Report on Agora Feature Sessions 2016

  • What can STI contribute to the global issues today such as SDGs we have to cope with?




  • Date and time: 3 November 2016 (Thu, national holiday), 10:15 - 12:00
  • Venue: Innovation Hall, 7F Miraikan
  • Organizer: Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)


Moderator and Speakers

  • Michinari Hamaguchi [President of JST]
  • Satoru Ohtake [Executive Research Fellow in Economic and Social Research Institute of Cabinet Office / Adjunct Fellow of the Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS) in JST]
  • Massimiano Bucchi [Professor of Science and Technology in Society and of Science Communication at the University of Trento / Editor in Chief of the Journal Public Understanding of Science]
  • Rush D. Holt [Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)]
  • Michael Ellis [Science Communication Manager, South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), South Africa]
  • David Cope [Foundation Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge University / Fellow of Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), University of Tokyo]
  • Tateo Arimoto [Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) / Principal Fellow of CRDS in JST]
  • Rosa Paula Cuevas [Scientist, International Rice Research Institute Grain Quality and Nutrition Center (IRRI), the Philippines]
  • Nuwong Chollacoop [Head of Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Metal and Materials Technology Center (MTEC), Thailand]
  • Shoji Komai [Associate Professor, Nara Institute of Science and Technology Graduate School of Biological Sciences]


Eradicating poverty and hunger, dealing with climate change, and conserving resources are some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ※1 adopted by the United Nations (hereinafter, “UN”) in 2015 for action until 2030, and which cover 17 goals and 169 targets. To realize these, it is vital to utilize innovation through science and technology. This session welcomes panelists from the United States, Europe, Africa, and Japan in the fields of science and policy, as well as commentators who are young researchers mostly from Asia. Together, they looked at the current situation in the use of science and technology to solve the issues covered under the SDGs, and discussed the direction that society should head toward. They also recognized the need for the relationship between science and society to transform from its traditional form to a new form, and affirmed the importance of continuing dialogue that involves various stakeholders in order to achieve this transformation. Furthermore, this session was positioned as the first step in dialogues concerning SDGs, held in Japan in an open atmosphere among stakeholders from Japan and overseas.

※1 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Refer to the following:
Website of the United Nations Information Center on “What are Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?”
Website of the United Nations Information Center on “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Factsheet on Sustainable Development Goals”
Website on Sustainable Development Goals


At the beginning of the session, President Hamaguchi of JST delivered the opening remarks. He spoke about the sense of expectation toward the start of various moves across the world concerning the SDGs adopted by the United Nations in 2015, and asked the question “What should we do now?” concerning the diversity and scale of the issues. He described the 17 goals as being closely linked to one another, and pointed out the need to tackle the resolution of individual problems as one common issue. He also expressed his hopes that this session would provide the opportunity for us to consider how we should approach the SDGs, and declared the session open.

Michinari Hamaguchi
Michinari Hamaguchi

What are SDGs? What opportunities do they present to science and society?

Next, Mr. Ohtake, who is one of the chairpersons of the session, explained the history leading up to the adoption of the SDGs by the United Nations and to the convention of this session. He spoke about the four roles of science※2 that were declared at the Budapest Conference in 1999, and affirmed the role of science “in achieving sustainable development” as established under the SDGs. Furthermore, as a result of the conversion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ※3 adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to the SDGs adopted recently, the emphasis was shifted from developing countries to development goals that are targeted at all countries and peoples. He also remarked that many dialogues about science and society have already been organized around the world, beginning with the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum) held in June this year, and explained that this session was also one of such dialogues.

