and traditional local knowledge, without reducing these knowledge domains to instrumental roles, was emphasized in this report.
A new project is conceived
Another major outcome of this project was a follow-up initiative led by UNESCO, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH), and Humanities for the Environment global observatory network (HfE) that has now resulted in the establishment of BRIDGES as a Global Sustainability Science Coalition anchored in the Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), whose secretariat is based in UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences sector.
As the first humanities-led international sustainability science program within UNESCO and the wider family of UN agencies, the BRIDGES Coalition was conceived in this exploratory process as both innovative and critically necessary. Extensive multi-stakeholder consultations were carried out over four international workshops in 2019-2021 as part of the visioning process leading to the establishment of BRIDGES. The process involved ca. 40 committed partner organisations that now largely make up the founding membership of BRIDGES and was sponsored and co-organized by the Founding partners of UNESCO, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) and the Circumpolar Observatory of the Humanities for the Environment global observatory network (HfE).
The BRIDGES Coalition launches
BRIDGES was endorsed by the Intergovernmental Council of the Management of Social Transformations Programme on March 31, 2021 during MOST’s 15th Ordinary Session. The Coalition held its first general assembly on May 24-25, 2021, with the participation of 45 member organizations and strategic partners. The number of member institutions in this global coalition is anticipated to expand significantly during the inception phase of BRIDGES (2022-2024).
In the second half of 2021 the Interim Executive Group of the BRIDGES Coalition – consisting of the Founding Partners of UNESCO, CIPSH and HfE in consultation with the MOST Secretariat – reviewed applications from numerous member organizations to host regional and thematic BRIDGES hubs and five of these applications were approved.
Chronologically, these included: the Southern African Hub at University of Pretoria; the Flagship Hub at Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; the Knowledge and Action of the Club of Rome; a Thematic Hub devoted to Understanding Past Socio-Ecological Resilience jointly organized by CUNY’s Human Ecodynamics Research Center and the Princeton University’s Climate Change and History Research Initiative; and the UK Hub at University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
BRIDGES seeks to have innovative influence on the sustainability domain
BRIDGES hubs contribute significant implementation capacities to the international operations of BRIDGES as a UNESCO MOST Sustainability Science Coalition. As a global coalition that is strategically led by the humanities and social sciences, while also being inclusive of all knowledge domains, BRIDGES is filling an urgent need. During the present critical UN Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals the Coalition is working to promote integrated communities of knowledge, practice, purpose and action driven by researchers, educational specialists and diverse actors in civil society that have long operated at, or even beyond, the periphery of the science-policy interface internationally.
The effectiveness of this approach depends partly on the ability to develop new models of knowledge production and integration across the wider spectrum of scientific and knowledge domains, and the ability to apply integrated co-produced knowledge effectively in a range of contexts where the challenges and vulnerabilities may be greatest in the decades ahead.
From an inception phase through the Decade of Action
BRIDGES hubs began to launch midway through 2022 for the start of a two-year inception phase. The challenge in this phase is to consolidate priority initiatives across hubs and regions, build capacity and expand the coalition’s engagement and activities internationally, especially in those parts of the world where the current anchoring of BRIDGES is more limited due to its relative novelty as a program: Asia and the Pacific, South America, East and West Africa, the Circumpolar North, the Middle East and Northern Africa and among Small-Island States.
Realizing these objectives, and demonstrating the value of BRIDGES’ innovative humanities-led approach to knowledge integration, will be of critical importance over the coming few years. The establishment of additional Knowledge and Action Hubs in a number of these regions is expected to catalyze this effort, contributing to BRIDGES’ developing knowledge networks and growing capacity to promote new science, arts and humanities-based co-production. In this way it is an ambition to see the coalition’s wider impact as a change agent in the sustainability domain develop and strengthen over the course of this crucial decade.