In a globalizing world, contemporary grand societal challenges, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, have been observed to be increasingly difficult to address by traditional means (Haas 2016; Kuhlmann and Rip 2018; U. Beck 2009). Among others, foreign policy and governing in general have seen shifts from centralized, top-down modes to more networked forms with new actors both multi- and sub-national pushing onto the scene (Hocking 2016; Rhodes 2007). Such developments increase the complexity and, in turn, the difficulty of policymaking on all levels. Additionally, national and international policy initiatives linked to, for example, reducing poverty, crime, health threats, greenhouse gas emission or biodiversity deterioration are losing out against national political, sometimes protectionist struggles, short-sighted businesses and self-centred interests. Indeed, the effective transformation of unsustainable socio-technological systems calls for targeted intergovernmental action and dedicated diplomatic efforts for the mobilization of appropriate scientific knowledge.

The role of scientific knowledge in general and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in particular in all this has been at the center of scientific scrutiny for decades. Science advice (Maasen and Weingart 2005), the science-policy interface (Hoppe 2010), and evidence-based policy/diplomacy (Wesselink, Colebatch, and Pearce 2014; Ruffini 2018) are but a few of the concepts and practices that have been positioned to describe what is going on at the intersection between science and policy. Unfortunately, the general thrust of these literatures may feel disenchanting for advocates of a strong role of ‘objective’ scientific knowledge for ‘rational’ decision-making. By now it becomes clearer and clearer that science and scientific knowledge carry power themselves and relying on them only in solving the knowledge controversies connected to societal challenges can turn out to be troublesome for scientists, policymakers, and society alike (Turnhout and Gieryn 2019). In times in which knowledge about societal and environmental problems is “inescapably political” (S. Beck et al. 2017), it is more evident than ever that STI often figure not only as the sources of potential resolution of many of the challenges global society faces – as techno-optimists want to assure us –, but also as the causes behind these challenges (Collingridge 1979). In other words, even with scientific knowledge related to societal challenges, it matters who defines what counts as a problem and what as a solution, who is included and who is excluded.

In recent years, and not least since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of 2019, ‘Science Diplomacy’ has emerged as a new way of thinking about the relations between foreign policy and scientific knowledge. Originally thought of as a tool of soft power (Nye 2008), science diplomacy experiences what could arguably be called a second wave in which it is portrayed as a ‘panacea’ to better face situations that threaten humanity, i.e. societal challenges (Flink 2020b; Young 2020). Regardless of such promise and fashionability, in many common understandings of the concept (The Royal Society 2010; Gluckman et al. 2017) it partly overlaps with the afore-mentioned notions and partly represents a new mixture or highlights other aspects of importance in international relations. Such diversity and fluidity of the concerned activities, practices and mechanisms make it not only more difficult to clearly demarcate its conceptual and practical reach (cf. Rungius and Flink 2020), but also enables convergence of actors under a symbolic ‘umbrella’ notion (Kaltofen and Acuto 2018). In practice, this conceptual elusiveness is accompanied by the inaccessibility of much scientific knowledge due to language barriers, i.e. jargon, and lacking concreteness (Soler, Robinson, and Wang 2017).

Framing the two waves of science diplomacy as ‘soft-power-oriented’ and ‘societal-challenge-oriented’ resonates with its frequently mentioned task to function in competitive and collaborative circumstances, respectively (Ruffini 2020; Young et al. 2020). Prima facie, this is simply a matter of consecutive development or reinterpretation over time. However, it actually represents a profoundly different approach to the interactions of science and foreign policy that are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile. As afore-mentioned, the nature of societal challenges renders an approach purely focused on protectionist interests unsuitable, perhaps undesirable. Ulrich Beck states the following about the contradictions between the national and a cosmopolitical view: “…the horizon of globality, i.e. the experience of civilisational self-endangerment and planetary finiteness, which removes the pluralist rivalry of people and states and creates a closed action space with intersubjectively binding meaning, becomes the point of departure for everyone.” (U. Beck 2009, 173; translation by the author). Thus, a societal-challenge-oriented science diplomacy, which to our understanding is inherently collaborative, will have a hard time flourishing in circumstances of strained or even dysfunctional international relations. In other words, in situations in which diverging value systems, interests and worldviews make the collaborative ‘logic’ (cf. Ruffini 2020) of science diplomacy illogical, societal challenges cannot be addressed through science diplomacy.

So, in the face of conceptual elusiveness, the inaccessibility of knowledge, and strained or dysfunctional international relations, what can science diplomacy ‘do’ to address societal challenges? The ‘umbrella’ notion of science diplomacy allows for a better understanding of the processes modulating the flows of STI around the world, thereby improving the conditions for better knowledge-based decision-making around the world. Furthermore, when it adheres to a set of ‘meta-principles’, science diplomatic practice can act as a force “balancing social tensions” in transboundary knowledge flows (Dunsire 1993, 11; cf. Jessop 2002, 52f; see section 2 below). The interactions between actors in STI and diplomacy required for this, need to be constructive, productive and anticipatory at all levels (Kuhlmann and Rip 2018; Spaapen and Van Drooge 2009).

We present an understanding of a societal-challenge-oriented science diplomacy that occurs in what we call an “interaction space” at the intersection of three arenas of practice within the context of societal debates about what those challenges are and how they can be solved. Based on this understanding, we propose that tensions occurring in various dimensions of transboundary knowledge flows can be addressed by for science diplomatic practices, i.e. those conditions setting the scene for science diplomacy governance to be arranged effectively (Jessop 2002), across the scope and diversity of science-diplomatic efforts. Thus, the set of meta-principles we present can be seen as a normative tool to be considered by actors willing to collaborate on addressing societal challenges instead of competing for knowledge and resources for national gain. This “New Science Diplomacy Protocol”, as our proposal for an open science diplomacy is called, builds on what Ulrich Beck termed “methodological cosmopolitanism”, i.e. a cosmopolitan critique of nation-state-centred foreign policy and science (U. Beck 2009, 53).

The main objective of S4D4C’s work package 4 (WP4) is the development of a science diplomacy governance framework based on such ‘meta-principles’. The (meta-)governance framework builds, among others, on two earlier deliverables by WP4: a policy brief including a detailed elaboration of the worldview required for effective science diplomacy (Deliverable 4.1; Aukes et al. 2020) and a confidential deliverable describing the results of the two co-creation workshops organised by the work package (Deliverable 4.2).

The central questions the governance framework seeks to address are:

  • Which governance practices could contribute to the resolution of tensions on transboundary knowledge flows in support of evidence-based decision making processes?
  • In other words, what overarching (meta-)governance framework is necessary to shape effective science diplomacy interactions for addressing grand societal challenges?

Note on ‘governance frameworks’

A governance framework is not the same as a conceptual framework. Conceptual frameworks by and large intend to define the essence of a certain topic from a specific intellectual or disciplinary perspective. They can take various shapes including, for example, typologies, theoretical statements (‘hypotheses’), or follow a grounded methodology. In general, these follow from descriptive and explanatory work and are also intended for these purposes, i.e. as a search frame (‘heuristic’) or causal explanation (‘models’). A conceptual framework is a lens through which reality may be studied (Abbott 2004). While a governance framework ideally builds on a conceptual one, the two must by no means exclusively appear in tandem. Still, in our understanding, a governance framework is intended as a structure for a governance domain to carry out its activities effectively. In other words it is a practical framework that guides stakeholders in their tasks. A governance framework is often normative, as is ours, because it encourages constructive and productive interactions addressing global challenges. It is strategically inspired. It is also prescriptive, because it states that stakeholders interested in science diplomacy activities who aim to address grand societal challenges should behave in a specific way. While we use the words ‘governance framework’ and interchangeably ‘governance arrangements’ or ‘governance mechanisms’ to refer to it, the framework itself will not use this terminology to avoid overly scientific jargon. Rather, the governance framework should be usable by practitioners and resonate with them and is, thus, called “A new Science Diplomacy Protocol”.


Conceptual starting point

S4D4C’s societal-challenge-oriented governance framework for science diplomacy in Europe and its international politico-scientific context is inspired by the scientific literature on ‘meta-governance’ put forward inter alia by Bob Jessop building on previous work by Andrew Dunsire, and by looking at the lessons learned from the de facto governance practices studied in the context of the empirical programme of the S4D4C project. Click below to know more!

