Why a panel on social progress?
There are many expert panels on issues ranging from biodiversity to chemical pollution or nuclear proliferation, and the most famous is now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Almost a decade ago, in 2014, a small group of academics started to wonder: Why is there no panel about the promotion of social justice, about the search for a general set of better policies and better institutions—in a nutshell, for a better society? Many policy issues examined by the existing panels have deep societal roots in the economy, in politics, and in cultures and values. Addressing these deeper factors would ease the search for solutions in many domains. This questioning turned out to be widely shared among social scientists, and motivated the launch of the International Panel on Social Progress (IPSP) in 2015.
The IPSP is a purely bottom-up initiative, started by a group of scholars and thinkers who want to act, and now widely open to change-makers, innovators, doers. It is complementary to many ongoing efforts by various groups and organizations with which it is collaborating. The United Nations are pushing the ambitious Agenda 2030 and its associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); the OECD has launched multiple initiatives for a “better life”, for “inclusive growth”, as well as more technical efforts such as the fight against tax evasion; the World Bank has developed multiple approaches against poverty and inequality, and is not afraid of listening to the “voices of the poor” or of “rethinking the social contract”; the ILO articulates an agenda for the promotion of “decent work;” the Social Progress Imperative seeks to promote social policies via a specific measurement approach meant to supplement economic indicators. These important efforts are just a few examples in a long list.
The International Panel on Social Progress distinguishes itself from other initiatives by combining three characteristics.
First, the Panel seeks to examine not just policy issues for the medium term but also structural and systemic issues for the long term. In other words, it is not afraid of asking existential questions about capitalism, socialism, democracy, religions, inequalities, and so on. A combination of intellectual caution, political conformism, and vested interests often prevent such existential questions from being explicitly discussed. But we should not be afraid to ask: What system should we aim for?
Second, the Panel seeks to mobilize a uniquely wide set of perspectives, from all the relevant sectors and disciplines as well as from all the continents. A substantial effort is being made to create a global and intersectoral collective intelligence for action by gathering all relevant experience and expertise on the best ideas and initiatives that can inspire the world and lead to better societies.
Third, the Panel does talk primarily to the actors who are the real “change-makers” of society, namely, the many leaders and citizens who participate in public debates, who volunteer work in civil society organizations, and who push the official decision-makers out of their comfort zone. Social progress has always been, in the long run, a bottom-up affair, and ideas are a key fuel for its engine.
Social progress in sight
The focus on “social progress” deserves some explanations, as the notion of progress has suffered from use and abuse by a particular elite who, since the industrial revolution, found it natural to lead the world according to its privileges and prejudices. The Panel refers to “social progress” to send a message. Social change is not a neutral matter, and, even if there are many conflicting views on how to conceive of a good or just society, this Panel takes the view that a compass is needed to parse the options that actors and decision-makers face. Moreover, the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have successively left most observers of society with a general sense of disarray and disorientation. The message of this Panel is a positive message for action: we can do better, solutions do exist, change can be achieved by wide coalitions of actors.
Find out more about the Panel: