Secretary General's Comments
As reported in the notice entitled "IUPAC
Moves to a Project-Driven System", the IUPAC Bureau has approved
a policy that will phase in major changes in the organization and management
of our scientific work. In this column, I would like to provide some information
on the discussions that led to the Bureau decision and to answer some questions
that have been raised by many members of IUPAC bodies.
Bureau Discussion. Every Member of the Bureau recognized
the importance of this decision for the Union as it positions itself for
the next decade - indeed, the next century. The final vote, 20-0, with
two abstentions, came only after careful analysis of the program and consideration
of its long-range impact. During the last few years, there have been extensive
discussions of the reasons why the Union must make major changes in its
operations to ensure its survival and enhance its role in worldwide chemistry.
The proposals made by the ad hoc Strategy Development and Implementation
Committee after a year's study and debate provided an integrated program
to effect necessary changes.
The SDIC recommendations were widely publicized and elicited many comments
within and outside the Union. In particular, several Division Presidents
received extensive input from members of their Divisions who will initially
be most affected by many of the changes. There was widespread support for
most or all aspects of the SDIC program, but also a number of strong criticisms
and suggestions for specific alterations in the proposals.
Future Role of Commissions. Probably the most contentious
issue was the recommendation by the Bureau that in 1999 Council exercise
its responsibility under Bylaw 4.302 to decide not
to continue any existing Commission beyond the end of 2001. Several
very reasonable questions have been widely asked:
(i) "Since the work produced by
most Commissions, Subcommittees and Working Parties has generally been
highly regarded, why should the 37 Commissions not be continued indefinitely?"
(ii) "Most ideas for new projects
have emanated in one way or another from Commissions. If they are not continued,
where will new projects originate?"
(iii) "Without continuing Commissions,
who will carry out projects (if good ideas can somehow be generated elsewhere)?"
(iv) "If there are few or no Commissions,
how will National Representatives be accommodated?"
(v) "Without a large cadre of Commission
members, who will comprise the membership of the Divisions?"
(vi) "How will members of short-term
Task Groups develop the kind of knowledge about IUPAC and the loyalty to
the Union that characterizes many Commission members?"
These are all very important issues. Let me
try to explain the reasoning behind the SDIC recommendations regarding
Commissions, which were endorsed by the Executive Committee and now approved
by the Bureau. First, the organizational changes recommended by the SDIC
are not intended to demean the accomplishments of the members of Commissions
or any other IUPAC bodies, nor should the discontinuance of a Commission
be interpreted as indicating lack of support for the discipline or special
area that it represents. If individuals and/or a group of chemists are
carrying out valuable work under the current organizational framework,
there is no a priori reason why they cannot carry out equally good
(perhaps even more effective!) work under a number of other organizational
arrangements. There is nothing essential or unique about our current Commission
structure, but it does have a long history and some disadvantages, as well
According to the History
of IUPAC, 1919-1987, Commissions originated in 1922, and for over
25 years a relatively small number of Commissions (of the order of 10)
were established, discontinued, and reestablished in modified form. The
names of some of the original Commissions suggest that they were forerunners
of some current Commissions [e.g., Chemical Elements (including
Atomic Weights), Reform of Nomenclature, Thermochemical Standards, Preservation
of Foodstuffs]. After World War II, chemistry expanded rapidly, and chemists
thought of themselves primarily as specializing in one branch of the field.
As a result, about 1950 IUPAC formed Sections on Physical, Inorganic, Organic,
Biological, Analytical and Applied Chemistry, with the existing Commissions
assigned to Sections, in some instances only one Commission in a Section.
However, Sections were allowed to form additional Commissions and predictably
they did, usually by slicing the discipline into sub-specialties. By 1955
a total of 33 Commissions were in existence - many of them continuing to
the present. Certainly there have been many changes, but the overall structure
has been relatively static for 45 years, in spite of continuing pleas from
IUPAC Presidents for more flexibility (including Arne Tiselius, already
in 1955; Jacques Bénard in 1973; Heini Zollinger in 1981; and Alan
Bard in 1993).
Future Division Programs. Now, back to the present. During
the last three years a major initiative of the IUPAC Officers, as endorsed
by the Bureau, has been to articulate the long-range mission and goals
of the Union and, with the help of the SDIC, to develop a Strategic
Plan. This gives a sense of direction to the Union as a whole, but
it is only a framework and must be fleshed out in practical terms. So far
as IUPAC's scientific work is concerned, no one committee - not the Bureau,
not the Executive Committee, not the SDIC - can provide expertise in all
of chemistry. Moreover, no one in IUPAC wants a "top-down" directed
program; it is not likely to be very good, and it certainly won't work
in a volunteer organization. What we do need is to have each of the seven
Divisions develop its own coherent program and to have Divisions jointly
determine how they can best address many increasingly important interdisciplinary
fields. Each Division needs to take a fresh look at its part of chemistry,
without the need to accommodate and/or justify a set of pre-existing Commissions.
Permanent Commissions, by their existence, tend to emphasize fragmentation
and specialization in chemistry, rather than a coherent whole.