‘Governance’ is understood as those processes by which stakeholders make decisions to which all can commit despite their conflicting interests (Kuhlmann 2001). In policy studies terms, this perspective is complementary to focusing on the analysis of the outcomes of a public policy process or the actors involved, as it focuses on how stakeholders work together to come to some kind of policy as a result of struggles, tensions, and push-and-pulls involved (cf. Colebatch, Hoppe, and Noordegraaf 2010). The ‘governance arrangements’ following from this include the formal organization of a governance domain, inter alia legal frameworks, rules, policy instruments, governmental strategies, official principles and prescribed actors. According to Jessop, governance arrangements may follow the logics of one or a mixture of modes of coordination including:

  1. Hierarchies marked by a clear mandate from an authority;
  2. Networks in which processes take place in the framework of a sort of ‘epistemic community’; and
  3. Markets with supply and demand of information and action originating from different and sporadic actors and emergent needs/opportunities (Jessop 2003, 102; cf. Jessop 2011, 114).

The concept of meta-governance emerged as a reaction to the observation of failure of those generic modes of coordination as a normal state in the complex, modern societies we live in. Meta-governance scholars noticed that the traditional governance modes – e.g. state, market, network – did not suffice anymore on their own and neither could their failures be solved definitively (Jessop 2002; Dunsire 1996). Thus, meta-governance, i.e., the governance of governance, or the overarching governance conditions necessary for de facto governance arrangements to function in a productive and constructive way (Spaapen and Van Drooge 2009), was proposed as the primary process of coordination in modern societies. It implies the rearticulation and ‘collibration’ of the failing modes of governance (Dunsire 1993). For example, existing modes of governance in a certain policy domain need to be reflected on by policy-relevant actors and collibrated – i.e. re-balanced, re-synchronized, re-aligned – frequently, if not constantly. In other words, meta-governance entails the “organisation of the conditions for governance and involves the judicious mixing of market, hierarchy, and networks logics to achieve the best possible outcomes from the viewpoint of those engaged in metagovernance” (Jessop 2003, 108; cf. Jessop 2015, emphasis added). Thus, it is these conditions, i.e. those mechanisms and aspects of governance that make content-oriented policy-making possible, that meta-governance approaches address.

This observation has consequences for all stakeholders in policy processes. From a meta-governance perspective, stakeholders must cultivate a different way of thinking about policy-making. The continuous process of collibrating the prevailing modes of coordination requires an iterative and reflective approach (Rein and Schön 1996) and benefits from a tentative attitude (Kuhlmann, Stegmaier, and Konrad 2019). In practice, meta-governance addresses uncertainty and complexity by (a) involving all policy-relevant stakeholders, (b) defining governance mechanisms that lead to outcomes that are acceptable to many, (c) developing a variety of possible responses, and, foremost, (d) accepting the possibility of (partial) failure (Jessop 2003, 110).

Besides a more flexible attitude towards governance, a meta-governance framework must enable interactions between policy-relevant actors that are constructive and productive. We follow Lindner et al. (2016, 51; drawing on Spaapen and van Drooge 2009) in defining interactions as ‘constructive’ when they treat the issues at hand adequately. ‘Adequacy’, then, is not an externally defined, objective measure, but depends on the problem context and actors’ perceptions of it. In turn, interactions are ‘productive’ when they result in the transformation of actors’ behaviour or at least of their attitude. The aim of productive interactions is “a higher level of shared understanding of [science diplomacy] or in responsive/reflexive improvement in the governance arrangement itself” (Lindner et al. 2016, 51).






While the activities subsumed under it have a long-standing history, science diplomacy is still relatively new; not only as an object of study but also as a domain to be purposefully governed (Berkman 2019; Müller and Bona 2018; Rüffin 2020; Rungius and Flink 2020). Labelling activities aimed at facilitating transboundary knowledge flows as ‘science diplomacy’ also represents a performative, rhetorical act of agenda-setting for the foreign policy arena (Flink 2020b; Penca 2018; Walker 2015). It summarizes formerly more disparate activities under one heading and foregrounds them as potentially valuable diplomatic activities in a globalizing, networked world, in which knowledge and knowledge creation become more and more important for political, economic, social and environmental success. Typical examples of the application of the concept in scientific literature include EU integration (López de San Román and Schunz 2018; Rüffin 2020; Trobbiani and Hatenboer 2018), (historical) international relations (Krasnyak 2020; Millwood 2020; Wilder et al. 2020) as well as environmental issues (Özkaragöz Doğan, Uygun, and Akçomak 2020; Robinson 2020; Ruffini 2018).

