More on the Introduction

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”.

Laure-Anne Plumhans

Posted by Laure-Anne Plumhans