Guest article on the S4D4C Networking Meeting: Dear Science Diplomacy – Where do you want to go (from Here)?

In this article, Sneha Sinha, Research Associate at the  Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi, shares her perspective on the S4D4C final networking meeting. We want to appreciate her perspective and thank her for the effort!

Sneha Sinha holds a Ph.D. in Science Policy from Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her research interests include Science, Technology and Society; History of Science and Technology; Science Diplomacy and Institutional History.

Challenges that we face today like climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, inequality, including the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak are complex, interdependent, and transnational. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and tackling global societal challenges require multilateral or plurilateral responses. Most of our challenges and SDGs have scientific dimensions. Thus, international cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and scientific advice in policy-making are central to tackling these challenges. There is a need to strengthen international partnerships in STI and forge effective collaboration between scientists, policymakers and diplomats to find relevant solutions. Science diplomacy is evolving as a useful tool. Both developed and developing countries are exploring its scope in addressing these global challenges. The European Union (EU) acknowledges the role of science diplomacy in promoting its foreign policy goals, upholding its commitment to SDGs and development cooperation to address global challenges.[i]

It is in this context that Horizon 2020, one of Europe’s largest research and innovation programme supported three science diplomacy projects (1) European Leadership in Cultural, Science and Innovation Diplomacy (EL-CSID), (2) Inventing a shared Science Diplomacy for Europe (InsSciDE) and (3) Science for/in Diplomacy for addressing Global Challenges (S4D4C). These projects contributed significantly to advancing theoretical and practical understanding of science diplomacy in Europe. The EL-CSID project which ended in 2019 explored the scope of cultural, science and innovation diplomacy for EU external relations. To augment the tools for practitioners, the EU and its member states, InsSciDE engages with historical case studies and Europe’s science diplomacy initiatives at present. S4D4C sought to support the EU’s foreign policy goals and its commitment to SDGs through science diplomacy. The present article focuses on the latter and seeks to capture highlights of the S4D4C’s Final Networking Meeting held recently.

S4D4C, since its inception, has made varied efforts in advancing science diplomacy through its networking meetings, training courses, publications, including the latest ‘The New Protocol for Science Diplomacy’. As the project approaches its end, it organised its third and final networking meeting ‘Addressing Global Challenges Together: The Role of Science Diplomacy’ in a virtual mode during 15th-19th March 2021. S4D4C’s first global networking meeting was held in Madrid in 2018, which brought together stakeholders from across the world and explored the potential of EU’s science diplomacy in advancing national needs, cross-border linkages and global concerns. The landmark Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy outlines the vision, principles and potential of EU’s Science Diplomacy. In 2019, the second meeting in Berlin saw the participation of European members. Its recommendations identified the drivers, barriers and challenges in developing a European Science Diplomacy Roadmap.

S4D4C’s final networking meeting was timely. The ongoing pandemic and the decade of action necessitates every country to accelerate their efforts towards tackling similar public health challenges in future and achieving the SDGs which may have been retarded due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This entails greater importance for science diplomacy as an effective means for fostering international STI cooperation and informed policy-making for building common interests and finding solutions to tackle global challenges. Nearly 765 attendees participated in this week-long meeting, which brought together 120 speakers during 31 sessions on various aspects of science diplomacy. The speakers belonged to 30 countries from across the world including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, India, Nigeria apart from EU member states and the USA.[ii] For a holistic meeting, numerous plenary, parallel and round-tables were organised on varied themes of science diplomacy. The opening ceremony gave a snap-shot of S4D4C’s initiatives in furthering science diplomacy. During the event, the session ‘S4D4C on the Spotlight’ in particular highlighted its impact, alliances and efforts in training the next generation of diplomats. At the closing ceremony, advisory board members including Prof. Paul Arthur Berkman reiterated the significant role played by S4D4C and the other two Horizon 2020 projects in advancing science diplomacy.

The meeting captured views of various stakeholders including ministers, policy-makers, diplomats, scientists, representatives of international organisations, science diplomacy institutions, experts and researchers. The dignitaries included Ministers of S&T and research and innovation (R&I) of EU member states, representatives of the European Commission (EC) and the European External Action Service (EEAS). They presented EU’s strategy, highlighting critical role of scientific knowledge-based advice and efficient collaboration for drawing concrete actions towards solving the challenges. The importance of values in science, diplomacy and politics, need for equipping scientists, along with policy makers and diplomats to curb misinformation was emphasised. The role of science diplomacy as a key ‘soft power tool’ to reinforce EU’s global leadership and provide a communication channel for addressing global societal challenges was reiterated. Further emphasizing political legitimacy and credibility of science and policy uptake for a successful science-policy interface.

German Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, stressed that global challenges like climate change, environmental pollution and biodiversity loss require international cooperation in education, science and research. The efforts made by the Ministry towards strengthening science diplomacy in building bridges and fostering mutual understanding were highlighted. The objectives include bringing people across the world together through education and science and forging partnerships with regions or countries. They focus on science-based advice for policy-making, solving societal issues, sound political decisions, and freedom of science, research and teaching with greater mobility of scientists, trainees and students and development of international research infrastructures. The Minister of Science in Spain, Pedro Duque emphasised the importance of robust scientific knowledge and the ability to harness it for concrete solutions to tackle pressing challenges. Thus, providing an ecosystem for effective collaboration between scientists, policy-makers, diplomats and industry leaders through science diplomacy.

During the event, a high-level panel delved into ‘The Future of EU – Canada Cooperation in Horizon Europe’.  During the closing ceremony, another distinguished panel provided an outlook for the future of EU Science Diplomacy, the EU’s participation in multilateral fora, and its role in international cooperation to find solutions to global challenges. The panellists also deliberated on the challenges of the EU’s openness and issues in balancing the diversity of its member states.

Apart from European representatives, reiterating the importance of science diplomacy in bringing together various regions, countries and actors. Colombia’s Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Mabel Torres discussed the efforts made by the Ministry towards shaping a science diplomacy strategy to position Colombian science and furthering science advice to decision-making. The science diplomacy working group with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international actors and researchers, and the development of science diplomacy nodes across the world are some of Colombia’s initiatives towards international partnership in STI for tackling global challenges.

The meeting reflected on the existing theoretical understanding of science diplomacy and raised issues around cooperation vs collaboration, usage of the term, and its north-centric discourse.  Emphasis was laid on evolving a new conceptual framework for science diplomacy. Role of scientists and issues facing science and policy-making, need for an ecosystem with all stakeholders and adapting science advice mechanism in a way that knowledge feeds policymaking was also underlined. Capacity building in science diplomacy was an integral part of the proceedings of the meeting. S4D4C partners and sister organisations like InsSciDE organised sessions focused on ‘Addressing Global Challenges under Multipolarity’ through historical-informed examples of science diplomacy, role of civil societies in forging contacts between science, arts and politics, and career paths for science diplomacy researchers.

On the last day of the meeting, the coordinators of the three projects of the European Science Diplomacy Cluster shared insights about their respective programmes, lessons learnt and recommendations. During a roundtable, the lack of visibility of universities in science diplomacy literature and practice, its reasons, and what measures could be undertaken to bring back universities into Science Diplomacy were discussed. The discussion on ‘Developing Science Diplomacy Capacities, Opportunities, and Networks for Future Science Policy Leaders through Fellowship Programs in the Americas’ was organised by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).

Another roundtable on training future science diplomats deliberated on the nature, scope and recommendations for building trust, expanding scientists’ role beyond academics, shaping a science diplomat’s researchers’ community, and diversification in science and diplomacy. Exploring the role of science in bringing countries together, Nobel Laureate Prof. Peter Agre shared his experience and interaction with scientists while working in different countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran and South Korea which faced complicated diplomatic relations, during a session on ‘Opening doors worldwide through science’.

International STI cooperation will entail sharing lessons learnt, best practices and evolving governance mechanisms. Therefore, a roundtable brought together speakers from the United Kingdom, South Africa, Netherlands and Switzerland, who gave an account of the science diplomacy initiatives in their respective countries. The significance of Governance of Science Diplomacy was emphasized for a systematic approach taking into consideration three traversal processes and five key spheres to create transformative science diplomacy interactions. The aim was to indicate that science diplomacy governance for addressing global challenges should not work with silos, but should bring together different sectors and stakeholders including governments, government departments, private sector, tech industries, research institutions, universities, national academies, etc. The centrality of the scientific community in science communication and decision-making processes was highlighted. The lack of scientists from the global south in most international organizations and science diplomacy, in general, was underlined. Various aspects of science diplomacy including issues of developing countries were discussed by researchers and practitioners from the USA, Egypt, Europe and Latin America in their flash talks.

