Upon invitation of the TU Dortmund Center for Higher Education, Stefan Kuhlmann and Ewert Aukes (both University of Twente) provided the online lecture “Science Diplomacy in the Making” in the frame of the “Higher Education Research Colloquium Series”.
The starting (and end) point of the presentation was that science diplomacy is – and remains – an elusive concept. Building on the work of the S4D4C project, which focuses on grand societal challenges that require collective action across national borders, Stefan outlined the different interacting aspects of science diplomacy (see fig. 1 below) where international diplomacy draws on science-based advice, facilitates science cooperation and uses science cooperation to improve international relations. All this by involving different actors.
Figure 1: S4D4C perspectives of science diplomacy
Science diplomacy is not only elusive; it is also highly demanded, contested and dependent on different political realities. Policy making in uncertain and complex contexts needs to be iterative and reflective, include many stakeholders, define acceptable governance mechanisms and develop a variety of responses, accepting also the possibility of failure, Stefan outlined.
In order to be able to address grand challenges, governing mechanisms for science diplomacy must observe four premises to be effective. There are underlying basic assumptions that (1) grand societal challenges require both diplomatic efforts and science-based knowledge, (2) science-based knowledge production is diverse and evolving, (3) diplomacy means reconciling a variety of interests, and (4) science diplomacy requires combined science and diplomacy literacy. This argument has been detailed in the S4D4C policy brief from January 2020. Neither science nor diplomacy is simple and their combination needs to be productively organised. Related practices are heterogeneous and competing and is very case specific. The different actor groups are developing their practices in different arenas – (i) the scientific knowledge production arena, (ii) the politics and powering arena and (iii) the problem deliberation and reflection arena – that overlap in a “Science Diplomacy Interaction Space”, as outlined in fig. 2 below.
Figure 2: Science diplomacy arenas – towards and interaction space
Stefan mentioned the example of the current COVID-19 crisis in which it became very clear that the interaction space was weakly developed, as outlined also in our recent policy brief “Building better science diplomacy for global challenges: Insights from the COVID-19 crisis”. The focus needs to be on making them constructive (i.e. ensuring that the issues are treated adequately, accepted by the actors with different views) and productive (enabling actors to learn and eventually change their behaviour).
Each practice arena involves particular practices, i.e. reflection practices, scientific knowledge production practices and politics and powering practices. For a science diplomacy interaction space to come into existence, these practices need to be put in meaningful relation (see fig. 3). An effective science diplomacy process needs to start with a reflection of the motivations and drivers that bring together the involved actors. This should clarify the problem definitions involved and the grand societal challenge to be addressed. With this in mind, processes of scientific knowledge production and powering are initiated to come to a governance arrangement based on scientific knowledge that addresses the societal challenge in question. The meaningful concatenation of these practices – whilst shaping and inspiring each other in the interaction space – transforms the science-diplomacy interface or creates new ones.
Figure 3: Science diplomacy process and practices
Ewert Aukes followed up with a short outline of the empirical work that feeds S4D4C’s theoretical thinking: the co-creation workshops, the state-of-the-art report, needs analysis and nine empirical case studies as well as previous research and literature. Highlighting the water diplomacy case study, the different actors where put in context and observed processes outlined, for example interministerial collaboration, institutional bilateral and multilateral knowledge exchange, co-learning with peers, dedicated capacities such as “water envoys” as well as brokering, distribution of knowledge and other enabling practices. The case findings further help to identify some ideal-type constellations of actors as well as principles and requirements that are necessary to provide conditions that allow productive and constructive learning in the above-mentioned sense.
Stefan Kuhlmann summarized:
Enabling conditions are not prescribing or codifying actors, activities, mechanisms, norms or values. They are principles and requirements for a constructive and productive science diplomacy interaction space.
Stefan and Ewert also highlighted the knowledge platform and training resources that are developed by the project, including a warm recommendation for the online course on European Science Diplomacy and the case study reports. Stefan Kuhlmann invited teachers and researchers to look at the political issues that touch upon their fields of research, to consider options, limitations and possibilities and to act upon their often-implicit ambition to address societal challenges.
We would like to thank TU Dortmund, Center for Higher Education and in particular Liudvika Leisyte, who holds the Professorship of Higher Education, and Anna-Lena Rose, who kindly organised the colloquium, for the collaboration and the audience for the interesting discussion.