16. Outlook: Towards an OECD-IIASA Multiannual Work Programme

Martin Lees
Chairman, OECD-IIASA Task Force
William Hynes
Jan Marco Müller

A series of scientific and analytical reports, supported by growing evidence, have underlined the increasing scale, intensity, and urgency of the issues and vulnerabilities we face in the world economy, in international finance, in society and politics, and in regard to the environment, the climate, and resources. As outlined in this publication, these issues are intrinsically complex, connected, and systemic.

The challenge set to the OECD-IIASA Strategic Partnership and its Task Force - and, in a wider perspective, the challenge to OECD and IIASA - is to develop systems approaches that can combine scientific rigour and evidence with economic and social realism to propose innovative strategies to address such global issues. This is the international context in which the field of economics is facing both challenges and opportunities to adapt to the new imperatives of the 21st Century.

OECD and IIASA together can provide an international focus and intellectual leadership to stimulate and support transformative change towards inclusive and sustainable societies. There is an important opportunity to develop crosscutting recommendations and briefing materials for policymakers and OECD Committees through co-ordinated presentations and modern techniques of communication. A key objective must be to explain the tools and insights of systems thinking in simple terms. This will enhance the ability of non-experts, including in many cases, policymakers themselves, to understand and anticipate better the risks and opportunities of systemic challenges, and to respond effectively.

The Strategic Partnership was consolidated during 2018 and 2019, and is recognised as a credible, innovative, and useful initiative by a growing number of Ambassadors to the OECD and in the capitals of some Member States. At its second meeting in January 2019, the Task Force endorsed an indicative multi-year Programme of Work as a broad basis for the development of its future activities and a necessary foundation for consultations with Member Countries. This includes the formulation of substantive proposals for strategies to contain critical global issues, drawing on innovative methodologies, models and tools for research and policy analysis.

The Programme of Work is organised around seven themes that will form the basis of collaboration between the two institutions: (1) systems-based strategies to address global Issues; (2) improved analytical methods; (3) governance and institutional innovation; (4) systems leadership; (5) strengthening and extending existing joint activities; (6) initiating specific new topics for collaboration; and (7) extension and outreach.

It is expected that the programme of the Strategic Partnership will be financed mainly through voluntary contributions from governments, contributions from intergovernmental organisations, and from non-governmental sources and specific contributions to support joint projects. The government of Sweden, through the Agency for Innovation Systems, VINNOVA, committed early financial support through a contribution of €200,000 to advance the work of the Strategic Partnership. Consultations are in progress with other potential donors.

The work of the Task Force will be linked through its Members to the mainstream activities of the OECD Committees to facilitate the application of systems thinking to practical policy issues. In this way, the Partnership can promote policy innovation and anticipation, recognising the behaviour and dynamics of the complex systems of the modern world. This should lead to more-coherent strategies, more successful interventions, and better analysis of systemic risk, complexity, and uncertainty, all of real value to OECD Member States.

At its second meeting, the Task Force agreed in broad terms on the main aims and themes for its future activities. Subject to the availability of funding, these could include:

  • Research and Collaboration on Specific Priority Issues, such as systems-based strategies to guide the trajectory of human progress on to a sustainable path; new paradigms and approaches for sustainable and inclusive growth and well-being; critical linkages between finance, investment, and climate change; concerted policies for the climate, ecosystems, energy, and water nexus; longer-term strategies for employment as a primary objective of progress; managing the interactions between technological innovation and economic progress; a concerted approach to water, food, and trade; systems-based approaches for development co-operation to meet diverse needs and aspirations in an interdependent world; strategies and governance to assess and manage systemic risk; improved methodology and tools for modelling; and adapting institutions to systems thinking to meet new challenges.

  • Presentations to OECD Committees on Priority Issues. A number of issues will be identified for discussion with the relevant OECD Directorates and committees. The Task Force can then undertake targeted activities to demonstrate how the systems approach can provide valuable insights into specific issues in line with the priorities and interests of the committees. This could include in particular the introduction of a systems approach into selected National Economic Reviews undertaken by OECD.

  • Extending the Systems Approach across the OECD. A growing number of Directorates are participating in the work of the Task Force. Presentations and seminars on systems thinking will be organised with Directorates to generate wider understanding and interest in the systems approach across the OECD.

  • Collaboration with other Prestigious Research and Policy Institutions. A number of institutions have already expressed interest in participating in the work of the Strategic Partnership. Efforts will continue to build on the existing connections of OECD and IIASA in the policy and scientific communities to develop a worldwide network of institutions and experts to diversify its substantive base and to make the initiative visible and connected with influential stakeholders.

  • Disseminating Systems Thinking through Education and Training. Drawing on the expertise and accumulated knowledge of OECD and IIASA, there are important opportunities to develop teaching modules, briefing materials, and short courses to advance systems thinking for the international community – including OECD itself - and a wider public.

The major outputs proposed from the Programme of the Strategic Partnership to be discussed with Members and Committees at the OECD and IIASA may include:

  • A “flagship” OECD-IIASA publication defining and consolidating new systems approaches to policy. This publication will present substantive proposals for strategies to contain critical global issues, drawing on the analytical capacities and modelling tools of IIASA and OECD through multidisciplinary teamwork.

  • Interim results and policy recommendations on key systemic issues to be presented to OECD Committees and Member States and to the National Member Organisations of IIASA as short policy notes and research findings.

  • Briefing materials and co-ordinated presentations for policymakers, OECD committees, and other actors.

  • Outreach and the dissemination of information to selected partners and the public.

  • Training courses for OECD officials.

  • Short courses and training materials to advance education on systems thinking, anticipation, and resilience.

In the coming years, the Strategic Partnership between OECD and IIASA should gradually engage the participation of Member countries and institutions, partners, and donors, and of course, of OECD Directorates and committees. It should use the opportunities offered by modern techniques of presentation to communicate the potential of systems thinking through the development of innovative briefing materials and presentations for policymakers and committees.

It can also encourage wide interest within OECD and its Members in the role and potential of systems thinking to achieve a better integration and cross-fertilisation of the expertise and experience of the OECD Directorates. In parallel, it can stimulate within the high-quality scientific programmes of IIASA, greater interdisciplinary collaboration and awareness of the economic and policy considerations, which can enhance the impacts of their analyses and proposals.

We live in a systems world, accelerated and enabled by information and communications technologies and rapid technological, economic, and geopolitical transformation. Systems thinking, coupled with improved anticipation and strengthened resilience, provides a coherent methodology and the necessary tools to develop the new approaches to the management of global issues that are so urgently required.

This initiative can help Member countries, institutions, and other actors to understand the complexity of the interconnected issues we face, and to manage rising levels of risk and vulnerability under conditions of uncertainty. It can provide a focus and intellectual leadership for the evolution of the diverse ideas and approaches now emerging across the world to manage systemic global issues and thus to improve the prospects for inclusive, stable, and sustainable progress and peace.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.


The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.