Program Framework for the World Academy of Art & Science

This document forms part of the second report of the WAAS Strategic Planning Committee presented to the Board of Trustees in May 2010 but never circulated to our Fellows. We publish it now inviting readers from both within and outside the Academy to contribute their ideas on the type of knowledge the world really needs today to effectively address the pressing problems and unprecedented opportunities unfolding. Comments can be sent to

At the time the World Academy of Art & Science was founded, there were very few international non-governmental organizations devoted to the free exchange of ideas and none so encompassing in its breadth as WAAS. The very conception of the Academy constituted an original idea and a pioneering initiative. In the present age of globalization, networking and the World Wide Web, this is no longer true. The unique composition of the Academy’s membership is no longer sufficient justification for the Academy’s existence. During the early phase of the strategic planning process, WAAS Fellows were unanimous in describing and conceiving of this as a value-driven organization that makes a significant and concrete contribution to addressing the pressing problems of the world today. A broad umbrella for diverse interdisciplinary dialogues may form one part of the Academy’s program, but our unique composition needs to be leveraged to generate original perspectives that transcend current knowledge and contribute meaningfully to addressing real social issues. Generating and projecting original insights, ideas, perspectives or solutions to the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century is a tall order, but it is the only meaningful way for us to play the significant role in world affairs envisioned by our founders.

With these objectives in mind, the SPC sought to develop a Program Framework that would be sufficiently focused to address the most pressing contemporary social issues while at the same time sufficiently broad to encompass the full spectrum of the arts, humanities and science. It became evident that in order to generate original and unique ideas, the framework would need to start by recognizing the limitations in current approaches to knowledge and formulating its own conception of the type of knowledge the world needs. Based on the Foresight model suggested by Fellow Ruben Nelson, we began by examining our conception of what we mean by reliable knowledge. We then proceeded to identify a set of perspectives based on this conception which can be applied to evolve original insights and ideas relating to a wide range of issues.

1. Characteristics of Reliable Knowing

The reliability of our knowledge determines our ability to properly understand problems and formulate effective solutions. Therefore, it is essential that the Academy’s strategic plan and program framework incorporate criteria for reliable knowing. This section identifies fundamental characteristics of reliable knowing which can be applied to the identification, comprehension, and effective response to social and policy issues.

Figure 1: Characteristics of Reliable Knowing

Human-centered Knowledge: Reliable knowing related to social consequences and policy implications must place pre-eminent value on the welfare and well-being of human beings, individually and collectively, and the sustainable development of human society.

  1. Evolutionary Perspective: Reliable knowing should recognize that human institutions exist in an ever-changing, ever-evolving social context, so that tomorrow’s knowledge may no longer be limited by outdated values, ideals and social realities of today or tomorrow.
  2. Value-based or Ethical Perspective: Knowledge of human systems must be judged by the values it seeks to fulfill, for the laws and processes governing society and human behavior are created by human beings for human welfare.
  3. Total & Integral: Reliable knowing is interrelated and inseparable based on an integral knowledge of society and humanity that transcends and unifies partial perspectives. It encompasses and integrates the perspectives of the sciences, arts, and humanities.
  4. Responsibility & Accountability: Reliable knowing with respect to human systems is based on an explicit or implicit understanding that human beings are fully empowered, responsible and capable of resolving the problems they create.
  5. Reunites the Objective & Subjective: In the study of humanity and society, there is no objective truth independent of the subjective perceptions and attitudes of those who examine it. Reliable knowledge identifies the subjective points at which our attitudes and behavior must change to effectively address a problem that manifests objectively in the world around us.
  6. Constructive & Creative: Reliable knowledge is based on the creative imagination to perceive the opportunities as well as the challenges, the solutions as well as the problems.
  7. Powerful & Effective: Reliable knowledge contains within itself effective power for action. Reliable knowledge is complete knowledge which addresses problems without giving rise to new problems or generating unintended negative side effects.

2. Perspectives on the Emerging Global Context

The principles of reliable knowing can help us formulate a set of perspectives for approaching global issues. Based on the criteria for reliable knowing, we have identified seven perspectives which can be applied to arrive at reliable knowledge pertaining to global challenges and opportunities. These perspectives are intended to serve as conceptual guidelines for the definition and resolution of issues.

1- Human Welfare & Well-being: A human-centered, value-based perspective on the human context is one which is centered on meeting the needs of all human beings in the most equitable and effective manner. Each aspect of the global context should be evaluated in terms of how effectively it meets fundamental human needs and the highest human values.

Figure 2 : Human-centered knowledge

2- Comprehensive Perspective & Solutions: There is an inextricable relationship between political, legal, economic, social, cultural, organizational, psychological and ecological factors. Reliable knowing calls for a comprehensive, total and integral perspective that reflects the relationship between the part and the whole and identifies solutions that will deliver the greatest overall benefit to the whole of humanity.

Figure 3 : Comprehensive Perspective & Solutions

3- Whole World Perspective: All people, nations, and fields of activity constitute a single integral whole that is in a process of continuous evolution and whose parts are continuously interacting with one another to create new opportunities and challenges.

Figure 4 : Whole World perspective

4- Evolutionary Perspective: Reliable knowledge has to view past, present and future as various points on an ever evolving continuum. Past theory and precedent are an insufficient qualification for future practice.
5- Opportunity-based Perspective: Reliable knowing should lead to the creation and identification of new opportunities, not merely a preoccupation with solving problems and meeting anticipated challenges.
6- Effective Knowledge: In the measure knowledge is reliable, it generates real power to solve problems and tap opportunities without unexpected and undesirable consequences associated with partial knowledge. Knowledge is effective when it is comprehensive and when it takes into account both the objective and subjective dimensions.

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