Researcher’s voices #7 – Meet Maria Josten and Nadia Meyer (DLR) and Lorenzo Melchor, Ana Elorza, and Izaskun Lacunza (FECYT) on the launch of the S4D4C science diplomacy online course

Learning the practice: With the launch of its European Science Diplomacy Online Course the S4D4C project reached a major project milestone

After months of preparation, the S4D4C European Science Diplomacy Online Course has been released today. Read a news article on the release of the course here and find the course itself here.

This free online course is targeted at various users: From diplomats and scientists looking to enlarge their knowledge in science diplomacy or to consolidate their practice and think about career options in the field, to researchers and students studying the topic but also the general interested public. Course participants benefit from a theoretical as well as a practical dimension, both stemming from S4D4C’s already more than 2-years long work on science diplomacy. The course is designed to provide a fully-fledged picture about the various dimensions that the field of science diplomacy brings along: The conceptual framework(s) of science diplomacy, the variety of stakeholders and networks involved, the European Union’s approach to science diplomacy, the skills needed if looking at the field professionally or practical case studies as examples of how science diplomacy was used in real-life settings to name only a few.

For our seventh Researcher’s Voice (RV#7) we talked to Maria Josten and Nadia Meyer from DLR, who, together with Lorenzo Melchor, Ana Elorza, and Izaskun Lacunza from FECYT, spearheaded the preparation of the S4D4C online course. 

Maria and Nadia, the S4D4C European Science Diplomacy Online Course has now been finally launched. What’s your immediate reflection on the past few weeks which were characterised by the joint effort of the whole S4D4C course team to finalise this large product?

Maria: The last few weeks have been quite exciting. After a long period of gathering information, diving deep into the topic and developing the eight modules of the course, we have had a very intense exchange. Working so closely with other internal and external science diplomacy experts on the topic of how to best convey what we want to teach about science diplomacy has been a beautiful experience. And we think, we can present a very good product with selected topics, sources and visual materials.

The course title is “S4D4C European Science Diplomacy Online Course”. Is it more geared towards the European Science Diplomacy community or do you address a global community to the same degree?

Nadia: The content of the course deals closely with science diplomacy in Europe. We even dedicated a whole module to this topic. It aims at showing how the European Union carries out the practice of science diplomacy and the bi-directional impact in/from Member States’ science diplomacy strategies. The focus on European science diplomacy results from our work in the S4D4C project, where the focus clearly lies on a European way of performing science diplomacy, e.g. in our case studies. But of course we address other regions and states’ approaches in the other modules as well, e.g. China, Japan and the U.S. Especially when we are talking about solving global challenges by using science diplomacy we cannot focus on Europe only, we must think globally.

Let’s speak in practical terms. What can participants expect from the course with regards to time and efforts needed to complete it, the way it works and its content?

Maria: The course is structured in eight different modules. The modules deal with areas such as the content of science diplomacy as such, science diplomacy stakeholders, the science diplomacy of the European Union as well as national, regional and thematic approaches. We also illustrate what set of skills science diplomats need. Each module is structured in different lessons and users can choose how much they want to do in one go.

At the end of most modules users will find a quiz that will help them assess how much they have learnt. If the trainee passes all quizzes, she or he will get a certificate. We assume that it will take users about 15 hours to complete the whole course.

Nadia: What might be interesting: The course has been designed to be mainly taken online. However, all modules have a downloadable pdf file so that students can read the content of the course offline as well. We thus provide as much flexibility as possible.

Assuming there is both a diplomat with already comprehensive knowledge on international science policy and a student who just starts its Bachelor’s degree on international relations with an emphasis on global scientific cooperation attracted to your course. Are the two at the right place?

Izaskun: This course is quite comprehensive and covers many different topics. The course is specially tailored for professional beginners (be them scientists, diplomats, civil servants or managers) to get introduced to the concept and current trends in science diplomacy. However, science diplomacy experts and practitioners will also find valuable information that may help them in their day-to-day activities. They may get more familiar with the existence of a wide variety of science diplomacy networks out there that they would like to engage with, and get exposed to other national or regional approaches. Undergraduate students will find that the course is a great complement to their degree without any doubt.

What type of material did the S4D4C team include in the course and where does it come from?