In any case, science diplomacy involves collaboration between partially existing, partially new stakeholders working in the STI community, the diplomacy community and the policy community on different levels in the multi-level spectrum of decision making (Melchor 2020; Moomaw 2018). In the wake of a shift from the traditional shape of ‘club diplomacy’ to a more networked form (Cooper, Heine, and Thakur 2013; Hocking 2016), which runs parallel to the shift from government to governance (Rhodes 2007), science diplomacy often involves a broader range of stakeholders from sub-national or non-governmental organizations. This has already led to institutionalized, dedicated governmental science diplomacy networks in, for example, the United States, United Kingdom, France or Switzerland (Flink and Rüffin 2019; Flink and Schreiterer 2010). Other stakeholders, such as the EU with its dedicated European External Action Service or other EU member states, are also keen on using science diplomacy for foreign policy objectives.

In some cases, variants are developed which focus more broadly on economic diplomacy or on innovation diplomacy which, in turn, can be located on the intersection of economic diplomacy and science diplomacy. At foreign mission posts these ‘types’ of diplomacy lead to a mix of diplomats from traditional international relations, economic and innovation diplomacy and other departmental ‘niche’ diplomacies (Van Genderen and Rood 2011). While niche diplomacies such as science diplomacy, innovation diplomacy or economic diplomacy are by no means clearly demarcated diplomatic domains, science diplomacy may ultimately function as an overarching diplomacy concept integrating many if not all conceivable niche diplomacies given their specialized knowledge component.

As said before, its timeliness and popularity has not yet led to a stable definition of the concept (cf. Flink and Rüffin 2019; Kaltofen and Acuto 2018). On the one hand, this leads to confusion and unclarity as to what it may mean and may make some actors question the use, convenience and necessity of the concept. On the other hand, an unstable container or ‘boundary’ concept may cater to the needs and interests of many actors stating to be involved in science diplomacy (Kaltofen and Acuto 2018). Depending on the issue and context at hand, actors can opt in or out of science diplomacy.

Nevertheless, over the years, several conceptual frameworks for science diplomacy have been suggested. In the following, we give a birds eye view of a few of these. Four views will be presented here owing to their relevance for the field and their diverging nature. First, and frequently heard from practitioners, is a definition proposed in 2010 by the Royal Society (The Royal Society 2010). It takes a procedural orientation and defines science diplomacy as three processes: science in diplomacy, diplomacy for science and science for diplomacy. As such, activities can be called ‘science diplomacy’, if they somehow improve the workings of diplomacy based on scientific evidence (i.e. “evidence-based diplomacy”); facilitate the collaboration or exchange of scientists across borders by supporting researcher mobility or by providing simple things such as meeting facilities; or influence the relations between countries through indirect processes of knowledge exchange or collaboration between scientists internationally, with relevant scientific outcomes as a result. These three categories resonate with practitioners’ understanding of the concept to varying degrees. Second, another contribution defined “a more utilitarian framing of science diplomacy” as three motivation orientations (Gluckman et al. 2017). It differentiates between actions motivated by furthering (a) a single country’s interests, (b) bilateral interests, and (c) global interests. Third, a new study reconstructed the concept as a materialization of actors’ interpretative schemas and shared assumptions about the social world they constantly need to make sense of (Rungius and Flink 2020). This means that the actors need to collaborate in a regular manner, whereby science diplomacy is presented as a panacea against looming threats and grand challenges in a world facing deterioration. Fourth, Ruffini (2020) presents science diplomacy to function in the two dialectical rationales of collaboration and competition.

Conceptually speaking, an approach developed from a meta-governance perspective is not concerned with the substantive content of governance in a certain field as the above conceptual frameworks are – e.g. by listing specific actors, governance structures, institutions and outputs related to that field -, but with the problem of how the processes of governing need to be designed to make the process and its outcome constructive and productive. Of course, a basic understanding of what we talk about when we mention the term ‘science diplomacy’ is still required. For the time being, we follow Rungius and Flink (2020), who define it as all kinds of actions bridging science and foreign policy. Nevertheless, a governance framework as we are presenting should start with a view on what it is that needs to be governed. This view on science diplomacy as a governance domain can be found in the Governance Practice for Science Diplomacy section below.