※2 Four pillars of the Budapest Declaration: “Science for knowledge; knowledge for progress,” “Science for peace,” “Science for development,” “Science in society and science for society.” Refer to the following:
Website of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on “Global Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge”
※3 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Refer to the following:
Website of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Professor Bucchi (Professor of Science and Technology in Society and of Science Communication at the University of Trento in Italy and Editor in Chief of the Journal Public Understanding of Science) who is the joint chairperson of this session, presented the results of an attitudes survey about the images that people have of science conducted on respondents around the world, and raised the issue concerning the future of science with a view to the achievement of the SDGs. He asked what the roles of science are, and reported the results of the survey conducted in Italy after stating that technological and practical problem-solving methods are not the only answer to the question. He commented that while maintenance of health and technological solutions are the top roles that the general public expects science to fulfill, a certain percentage of respondents answered that science also plays a role in culture and entertainment. Hence, he explained, science and technology also contribute to the sectors of culture and education. On the other hand, he pointed out that in order for people to enjoy science and harness its use in the fields of culture and education, it is important to move away from the previous methods and instead attempt to achieve this in a way that matches the characteristics and needs of the region.

The two chairpersons. From left, Mr. Satoru Ohtake and Professor Massimiano Bucchi.
The two chairpersons. From left, Mr. Satoru Ohtake and Professor Massimiano Bucchi.

What should we do to achieve the “goals for all people”?

Next, the four panelists made their presentations. Dr. Holt, CEO of AAAS ※4, began his statement with a curve ball, speaking to audience about the events of the major league and World Series tournaments that were going on at precisely the same time as this session. He posited that 99% of those who are watching the tournaments have probably never heard of the SDGs, thereby establishing the issue of the significant gap in the interest among the general public toward the two. He pointed out that scientists shoulder one end of the responsibility for this gap, and at the same time, stated that the relationship between science and society are changing, and that the time has come when all people should be engaged in discussion. He also touched on the activities of AAAS, spoke about science and society, and explained the need to have an open atmosphere for discussions.

※4 AAAS: American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the largest organization of scientists in the United States, and is engaged in activities including sharing of information among scientists, disseminating information to the general public, publication of the Science journal, and contributing to scientific education.
→AAAS official website:

Mr. Ellis, who leads science communication activities in South Africa, introduced case studies in his home country, and spoke about the links between science and policy, stating that intervention from policymakers is indispensable to the process of incorporating scientific and technological innovation into society. He raised two points that we should pay attention to in this aspect: (1) Although there are increasing opportunities for scientists to participate in international conferences about global warming and other issues, scientists lack negotiation skills; (2) Both scientific knowledge and social knowledge are necessary to all people. On top of that, he spoke about his views on the need to transform from the traditional image of scientists, and described scientists in the 21st century as figures with links to society in their roles as communicators. Furthermore, he revealed his thoughts on the realization of the SDGs, suggesting that it would be possible to achieve them more efficiently and in a shorter amount of time by approaching them in a way that is rooted in the characteristics of the region and society. He then expressed his hopes for continued discussion about methodologies in Science Agora and even in scientific forums held in South Africa.

Professor Cope, who is Foundation Fellow at Cambridge University and former Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology at the UK Parliament, has the responsibility of allocating funding to more than 500 doctoral and master’s students as well as researchers in the form of scholarships worth approximately 4 billion yen, in his role as a member of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission of the Department for International Development in the UK. He explained that during this selection process, great stress is placed on how the proposed study or research will contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. He then proceeded to talk about the positioning of science from that perspective. Of the 17 goals established in the SDGs, he touched on the fact that there are fields that seem to be directly related to science and others possibly not directly related to science. He argued that, in fact, ALL of the goals had some S&T dimensions or affected the way that S&T initiatives might be deployed. Although his own fields relate to energy issues and climate change, he felt that, of all the areas, probably the most important was Goal 3 “Good Health and Wellbeing”. He also argued that although Goal 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” might seem the most distant from science, science should contribute to the attainment of this goal because without peace, it would not be possible to achieve all the other goals. He argued finally that there is a need to not just to talk about SDGs, but to also draw attention to them to ensure that awareness of them penetrates the scientific community. He suggested that all government and charitable foundation agencies that fund S&T research should recommend to applicants for funding that they should examine the SDGs and, wherever possible, link their research proposals to furtherance of the goals.