Apart from involving multiple stakeholders, the meeting also stressed the role of multilateral and inter-governmental organizations in catalyzing science diplomacy for addressing societal challenges. The role of the UN in addressing the existing challenges and bottlenecks to achieving SDGs, and facilitating communication and identifying common ground is immense. Interaction between scientists and diplomats is crucial in this regard. Underlining Multilateral Science Diplomacy, the changing role of international intergovernmental organizations in tackling global challenges was also discussed. The sessions also focused on the importance of co-production of knowledge, cooperation in research, education, role of academia and universities and their involvement with decision-makers, and collaborative and inclusive open science as being central to success in dealing with transnational issues through building relationships and nodes. Science Diplomacy institutions can play a key role in forging international partnerships, as discussed in a session on ‘Strengthening Science Diplomacy Transboundary Institutions’, which underlined the efforts of Global Young Academy, SDG Bergen Initiative and the role of the US National Academy of Sciences in providing scientific advice to policy makers. The discussion on ‘Open Science: Joint Efforts for a Better Future’ explored the means for knowledge sharing and co-creation citing examples of CERN and SESAME and publication of pre-prints for facilitating access to research on the coronavirus. The increased role of scientists in policy making, science communication and the importance of social sciences in solving existing challenges was discussed.

The São Paulo Innovation and Science Diplomacy School (InnSciD SP) brought together speakers from Brazil, Nigeria and India who deliberated on ‘Science and Innovation Diplomacy for Development: Employing International Cooperation to Overcome Poverty and Achieve Technological Catch-up’. Taking note of the present global health crisis, the session ‘Building alliances to tackle COVID-19’ dealt with the issues faced in combating COVID-19 effectively and the need for integrated advice combining science, economics, health and other fields with balanced inputs from natural and social sciences. It emphasised shaping a global treaty on health/pandemics. The challenging issues of vaccine science diplomacy were also discussed. Water Diplomacy was viewed as a tool for collaboration to build bridges and mitigate political tensions by involving public and private sectors, academia and local communities, giving equal importance to local culture.

The networking meeting also included breakfast sessions with Jan Marco Müller, Science and Technology Advisor, EEAS; Katalin Alföldi, Policy Officer, COST Association and Peter McGrath from The World Academy of Sciences. The week-long meeting allowed attendees to engage actively through Q&A, live chat and other networking options, including bilateral meetings among participants, virtual get-together and an hour for organized networking on Day 4 of the event. One of the most striking outcomes of the meeting was showcased on the last day of the meeting. The EU Science Diplomacy Alliance was launched with the three Horizon 2020 project i.e. EL-CSID, InsSciDE and S4D4C at its core along with numerous other institutions. It aims to nurture the science diplomacy community and cooperate in facilitating interactions, building capacity and coordinating activities and training programmes for advancing science diplomacy. The roadmap of its future activities and prospective chairs for the next three years were announced.

Moving away from a more Euro-centric approach in science diplomacy and recognizing the dominance of the North-centric discourse in science diplomacy, there is an urgent need for greater engagement with the Global South for drawing a truly global outlook on science diplomacy and for addressing the grand societal challenges, and achieving the SDGs. The present discourse may not give a balanced outlook as it largely ignores the developing countries and Southern perspective of science diplomacy. Greater representation of different discourses and narratives is critical for a holistic vision. The networking meeting discussed some issues and challenges that science diplomacy faces today. There is a need to have a more pragmatic approach to science diplomacy. Rather than projecting a rosy picture, its role in addressing challenges and achieving SDGs, it will be pertinent to understand and debate on its limitations, and contradictions between an ideal view on science diplomacy and the reality in terms of wicked problems being faced by humankind.

It is important to realise that although science diplomacy may claim to be universal, in reality, such universal claims are debatable. Science diplomacy, all said and done, is often driven and directed by national states.  A pragmatic perspective rather than a utopian view is critical for building bridges between various stakeholders, countries to draw common interests, share best practices and lessons learnt, etc. This would enable countries to deal with their national challenges and work effectively towards tackling global challenges and achieving SDGs during the ongoing decade of action. The EU Science Diplomacy Alliance and certainly, the new Horizon Europe programme could build partnerships in science diplomacy. They can facilitate international cooperation in S&T research and innovation with the Global South, including India towards the aforementioned aims.


[i] European Commission. 2016. Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World: A Vision for Europe. Retrieved from

[ii] S4D4C. (2021, March 30). Wrapping Up: The S4D4C Final Networking Meeting a Few Days Later. Retrieved from


Responsible for the content of this article is the guest author. Do you want to know more about what happened during S4D4C’s final networking meeting? Check our event review here.


S4D4C Team

Posted by S4D4C Team