Research Process

We developed the governance framework based on the conceptual considerations and empirical sources. As the Figure on the Governance framework development process shows, the empirical results gathered within S4D4C were accompanied by insights from innovation policy and governance studies as well as experience with another governance framework – for Responsible Research and Innovation – based on meta-governance thinking. As such, by considering these various sources, it can be said that the science diplomacy governance framework is a result of interweaving ‘top-down’, i.e. relating to a priori knowledge, and ‘bottom-up’, i.e. relating to empirical knowledge, movements.

1 Governance framework development process (Source: author’s illustration)

Figure: Governance framework development process (Source: author’s illustration)

Before designing the governance framework, it is paramount to conceptualize overarching characteristics of the domain that the framework should be applied to. Of course, the meta-governance approach, with its procedural take, means that it does not make sense to be extremely specific in defining a governance field including specific stakeholders, mechanisms, policies etc. We tackled this complication by focusing on the notion of ‘practices’ and ‘governance arenas’. This led us to developing a worldview on science diplomacy which was detailed in a policy brief by (Aukes et al. 2020).

In the following development of the actual principles for the governance framework, the idea of ‘tensions’ helped our thinking. Intuitively defined as a somehow problematic situation arising from the interaction of specific forces following their own objectives, and therefore potentially blocking smooth transboundary knowledge flows, we distilled such tension situations from the results. Analysing the case reports, the matters analysis and policy reports published in the course of S4D4C then yielded a set of twelve principles that science diplomacy activities should heed.

This process can be characterised as an abductive design process, rather than a deductive one in the naturalist tradition. Abductive research processes often entail “simultaneously puzzling over empirical materials and theoretical literatures” (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow 2012, 27). This leads to a back and forth of considering empirical realities and comparing them with prior knowledge and experiences (in this case of policy and innovation scientists) (Charmaz 2006). We applied this by co-developing the principles together with the analysis of the data and deliberating them in the co-creation workshops with practitioners. Plausible and useful solutions to the puzzles found in the data were sculpted into the definitive principles by means of an iterative-recursive trial-and-error process from the data to the principles-in-the-making and back. Hence, the principles came into being through what has been called “interpretive moments” – the immersion in the context of the puzzle at hand combined with personal (scientific) experience (cf. Torgerson 1986).





Nine qualitative case studies conducted by the S4D4C consortium constitute the empirical corpus from which the building bricks of our science diplomacy governance framework were derived. All of these case studies revolve around contemporary topics on the intersection of foreign policy and science/science policy that are perceived as or bear the potential of being characterized as science diplomatic fields of action. The contemporary nature of the case studies, as well as their transcendence of the traditional, restricted delimitation of what science diplomacy is, makes them a valuable corpus to assess its potential breadth and depth. The case selection in the overarching project consortium followed a theoretical sampling logic. Cases were selected from potentially relevant, ongoing governance processes in the fields of foreign policy, science and science instruments (Table: Case Studies). The diversity and contextual difference of the cases was chosen deliberately to ensure a widespread representation of de facto science diplomacy governance processes where the interface of science and foreign policy involving transboundary knowledge flows was found. As such, this is a case selection design that roughly follows the most-different-systems logic and allows conclusions as to the general patterns across these cases (Seawright and Gerring 2008).

Case studies

Table: Case studies

As the case studies were carried out by researchers from the whole S4D4C project consortium and their topics differed considerably, it was necessary to coordinate data generation. This was done by a common case study principle containing all questions that would be relevant to compare across cases. Hence, the principle consisted of three sections dealing with (a) the governance arrangement, (b) the stakeholder landscape and (c) de facto governance practices in the respective case. By governance arrangement the formal organization of the case topic is meant. This includes legal frameworks, rules, policy instruments, governmental strategies, official principles and prescribed actors. Furthermore, governance arrangements deal with the direction of implementation – i.e. top-down or bottom-up – and the structure of the arrangement, i.e. whether it resembles a hierarchical structure (where there is a clear mandate from an authority), a network structure (where processes take place in the framework of a sort of ‘epistemic community’) or rather a market structure (where supply/demand of information/action comes from different and sporadic actors and emergent needs/opportunities). The stakeholder landscape describes the actors involved in the case topic and their attributes (i.e. interests, roles, power to influence/facilitate/block, etc.). De facto governance practices are the actual workings of the case in practice. This involves the actual mix of all formal processes and procedures and those where actors deviate from the formal governance arrangement. In addition, under this section the problems actors are dealing with in practice were to be described, as well as possible rules and procedures in the case study and interfaces through which resources pertaining to the case topic are exchanged. Interfaces were thought of as loci of exchange or absorption, such as personal meetings or conferences, but also material/non-human elements like websites, portals, physical infrastructure, etc. They can be institutionalized in the form of programmes, positions, etc. They can be (a) permanent, (b) temporary, (c) formal, or (d) informal occasions, on which actors meet and interact (both nationally and internationally).