Professor Arimoto, the final panelist, positioned SDGs at the boundary between science and policy, organized its relationship with many stakeholders including governments, the United Nations, academic organizations, and the private sector, and spoke about the need to make changes at diverse levels based on the keyword “transforming.” This involves transformations not only from the scientists’ end in the sense that SDGs are nurtured among scientists. Rather, he raised the example of pollution in Japan and explained the potential for transformation across society, including regulatory reforms and cultural changes. He also explained that it is vital to create new values in the 21st century through co-design (joint formulation of research plans), co-production (joint research), and co-delivery (joint application and implementation).

Panelists. From left, Dr. Rush D. Holt, Mr. Michael Ellis, Professor David Cope, and Professor Tateo Arimoto
Panelists. From left, Dr. Rush D. Holt, Mr. Michael Ellis, Professor David Cope, and Professor Tateo Arimoto

Comments from young researchers from the reference point of their everyday research activities

The microphone was handed over to three young researchers in the middle of the session. Dr. Cuevas, who conducts research on rice grains in the Philippines, spoke about food science and raised the example of the diversity of methods used to raise productivity, and explained the differences in preferences toward the stickiness and texture of rice among countries and regions. Using this example, she spoke about the necessity to make sure that technologies being developed should be culturally acceptable to the regional people who are potential users of these technologies, based on their needs, when attempting to solve problems through STI, including SDGs.

Dr. Komai explained that in solving problems through science, there is a tendency to begin and end with logical and rational talk. However, in seeking solutions for the SDGs, there is a need to gain a stronger recognition and awareness on how the general public is confronting an issue, and to implement activities that also appeal to the emotional aspects behind the issues, or in short, to the emotions of people.

Dr. Chollacoop reflected on his research on biofuels that he had been engaged in for six years in Thailand, and spoke about the importance of engaging in science communication while maintaining an awareness of the problem of how to incorporate science into society. He also expressed the desire to reduce, even marginally, the percentage of people who responded that “Science is not related to everyday life” (as high as 10%) in the survey presented by Professor Bucchi.

From left, Dr. Rosa Paula Cuevas, Dr. Shoji Komai, and Dr. Nuwong Chollacoop
From left, Dr. Rosa Paula Cuevas, Dr. Shoji Komai, and Dr. Nuwong Chollacoop

Calls for reform of scientific research in the second half of the discussions

In the general discussion, further in-depth discussions were carried out about the future of scientific research. Professor Bucchi looked back at the history of half a century ago when scientific research in the mid-20th century was carried out with the purpose of solving military and practical problems. Thereafter, the world entered the era of “blue skies research (research that is not dependent upon practical purposes), leading to the present day when there are calls for scientific research to meet the needs of society. In this aspect, he stated that the SDGs provide a good opportunity for transforming scientific research, in which research itself is becoming the objective, and for science to contribute to society. In response to this, Dr. Holt stated that respect should continue to be given to basic research going forward. By raising the example of “Pasteur’s quadrant,” the research style adopted by Louis Pasteur that encompasses a range of research from basic research to applied research, he suggested the potential of scientific research that is not divided into the rigid classifications of basic research and applied research.

Professor Arimoto touched on the fact that the systems of modern science were created in the 19th century, and spoke about the need to change the conventional research funding system that is driven by research themes. Furthermore, he explained that the scientific community is alienated from changes in the country because of poor interfacing between science and policy, and presented his views that it is vital to enable development that gives back to individuals in society through inclusive reforms that involve private-sector corporations. Furthermore, in order to achieve development that has value to each region, it is important to create platforms and systems that are able to identify the agenda for each region.