Maria: We paid attention to get a nice mix of materials to make it an interesting learning experience. Within our S4D4C project we have carried our different surveys among stakeholders dealing with international collaboration. We have prepared detailed analyses related to the current developments in science diplomacy or to global challenges, relevant today but also in the future. Based on this analytical work we have selected the most relevant outcomes for our students. Furthermore, we recorded video-interviews with leading experts in science diplomacy which are used in the modules. In addition, we compiled academic papers and other interesting readings that support the users in learning about the many faces of science diplomacy.

In order to secure that the course was relevant for different types of users, you contacted some professionals from different fields to let them assess the course from their perspective. How did you select these evaluators for the course and what sort of feedback did you get?

Lorenzo: We have undertaken a thorough review of our online course because we wanted it to have the biggest quality content possible. We are practitioners and science policy managers, some of us with strong academic backgrounds and diplomatic experience in the field. But we are not university lecturers or diplomats, for instance, so we wanted to gather their feedback to improve the quality of our course. Each module has undergone review from one or two experts (scholars and/or practitioners) in that particular subject: Our partners the Vienna School of International Studies (Diplomatic Academy of Vienna) and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) reviewed our approach on diplomacy and international relation affairs, and Helen B. Woods from our partner the University of Sheffield checked content accuracy and language.

Ana: In addition to this, we also rely on two external evaluators who have participated in the past in some of our science diplomacy exchange programmes and who beta-tested the platform in detail to live the user experience. We hope future students will like the final product very much!

Maria and Nadia, the course now runs on the S4D4C website. How do you ensure that it is more widely recognised, so beyond the limits of one of many, many EU-funded projects? What is your plan to reach your target groups?

Nadia: That is a very good question. We are surely keen on getting word out about this course. We will therefore reach out to potential trainees directly as well as key stakeholders and multipliers. Our target audience for the online course are diplomats, scientists, beginner science diplomats and hopefully the interested public. In addition to informing our personal contacts, we will reach them through our social networks, but also place our course offer in online events, like for example the InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School that will take place online this summer. Stay tuned because we will make our best to make this online course available in many places!

Lorenzo, Ana and Izaskun, the global COVID-19 outbreak in the first few months of 2020 has heavily tested our health systems and spurred major impacts on the socio-economic level. It is, again, a marked evidence of the strong need for science in political decision-making. We observe an immediate interest in science diplomacy as another direct consequence of this crisis.

Ana: This pandemic has brought to the brink of collapse our welfare states because of the coincidence of a global public health issue causing a socioeconomic earthquake. This has also placed the interface between science, policy, and diplomacy directly under the spotlight. Across the world, science advisers and committees have informed about the scientific understanding of the disease and its consequences to Prime Ministers, Ministers, and other government officials, so these could then take evidence-informed decisions. We have witnessed how individual scientists as well as national and international scientific and health organisations have shared data and resources, collaborating to better tackle the disease. These interactions may have embodied or facilitated diplomatic relationships between affected countries.

Lorenzo: But there have also been crucial challenges. For one, the relation between science and government has also had frictions worldwide that should be worth studying further. Second, most countries (including EU Member States) approached this global issue using a “my country first” scope that complicated any kind of multilateral response in the times of most need. It will be worth to examine where science diplomacy failed and what science diplomacy mechanisms should we implement for a better global governance level. As stated in our latest S4D4C policy report, we require a systemic change to better tackle global challenges such as COVID-19 through multilateralism and science diplomacy. In relation to the course, module 7 covers a nice variety of empirical case studies, including one of infectious diseases, where we can observe how different countries through a diverse array of public and private entities engaged in different science diplomacy interaction spaces such as health diplomacy, water diplomacy, cyber diplomacy and others.

Was the work on the course somehow impacted by these observations as well, for instance what concerns the modules offered or the ever more important purpose it has come to deliver to train current and future “science diplomats”?

Izaskun: With the outbreak of COVID-19, we were even more enthused to release this online course as soon as possible ensuring the highest quality standards. We believe this format will be a great complement to the nice variety of science diplomacy workshops, offline courses, and educative sessions that are already taking place. It is definitely a stepping stone in the path to establish formal academic curricula that will help train current and future “science diplomats”. The importance of science and technology in international relations is increasing and requires a new breed of professionals able to better bridge the worlds of science and diplomacy.

Maria, Nadia, Lorenzo, Ana, and Izaskun thank you for talking to us!

This interview was done in the form of a written email exchange in May 2020.

Find all six previous reseacher’s voices published by S4D4C in an overview HERE


Philipp Brugner

Posted by Philipp Brugner