In an introductory text to the case researchers it was explicitly stated that each case study’s situatedness and idiosyncrasies required a different selection of those questions to be answered. The principle was not supposed to serve as an interview topic list. Rather, the questions served as analytical guidance for the case study teams to sketch the governance situation in their case and to extract information for the transversal case analysis. This had two consequences. First, it may not have been necessary, nor applicable, to answer all questions for every case study. Second, generating all necessary knowledge from interviews was not imperative, especially, if some/many questions could already be answered by the case study teams themselves without reaching out to other experts (via internal dialogues or desk research, for example). Through this method of ‘coordinated freedom’ we were able to capture the empirical richness of the case studies. It enabled us to distinguish positive and negative examples of governance structures, actors and practices that pertain to science diplomacy. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews – executed between September 2018 and May 2019 – were used to generate the data. Interviews were recorded where possible and permitted. At the completion of the case study process, transversal analyses were performed by the case authors, where a selection of ‘key matters’ was possible, which led to some lessons useful for the development of the science diplomacy governance framework (Young et al. 2020).

Besides the case studies, the work done in S4D4C provided four other sources of information, for example, the science diplomacy state-of-the-art-report (D2.2, Rungius, Flink, and Degelsegger-Márquez 2018), the needs assessment (D2.3, Degelsegger-Márquez, Flink, and Rungius 2019), and the FECYT Policy Report (Melchor, Elorza Moreno, and Lacunza 2020). The fourth data source were the two co-creation workshops carried out in Berlin and Vienna with high-level diplomats, scientists and actors on the boundary of science and diplomacy by S4D4C work package 4 (Task 4.2: “Co-creation and validation of a science diplomacy governance framework”). Together, these empirical sources provided an up-to-date view on the topic of science diplomacy governance in practice (see Figure above). We combined this with scientific knowledge from the current debates in STI policy and governance literature as well as with experience with a previous meta-governance framework (Lindner et al. 2016). The process by which we generated the principles for the governance framework will be described in the following section.


Governance Practices for Science Diplomacy

The conceptualization of the governance domain on which the Science Diplomacy Governance Framework builds on both a) the fact that constructive and productive science diplomacy involves the collaboration of tensions taking place at the level of three interrelated arenas located in the international politico-scientific context, and b) on the notion of ‘tensions’ themselves, where tensions are imbalances or critical situations or dilemmas that result from the interaction between stakeholders at different stages of the science diplomacy process, at different arenas and levels of the decision making process, locally or abroad, implicit in the science diplomacy process. Tensions block smooth transboundary knowledge flows, and their presence is what makes a governance framework necessary. They occur not only in the same arena, at the same level of decision making within one country, but even more at the overlaps between arenas, locally up to internationally, which then need to be governed by collaboration in the science diplomacy processes. This is not to say that all tensions conceivable can be overcome with science diplomacy. Some tensions and the barriers deriving from them, especially when it comes to different value systems, interests and worldviews, are either practically insurmountable or it can be normatively undesirable to resolve them. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that these tensions represent the context in which science diplomacy activities need to be embedded and this means that such activities need to relate to these contexts in one way or another. For example, science diplomacy activities need to take into account diverse socio-economic circumstances of involved actors that may lead to frictions.

On its own, thinking of science diplomacy as an interaction space does not yield normative principles on a meta-level. For that we need to zoom in on the interaction space itself and identify, which processes actually lead to effective productive and constructive science diplomacy interfaces. From that we will be able to derive principles as to which conditions must be created for an interactive science diplomacy process to take place. The figure “Overlapping practices within the Science Diplomacy Interaction Space” above represents a model of what goes on in an effective, transformative science diplomacy process occurring on the intersection of the three arenas. From a procedural meta-governance perspective, ‘effectivity’, ‘transformativity’, or ‘success’ of a science diplomacy activity cannot be pre-defined other than whether it turns out to be constructive and productive, from the perspective of the involved actors. So, as can be expected from a meta-governance viewpoint, these notions refer to a procedural outcome, and not to a substantive one. The stakeholders in the interaction space, who organize the science diplomacy activity, are the ones who must gauge whether their activity is effective, transformative or successful in terms of substance.

