Meet IIASA - A Global Effort Based in Austria

by Ilona Aberl

The International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) was recently honored at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, D.C. during a reception meant to highlight its success in bringing together scientific talent from around the world to conduct studies intended to benefit the global community. The evening was a success due to the vested interest of guests representing organizations such as the U.S. Department of State, National Institutes of Health, various embassies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to name a few.


{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} IIASA's goal has been to "conduct international and interdisciplinary scientific studies to provide timely and relevant information and options, addressing critical issues of global environmental, economic, and social change, for the benefit of the public, the scientific community, and national and international institutions." If IIASA keeps to the path it has set for itself over the last 33 years, it can surely sustain its momentum and continue to achieve its goals. [picture: IIASA reception at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, D.C. on February 19, 2005]

Once considered a scientific pact of friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union, IIASA has evolved into an international center for scientific cooperation for 16 countries, and continues to define itself as an independent scientific institution. The charter that established IIASA in 1972 was long in the making. The concept of an organization like IIASA began to take shape as early as 1966, when U.S. President Lyndon Johnson suggested that the U.S. and the Soviet Union should collaborate on issues affecting all modern societies, such as the environment, energy, and various other topics. The suggestion was taken up and the concept that has become IIASA began to evolve. Various issues were debated over the course of the next six years such as which countries to include, citizenship of the leadership, and the location. A number of vital decisions and compromises had to be made as to the nature of an organization that could address those concerns and still secure the necessary funding, and it was concluded that IIASA should be a multi-lateral, non-governmental, English-speaking organization. Wording of the charter and agendas was fiercely debated and the location of IIASA in Austria was decided only a few days before the charter was signed in London on October 4, 1972 between representatives of the UK, the U.S., the USSR, and nine other National Member Organizations (NMOs).

IIASA made its home in an old Schloss [Eng.: castle] in Laxenburg, Austria just south of Vienna [Schloss Laxenburg / photo credit: IIASA]. By the late '70s, IIASA was fully operational and already showing signs of success in its internationally collaborative programs. However, IIASA had many barriers to overcome, including occasional financial difficulties. Funding sources of the Institute are not guaranteed, as support from and involvement of the various NMOs has changed over the years. As a non-governmental organization created as a political stopgap measure to ensure peace between opposed nations, IIASA must always "shop" for support. Under pressure from then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences withdrew its support of IIASA in 1983. The Academy of Arts and Sciences was able to continue U.S. involvement, and the NAS has recently begun to work towards reestablishing and strengthening its ties with the Institute as political climes have changed.

As the Cold War came to an end, IIASA, as it had been established, required some reevaluation. The Institute's administration became more inclusive of all NMOs, and additional research themes such as economic analysis were included in its scope of research. In a 1994 Ministerial Conference, IIASA restated its aims and purpose, including the intention to make its research available to the outside world. Since then, IIASA has worked with a number of international organizations and national governments on issues that affect the global society.  "It is important that IIASA works to bring the scientific research to the forefront when politics get in the way. IIASA's scientists must show what science can offer in negotiations and suggest solutions, give scenarios and explain consequences. Choosing is political not scientific. However, IIASA is as independent as a human being can be," says Prof. Leen Hordijk, current Director of IIASA. The Institute has extended its current focus areas to include energy and technology, population and society, and the environment and natural resources. [Leen Hordijk / photo credit: IIASA]

While the core work of the IIASA scientists remained true to its purpose, the research served to influence, if not form, global policy-making decisions. With a large scientific staff comprised of research scholars, post docs, and assistants from more than 25 countries, and the Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) always encouraging new talent in the sciences, the Institute is active in fostering international relations and tries to maintain a fair and equal balance of scientists representing the various NMOs. It offers the opportunity for representatives of various nations to work together in a team-oriented environment where politics can be left at the door, with the goal of relieving common afflictions of modern industrialized societies. Hordijk says that IIASA's ambition is to become as influential an advisor in the international climate negotiations as IIASA has been over the past 15 years in the European air pollution negotiations. "Bringing all the information on climate change together is difficult. Of course, there are other institutes that combine climate modeling with an economic approach. We are unique, however, in that our work is not based exclusively on a northern perspective, since we have the advantage of having colleagues from China, India, Brazil, Egypt, and other developing nations work at IIASA," explains Hordijk. Scientific talent is fostered through visits to conferences, peer reviewed articles and books, and hundreds of visiting scholars to the Institute. Support and networking opportunities for the scientists currently at IIASA come from a strong body of alumni numbering several thousand people. From small beginnings, IIASA has navigated a varied path to success. If IIASA maintains the level of quality research used by the international organizations that depend on it, then it will achieve its goal of benefiting the public, the scientific community, and national and international institutions.

For more information on IIASA, please visit

Howard Raiffa/IIASA's First Director -

IIASA Enters the Twenty-First Century: Long-Term Plan Prepared by the IIASA Council
(.pdf download)

National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts & Sciences Support U.S.
Involvement in IIASA

Interview with Professor Leen Hordijk, Director of IIASA, conducted by Philipp Steger on behalf of bridges in May 2004

Tribute to Herman Feshbach and Viktor Weisskopf, Past Presidents of the Academy, Speech by Carl Kaysen/MIT (.pdf download){/access}