Due to administrative “distance” and the formulation of sweeping, generic statements, large-scale international agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, run the risk of a disconnect with the local contexts they address. Additionally, if implementation processes are riddled with bureaucratic hurdles, this may hinder Science Diplomacy objectives, too. Besides, the silos policy domains represent more often than not, complicate any form of international and interdisciplinary collaboration and co-construction. Science Diplomacy, thus, will fare well, if processes are designed in the simplest way conceivable and – in S4D4C the vertical governance dimension – as close to the implementation context as possible (McMichael 2005; Wanzenböck and Frenken 2018). Furthermore, even if appropriate assets and conditions are in place, a lack of leadership for orchestrating efforts may result in unnecessary costs or impracticable solutions. Science Diplomacy can be a very complex enterprise, involving multiple governance levels, stakeholders with their own agendas and even conflicting goals or incompatible processes (Haas 1992; cf. Deliberation; Van Lieshout et al. 2014). The smooth operation of all of these elements depends on their coordinated alignment.

This leads to the following principle:

Science diplomatic activities should address problems on the lowest, i.e. most local and concrete, appropriate policy/instrumental level while coordinating all involved scales (temporal, spatial and administrative), governance dimensions (horizontal and vertical) and epistemic communities.

To ensure this principle is considered, ask yourself:

  • What is the lowest level at which the activity will unfold its maximum impact?
  • What should the activity’s main goals be and who are its targeted beneficiaries?
  • Who can affect achieving these goals (positively or negatively) and how?
  • How should they be mobilized to achieve such goals?
  • Which dimensions and epistemic communities need to be taken into account and aligned to maximize the activity’s impact?

Fictive Case

Laure-Anne Plumhans (Center for Social Innovation)

Country A identifies the need to conduct more research on rising sea levels and adaptation strategies.  A newly-adopted governmental strategy titled “Action Plan 2021: Resilience in the face of rising sea levels” allows for research funding on rising sea levels. It especially promotes mutual learning through bilateral and joint funding schemes with foreign countries concerned with sea-level rise. The environmental adaptation policy department of country A’s central funding agency has now been allocated more budget to finance adaptation research on sea-level rise. It intends to start negotiating a joint funding scheme with country B, which faces similar challenges regarding sea-level rise and has expertise in adaptation techniques. Unfortunately, this country’s political and research system is drastically different which complicates the work of negotiators. Additionally, country A and B have a rather tense political relation and it is important that country A keeps the same line of argument during the negotiations. Thankfully, the funding agency has several instruments handy including a set of expert guidelines on how country B’s systems work and how to negotiate with its representatives, from which negotiators benefit greatly. The funding agency is also in constant communication with the foreign affairs office and works closely with the science attaché posted in country B. Both countries eventually agree to a mutually beneficial scheme to fund research on rising sea levels, in a record time.

Other relevant principles involved: Capacities, Legitimacy.

Relation to S4D4C Transversal Case Study Analysis: This principle is derived from the following matters: Governance systems, Rhythm and Timing, Instruments.

Click on the image below to know more about the matters that inspired this example and others!