Discussions were also held on the perspective of the goal established under the SDGs to ensure that no one in the world is left behind. Professor Bucchi criticized the current situation where although SDGs are global goals, scientific policies and the correlative relationship between science and politics are eventually determined at the national level. To this, Mr. Ellis stated that South Africa has a strongly diverse society due to its historical background, and cultures can differ completely among the regions. He then presented the findings from a survey on about 2,500 citizens that 15% of the respondents had not even heard of the term “biotechnology” before. In light of this, he feels that there is a need to provide advice about goals and methods not only at the national level, but also at various levels corresponding to the smaller units of different regions. Professor Cope commented that foundations under the jurisdiction of the central government and the state have large budgets mainly because SDGs are promoted at the national level, and expressed his hopes that the next Secretary-General of the United Nations would establish numerical targets toward the achievement of the SDGs, and take steps to encourage scientific foundations in each country to tackle the issue of securing funding.

Scenes from the general discussion
Scenes from the general discussion

In the session including the floor, the following three questions in response to the discussions held so far were highlighted. Dr. Chollacoop raised the first question, “Is it possible to involve the private sector in the interfacing between science and policy?” He explained that research output failing to lead to industrialization that involves private-sector corporations is an issue in Thailand. Facing the need to provide incentives (motivation) for cooperation between the public and private sectors, the Thailand government has in recent years begun to put effort into an initiative aimed at applying science in industries. Dr. Cuevas described that at the IRRI, where her research activities are based, the rice requirements of areas around the world are analyzed, and the corresponding engineering and technologies that could address those needs are then applied. She proposed that if global platforms (foundations for dialogue and cooperation) for the consideration of diverse issues in the world are organized and institutes cooperate with one another, it would be possible to come up with designs that can contribute to achieving the goals by raising the example of The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP). The second question, based on the expression used in the general discussion, of science contributing to society, was “Don’t individuals end up hiding behind the word ‘society’?” In response to this, Mr. Ohtake answered that although we have not yet succeeded in discussing the SDGs by placing diverse stakeholders on the same field, it is important to involve everyone going forward. In addition, a question was also raised about whether SDGs have been considered based on the evaluation of its predecessor, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Professor Cope explained that many analyses and evaluations have already been carried out on MDGs, while cluster analysis between issues is also being conducted with respect to SDGs. However, in cases where the assessment based on such analyses is to “save the lives of more people,” he explained that it is difficult to make a decision on the research that greater emphasis should be placed on, for example, between cancer treatment research for which there is strong need in the West, or research on malaria countermeasures and solutions for water issues.

Finally, Professor Bucchi expressed that discussions on SDGs provide a good opportunity for drawing awareness to the fact that science can contribute to society, and at the same time, also present a good chance for society to capture what it should do to achieve the goals through scientific understanding. He explained that there is a need for each individual to consider independently how to identify common issues and different solutions based on the social structures of areas around the world. In response to this, Mr. Ohtake commented that there has been recent talk about “responsible scientific research and responsible innovation.” In that light, SDGs provide a good opportunity for filling in the gap between science and society, and for science to resolve social issues. He then commented that this session represents a first step toward that, and that there is a need to continue striving toward it without giving up. He then expressed his hopes for more in-depth discussions at the upcoming Science Forum South Africa. This concluded the session.

【Comments from the writer】

Through discussions about the potential of scientific and technological innovation for the SDGs set out by the United Nations, I gained a strong sense of the overwhelming scale of the problem, as well as the significant gap between the goals set forth for 2030 and reality. This session was not a discussion about the 17 goals individually, but rather, covered the overall picture of the relationship between society and science. I learned that the awareness of various stakeholders, including scientists, the general public, and policymakers, is still founded upon old values, and felt strongly the need for many people to participate in solving the SDG issues, to share the respective specializations and values toward the resolution of the SDGs, and to undergo reform and transformation. On the day after this session, I felt a heightened recognition toward the resolution of global issues, such as the coming into effect of the Paris Agreement in the United Nations. On the other hand, I also felt a renewed sense of crisis as the majority of people are not sufficiently aware of these issues that involve all humankind. At the same time, I sensed the need to engage in many activities and provide opportunities for diverse discussions across all levels from high-level to the grassroots.

Masanori Ohnishi (Science Communicator)

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