The ‘Matters’ of Science Diplomacy: Levels

What matters in science diplomacy? That is the question that “The ‘Matters’ of Science Diplomacy: Transversal Analysis of the S4D4C Case Studies” aims to answer. To do so, the transversal analysis critically analyses the content of our nine case studies and identifies insights to foster and advance the understanding and the practice of science diplomacy. Each matter addresses a piece from the larger picture; together they form a mosaic depicting the complex and wide-ranging concept of science diplomacy. 

On this page, you find the matter ‘Levels’, co-authored by Eliška Černovská & Ana Elorza Moreno.

Levels matter for science diplomacy because they are key in structuring our understanding of how different actors and stakeholders can jointly respond to global challenges. This section digs deeper into one of the three elements (spatial, temporal, and administrative) that are studied in the scale matter. It serves as a close-up examination into the spatial scale and how levels of international governance determine policy problem framing (Van Lieshout et al., 2014: p.551). Levels are critical elements in understanding how policy problems and science diplomacy responses to problems are formulated depending on which level a problem is addressed. Therefore, we introduced a proposed framework of four levels based on science diplomacy activities, i.e. (1) global, (2) sub-global, (3) national, and (4) sub-national levels. Moreover, two sub-levels – sub-global and sub-national – consist of several dimensions depending on the stakeholders involved and the relations among them, which lead us to distinguish three dimensions within sub-levels: (1) bilateral, (2) multilateral, and (3) regional.

First, we explain what we understand by these individual levels and dimensions: The global level is perceived as a platform coordinating science diplomacy activities of actors concerned with matters of global scale such as the WHO, the United Nations (UN) but also non-governmental stakeholders, such as private companies and civil society. Sub-global level activities address less extensive cross-boundary issues, though the activities fall within the worldwide narrative of global problems, driven by physical and/or human elements of geography (see more in the geography matter). National level activities are primarily driven by governmental actors to protect citizens, but non-governmental stakeholders may be involved as well. The sub-national level consists of all activities underneath the national level involving local stakeholders, such as cities or sub-national regions. As for the dimensions, the bilateral dimension contains the cooperation of two stakeholders based on elements of physical or/and human geography; the multilateral dimension is perceived as a category consisting of cooperation among more than two actors based on human geographical aspects; and the regional dimension encompasses cooperation among more than two stakeholders building either on physical geography or on both physical and human aspects of geography.

Science diplomacy processes naturally pervade all levels. Similarly, stakeholders are involved in various levels parallelly. Therefore, science diplomacy is usually a matter of mixed levels and mixed dimensions . This reflects the complexity of science diplomacy processes that are needed for an effective response to global challenges. In most cases, a stakeholder is involved in several organizations and has established cooperation with a variety of actors, producing a complex network of science diplomacy ties, cooperation and actions on multiple levels and dimensions. This results in many mixed categories of science diplomacy that combine different levels and dimensions.

The global level serves as a stage for the identification and definition of global challenges, e.g. WHO in determining infectious diseases or the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in delineating food security as a problem on the worldwide scale (Ravinet et al., 2020). Therefore, the global level provides the broadest policy problem-framing involving a wide range of stakeholders, which adds to the complexity. The sub-global level encompasses all cross-boundary activities driven by physical and/or human elements of geography. Subglobal science diplomatic cooperation stems from two principal issues. There is a need for tackling cross-boundary issues that are part of the worldwide definition of global problems. Further, concrete cross-boundary problems influence policy problem-framing that comes from global-level understanding, but it is more specific, e.g. bilateral collaboration over water supplies from Israel to Jordan as a part of the globally acknowledged problem of water security. In this respect, physical geography is the main driver of bilateral or regional dimensions as geographically close actors face similar challenges. It is worth mentioning here that there is advanced regional collaboration in science diplomacy over water issues that are shaped around river basins, e.g. the Mekong River Commission unifying riparian states to coordinate environmental protection and water security (Jacobs, 2002) or the Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River (ICPDR, 1998).

