The first IPSP Report published in 2018 provided a comprehensive review of the state of societies in the world. It covered economic, social, political, environmental and cultural issues and made an assessment of the positive trends and the mounting challenges/threats.
The synthesis built with over 350+ social scientists in the world gave an overview of the multiple linkages between the components of the societal system. It offered a vision of progress, in the form of a broad picture of the type of institutions and reforms that, allowing for substantial variations around the world, might realize a “better” society, inspired by values of equality, freedom, emancipation, participation and inclusion. While it did cover social movements and public policies as transversal themes, it did not, however, provide a clear and structured picture of how the transition toward a sustainable and equitable path could be envisioned in the timeline of the coming decades.
The need to address the challenge of environmental protection, social cohesion, and governance institutions has greatly increased. The degradation of the environment and the accumulation of greenhouse gases continue almost unabated, leading the world on a path that crosses planetary boundaries. Development gaps persist and even widen for the least advanced economies, while inequalities in incomes and in wealth remain very high. And the expansion of democratic institutions across the world has been reversed, under a wave of nationalism, populism, and corruption.
The recent crises (pandemic, wars, extreme weather) are deepening inequalities and reveal new vulnerabilities. While some hope that such crises could be an occasion for progressive reforms, there is no guarantee such an agenda will be given prevalence, nor that it will become a worldwide trend. One can fear that democratic deliberation processes will not lead the way and that inadequate governance structures will take over and will prove unable to face up to the challenges.
In order to prepare for these future challenges that could prove disruptive for societies, there is, arguably, a crucial need to develop new contents and new formats that support the actors and processes which can lead the transition. How can social movements, civil society activism, business initiative, political action by networks of local officials, governmental and intergovernmental policies and platforms, and intellectual initiative better contribute to steering our historical path in the direction of social progress? What norms, processes, indicators of success can help actors assess states of affairs, communicate between and around them, and decide their course of action? What levers can they pull, what type of coordination should they pursue, and at what geographical and jurisdictional level should they operate and communicate?