Science diplomacy in an interaction space

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.

Laure-Anne Plumhans

Posted by Laure-Anne Plumhans