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Vice President's Critical Assessment - 2003


According to the Union’s bylaws (S6.32) the “Vice President shall submit to the Bureau biennially a critical assessment of the programs and projects of all IUPAC bodies”, the so-called Vice President’s Critical Assessment (VPCA). In essence, the purpose of the assessment is to initiate discussions of measures to be taken to improve the quality of the work carried out within and by IUPAC. However, reading of the minutes from meetings years back indicates that many VPCAs filled this function to a rather limited extent, conceivably because critical observations and good proposals for improvements often were embedded in large sections of positive descriptions of ongoing activities, which drew most of the attention and naturally diluted the critical comments.

In recent years, however, the VPCAs have been more focused and dealt with more specific problems that were regarded as important to solve in order to move the Union in the right direction. This problem-solving approach was, for instance, a characteristic feature of Professor Joshua Jortner’s assessment, which contained a critical analysis of how the scientific work of the Union was performed, and Dr. Alan Hayes’ assessment, which analysed the relationship between IUPAC and the chemical industry, and the activities carried out by the Union’s Standing Committees. This change of approach has obviously benefited the Union, because in far less than a decade, ideas first outlined in VPCAs were debated and adopted to such an extent that they paved the way for organisational changes.

The changes were considerable; during a fairly short period of time IUPAC was transformed, from a Union with fixed Commissions with a long lifetime and a rather static membership, to an organization with short-term project groups established after international peer review of project proposals. The transition was complete by January 1st last year (2002), and IUPAC is now operating in a restructured fashion, according to the so-called project-driven system.

Some people say that the restructuring looks good, but ask what the benefits are from all the recent changes. That is an appropriate and valid question, which cannot be answered properly before the development of IUPAC is observed and analysed in the years to come. However, we know one thing for sure: The restructured IUPAC will only be able to fulfill its objectives and live up to the expectations of the global chemical community if chemists from around the world are actively engaged in addressing important global issues involving chemistry. The best guarantee for IUPAC’s success is therefore solid recruitment of good and dedicated chemists to all the Union’s activities.

Successful recruiting is not done by chance; planning and strategy are paramount to succeed in engaging the right group of competent volunteers in IUPAC activities year after year. A critical factor in this endeavour is good contact with the chemical community world wide, particularly with the countries that are members of IUPAC. This requires close and vivid communication with both the formal members of the Union, the so-called National Adhering Organizations (NAOs), and the chemical societies in member countries where the chemical society is not the NAO. Several relevant questions therefore surface: Are the communication and interaction, in particular with the NAOs in the member countries, good enough? Is the information supplied by IUPAC about ongoing activities and the result of its work in various media and in various connections adequate? Are the member countries satisfied with the role they and their chemists play in various IUPAC bodies, and are individual chemists from around the world eager to participate in IUPAC activities?

Some indicators suggest that the answer to most of these questions is no. Based on this observation it seems reasonable to state that the future success of IUPAC depends on improvements of the Union’s interaction and communication with its stakeholders, whether the matters under consideration are related to the advancement of research in the chemical sciences, promotion of chemistry’s services to the society, improvement of education in chemistry, or initiatives to advance the public appreciation of chemistry. Consequently, IUPAC’s success in the future will be intimately connected to the quality of the Union’s communication strategy and practises. This point of view is shared by others, as borne out by discussions and consultations with other IUPAC officers, Bureau members, chemists involved in other IUPAC activities, and chemists outside IUPAC. On this basis I decided to focus on communication, in the broad sense of the word, in my vice president’s critical assessment.

<Download full text of the VPCA, pdf file-39MB>

> See also the Vice President's column as published in CI July 2003.


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