System transformation involves profound and interrelated changes in all facets of society, including “skills, infrastructures, industry structures, products, regulations, user preferences and cultural predilections” (Schot and Steinmueller 2018, 9; Geels 2005). System transformations may be understood as resulting from either the ‘problem perspective’ or the ‘solution perspective’. In both cases science diplomacy can play a key ‘mediating’ role. The former perspective implies that science diplomacy serves as the main connector between demand and supply (of solutions, in our case, STI), where ‘problems advocates’ or circumstances push issues into the foreign policy agendas, so that such problems are ultimately addressed. The latter perspective implies that ‘solutions advocates’ or circumstances frame problems in such a way that some ‘preferred solutions’ are implemented. Regardless of where the system transformation begins, science diplomacy typically deals with the need for a clearly agreed upon definition of the problem to be addressed, which implies deliberation and reflection practices by different stakeholders, who normally have differing goals, agendas, and understandings of the causal models behind. Such versions of ‘the’ problem to be addressed with science diplomacy practices inspire or shape to some extent scientific knowledge production and communication practices, whereby science diplomats play the role of intermediaries and translators for the different epistemic communities,

sectors and stakeholders concerned. This process requires the facilitation of deliberation in discussion fora, and knowledge gathering processes, which are in turn determinant for setting the appropriate scene towards constructive and productive system transformation, considering incumbent politics and powering practices. These transformation processes involve the collibration of tensions spurring at different governmental and sectorial interfaces and at multilevel interactions.

In practice, the tensions occurring within and between different science diplomatic arenas of practice lead to the need of considering a single or a combination of principles to be implemented to relieve the tensions in question. The number of possible tensions is extremely large, and relates to the complexity of the issue, the respective arena and the links to the surrounding international politico-scientific context. Where the arenas overlap, and depending on the specific situations, some principles are more relevant than others. However, trying to connect tensions with principles one-to-one at the arena level or at the intersection between two or three arenas is not only impossible but pointless.

Figure: Overlapping practices within the Science Diplomacy Interaction Space: potential for transformative change (Source: authors’ own illustration)

Figure: Overlapping practices within the Science Diplomacy Interaction Space: potential for transformative change (Source: authors’ own illustration)

Still, following a set of basic principles for effective brokerage and mediation, allows for windows of opportunity to open up to facilitate systems’ change. In this sense, systemic change involves a transformed science-diplomacy interface, resulting in new policies informed by science, new modes of science informed by diplomacy, and new modes of diplomacy informed by science. Learnings at the systemic level feedback into the whole socio-technological system both locally and globally, affecting the future productivity and constructivity of the next science diplomacy interaction space.

Actors from different practice arenas enter the interaction space if they have a relevant role and specific interest which is at least partly shared. Their respective practices (problem deliberation; scientific knowledge production; politics and powering) can feed interaction and joint work on the respective shared issue of interest; by means of collibration, i.e. the continuous rebalancing and recalibrating, of resulting tensions and active involvement of science diplomats as policy entrepreneurs, new practices can emerge and can be facilitated if appropriate principles are met, and such transformed practices can feedback into the three arenas as well.


Based on the conceptual and empirical underpinnings, we think about the domain of science diplomacy as three partly overlapping arenas characterised by different kinds of practices in the international politico-scientific context. With Benz (2007, 5; see Figure ‘The Science Diplomacy Interaction Space’), these arenas are shaped as “areas of collective actions” characterized by different sets of dominant practices and, thus also of partly diverging actors and rules of engagement. We follow Shove, Mika, and Watson (2012) who define ‘practices’ as the active integration of materials (such as things, technologies), meanings (including ideas, aspirations) and forms of competence (skill, know-how, techniques); practices are merely carried by actors willing and able to keep them alive, while they compete and support each other in different ways (Shove, Mika, and Watson 2012, 14).