During the next two years, it is anticipated that each Division will consider
its future directions - and IUPAC's overall future scientific directions
- in a thorough and objective manner. Current Commission chairmen can and
should play a major role in this process in their capacities as experts
in specific aspects of chemistry, not as advocates for maintaining the
structure as it currently exists. We also need the participation of leading
scientists throughout the world who are not currently directly involved
in IUPAC work but who can help the Union decide on future directions. In
some instances a Division, or several Divisions acting together, might
well set up ad hoc planning and strategy groups or even convene
a small working conference to elicit broad advice on how IUPAC programs
can best meet the world's scientific needs in particular areas.
In developing their programs, Division Committees will have a range of
options available. They may appoint ad hoc advisory, strategy or
planning groups as needed. They may appoint Task Groups to carry out individual
projects, which can cover a variety of topics. They may propose augmenting
the Division Committee if needed to ensure continuity and oversight in
particular programs. If a Division Committee believes that a particular
area requires a longer term Commission (for example, to develop a program
in a new area of chemistry), it may propose the creation of such a Commission,
with a well defined mandate and a termination date. Money, rather than
the number of Titular Members, will be the principal resource allocated
to Divisions and will be used by Division Committees to support their projects,
to obtain advice and to manage their programs. I don't know what the ultimate
mix will be, but I hope that each Division will take advantage of the flexibility
and opportunities that will be available under the new system.
A Project-Driven System. What about ideas for projects and
people to serve on Task Groups? Over the next three years, I expect that
very many projects will be generated in the existing Commissions, but we
will also reach out to the entire chemistry community for specific proposals
for projects. I believe that some proposals will eventually come from organized
groups, such as National Adhering Organizations, national chemical societies
and regional federations, and industry groups. However, most will arise,
as they do now, from interested groups of scientists, who discover in the
course of their work areas to which IUPAC should contribute. We will make
positive efforts to solicit ideas at conferences and symposia and from
journal editors. By January 1, 1999 we expect to have a mechanism in place
to insure that each proposal is subjected to a critical evaluation; if
it is approved, the necessary funding can be made available immediately
- not at the beginning of the next biennium, as has usually been true in
the past. We will provide more details on the evaluation process at a later
date, and Divisions will make arrangements to phase in this procedure.
Some Divisions will probably find only small changes in the way projects
are evaluated, but I firmly believe that this uniform project-driven system
will provide very significant advantages in initiating, managing and completing
high quality scientific efforts. Meanwhile, of course, existing projects
will continue, and many will be completed during the next three years.
The Executive Summary of the report by the Committee
on Project Evaluation Criteria can found here.
As is true now, the people who work on projects are those who have the
necessary expertise and also the interest to take on and pursue the job.
Individuals who are currently members of Commissions, Subcommittees and
Working Parties meet these criteria and will undoubtedly be heavily represented
on Task Groups, but other scientists who do not necessarily want to make
a long-term commitment to IUPAC can and should participate in Task Groups
in line with their interests and expertise.
IUPAC's Human Capital. The membership of Divisions continues
in its present form to the end of 2001, and National Representatives continue
on Commissions during this transition period. The Bureau has not yet decided
how best to ensure continuation of viable Division memberships and precisely
what recommendations to make to Council in 2001 for changes in Bylaws,
but there are a several options to consider as we gain experience during
the next three years. The new structure of Division Committees allows for
a limited number of National Representatives, and we will welcome widespread
participation on Task Groups from all countries. However, we must consider
additional possibilities to ensure a very wide participation from just
as many countries as feasible. I will be in contact with NAOs regarding
One very important mechanism for maintaining contact with a large group
of people who are interested in IUPAC is the Fellows Program, established
by Council in 1997. Everyone who completes service on an IUPAC Commission,
Committee, Subcommittee, Working Party or Task Group is eligible for appointment
as a Fellow. Of course, not everyone is interested in continuing contact
with the Union, but our experience so far in 1998 is that most recently
"retired" IUPAC members welcome the opportunity. With electronic
communication methods, it is easy and relatively inexpensive to provide
information on IUPAC programs and to solicit advice and comments from Fellows.
After 2001, we should have over 1000 Fellows, and I anticipate that a significant
fraction of future Task Group members will continue involvement with IUPAC.
Problems Solved and Continuing Issues. During the two months
before the Bureau meeting, I met individually with several Division Presidents
and Vice-Presidents and corresponded extensively with others in an effort
to understand the potential problems that each foresaw in implementing
the SDIC recommendations and to develop with them specific ways of overcoming
the difficulties. Just prior to the Bureau meeting, the Division Presidents
held their annual meeting with the Secretary General, devoted almost exclusively
to joint discussion of the SDIC proposals. In particular, we tried to design
procedures by which we can guarantee the continuity of IUPAC's important
work and ensure the continued recruitment of talented scientists who volunteer
to carry out this work. In the end, as the Bureau vote indicates, there
was almost unanimous agreement that this program should be implemented.
However, it was also clearly recognized that not all problems are solved
and that all of us in the Union must continue to address the issues of
implementation during the three-year period before the new system becomes
I have had an opportunity to see many of the very thoughtful comments submitted
by members of various IUPAC Commissions and Committees, and my own views
have been significantly modified as a result. I have tried here to respond
to some points and to explain the underlying purpose of what sometimes
may initially appear to be arbitrary or unnecessary changes in traditional
modes of organization and operation within IUPAC. There are many other
aspects of the new system that can be explored further. I invite questions
and suggestions, preferably by e-mail directly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or via the Secretariat (email@example.com).