The three arenas can be sketched as follows. First, in a ‘problem deliberation/reflection’ arena motivations and drivers are aligned: actors engage through practices and mechanisms for co-reflection about issues calling for a science diplomacy process vis-à-vis SDGs. Typical actors in this arena are Civil Society Organization, NGOs, WHO, FAO. Second, in a ‘scientific knowledge production’ arena actors discuss and decide on required scientific insights, technological innovation and related infrastructures. Typical actors in this arena are universities, research institutes, NGOs. Third, a ‘politics and powering’ arena hosts decision-making on how a certain challenge should be governed, given specific knowledge needs. Typical actors in this arena are governments, international organisations, multinational companies.

The interaction space can also be conceptualized from the perspective proposed by John Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Framework. According to Kingdon (2014), a ‘window of opportunity’ opens up when the ‘policy stream’, the ‘problem stream’ and the ‘political stream’ intersect. Sometimes, this occurs as a result of external events or due to ‘policy entrepreneurs’ working to bring the streams together. Indeed, on their own, these arenas (‘streams’) and related practices remain ineffective for science diplomacy. The intersection of the three arenas is the location at which productive and constructive governance happens and new practices may emerge: an interaction space (a ‘window of opportunity’) for science diplomacy opens up. From this perspective and abstractly, science diplomacy can be broadly defined as all those governance processes bringing together the problem, knowledge and power arenas to address transboundary knowledge flows towards addressing SDGs. In this context, ‘policy entrepreneurs’, including science diplomats, can play crucial roles. Science diplomacy is thus a governance mode in itself that emphasizes the explicit inclusion of the scientific knowledge production arena into the efforts of solving challenges. Developing a science diplomacy process for a specific issue at hand, including certain actors, knowledge and governance mechanisms will lead to a new stage in a journey at which re-evaluation of and learning about the path is necessary (cf. Van de Ven et al. 2008).

The actor composition of each arena differs per issue, region, and knowledge domain. For example, addressing the SDG 6 “Clean water and sanitation” involves completely different challenges concerning which actors to consider or what technology to apply when discussed in a South American context vis-à-vis a Middle Eastern one. Thus, the particular, idiosyncratic character of the science diplomacy interaction space leads to context-specific outcomes in terms of which tensions are worth addressing and therefore which governance requirements or principles are suitable. Furthermore, because arenas do not describe a specific set of actors, but are delimited by the kind of practices involved, actors often do not belong exclusively to one arena. For example, organizations such as the WHO or OECD can be placed in the overlapping area between the scientific knowledge production arena and the problem deliberation/reflection arena. Finally, differences between actors interested in entering the science diplomacy interaction space may be so large that it is simply impossible to come together and define a common interest, such as societal challenges represent (U. Beck 2009; see note below) . Nevertheless, context is paramount for science diplomacy as it is for diplomacy in general. In the organization of science diplomacy activities the cosmopolitical reality of interferences between national and global crises and inequalities, global interdependencies and causalities, and competing value systems, interests, and worldviews need to be taken into account (U. Beck 2009, 178; see Figure).

Note: Shove, Mika, and Watson (2012, 139) in their conceptual work on social practices also turn to the issue of how transitions can be achieved in and through social practices. Their terminology, therefore, parallels what we have in mind.

The Science Diplomacy Interaction Space at the core of three connected arenas of practice in its international politico-scientific context (Source: author's own illustration; cf. U. Beck 2009, 178)

The Science Diplomacy Interaction Space at the core of three connected arenas of practice in its international politico-scientific context (Source: author’s own illustration; cf. U. Beck 2009, 178)

The Science Diplomacy protocol

Science Diplomacy is an area on the interface between foreign policy, problem articulation (e.g. concerning SDGs) and science that is characterised by fluidity and multi-interpretability. Its definition, stakeholders and job descriptions are not fixed. As long as it is applied in collaborative situations and based on cosmopolitical interests, this Science Diplomacy Protocol capitalizes on these circumstances and proposes principles of interaction that are applicable to various configurations of stakeholders and topics pertaining to the challenges societies face today.

This Science Diplomacy Protocol outlines a set of twelve procedural and infrastructural principles that need to be considered to create transformative science diplomacy interactions. Not all are applicable to every situation, but it will be useful to consider combinations of principles in most. Depending on the specific situation, it can be possible that several of the principles need to be balanced with each other and that sometimes trade-offs between them are inevitable. This highlights the necessity of making the conditions which the principles address explicit among the stakeholders involved.

The full reference list used to develop the New Protocol for Science Diplomacy can be accessed here.