Secondly, science diplomacy at the sub-global level is a potential way to strengthen scientific capabilities through knowledge sharing and therefore, jointly advance ideas that address global challenges. This is demonstrated, for example, in bilateral cooperation between France-Germany and Israel-USA in cybersecurity and infectious diseases prevention (Kadlecová et al., 2020; Šlosarík et al., 2020), France-Japan in cyber security research, and a science diplomacy facilitated partnership between Masaryk University in Brno (Czech Republic) and Georgetown University (USA) in the same field (Kadlecová et al., 2020). In this regard, not only physical geography but also human geography, affect science cooperation on the sub-global level based on the cultural and/or historical relationships among stakeholders.

It is worth highlighting the case of the EU, which represents a model of sub-global science diplomacy with its commitment to contribute to tackling global challenges, such as infectious diseases or food, water, and cyber security. Not only does the EU operate within its borders, e.g. establishing European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) or European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), but also outside of the EU, as for example in the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA3 ). The EU is thus engaged within the broader region, the Mediterranean, rather than only the region of the EU per se. The regional dimension of science diplomacy can also be perceived as a tool for enhancing the actors role in responding to global challenges. This motivation may extend beyond regional collaboration and lead to so-called interregional cooperation, e.g. Central Asian Regional Water Stakeholder´s Platform (WASP) or joint research collaboration in food security of the EU and the African Union (AU) (Ravinet et al., 2020; Tomalová et al., 2020).

The national level oftentimes refers to policy problem-framing from the global level butfocuses on aspects relevant for a country within its legal and regulatory space as well as its foreign affairs. Therefore, states undertake science diplomacy activities jointly with non-governmental institutions to establish solid knowledge in the prioritized area in order to ensure the security4 of its citizens. For example, in the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, the priority of states was to protect citizens and stabilize the situation within national borders; however, in addition to ensuring security, countries also advanced know-how on other levels – especially upper ones, and therefore contributed to addressing the challenge on a global scale. For example, the Czech Republic stressed in its National Cyber Security Strategy for the period 2015 to 2020 the will to “play a leading role in the cyber security field within its region and in Europe” (NSA, NCSC, 2015: p.7). Thus, the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) was established, and cyber attachés were deployed to the US, Belgium, and Israel while cooperation in research within the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was reinforced (Kadlecová et al., 2020). Similarly, Germany and the United Kingdom used national scientific knowledge, including governmental and private research capacities, to firstly ensure citizens security in the field of public health, and, secondly, to contribute to international activities during the Zika outbreak in 2015-2016 (Šlosarík et al., 2020). While the national level prioritizes citizen protection in the face of challenges, the ambition to become an important player by advancing knowledge on the sub-global and global level is no less important a driver of state science diplomacy engagement.

The sub-national level contains all activities underneath the national level as determined by geographical elements. As mentioned above, science diplomacy activities may include bilateral, multilateral, and regional dimensions based on the type of stakeholders and the relationships among them. Dimensions of the sub-national level acquire the same features as those of sub-global levels, but they unite different stakeholders, such as cities, research institutions and sub-national regions. Even though global, sub-global, national, and sub-national levels are understood as building blocks for the science diplomacy process aimed towards addressing global challenges, these categories oftentimes overlap, and therefore many examples of mixed-dimensions science diplomacy can be found. For example, the EU-India Water Forum or China-EU Water Platform comprise both regional and bilateral dimensions of the sub-global level. The EU is considered a sub-global level actor, while concomitantly, EU Member States are nationally involved in bilateral or multilateral cooperation based on their expertise in the field and on historical ties (Tomalová et al., 2020). Similarly, EU-US or EU-Japan cyber relations can be added to this mixed category (Kadlecová et al., 2020).

Moreover, one stakeholder can simultaneously operate in multiple dimensions and on multiple levels of international cooperation that follow the actors’ priorities, expertise, and privileged relations in science diplomacy. To illustrate this phenomenon, the German government coordinates research in public health on the national level in cooperation with the private and non-governmental sectors. Germany is also actively involved in global health protection in numerous regional institutions, e.g. G7, G20, EU. Finally, Germany is vigorously engaged within the framework of the GloPID-R and the WHO (Šlosarík et al., 2020) on a global level. These simultaneously overlapping memberships and activities vary along with situationally defined interests, expertise in the field, and human and physical geography.

To sum up, we have identified four levels of the science diplomacy process; global, sub-global, national, and sub-national. Additionally, sublevels are divided based on the number of actors and type of stakeholder relations to three dimensions; bilateral, multilateral, and regional. Nevertheless, science diplomacy actors rarely participate on only one level or dimension; more often, they are simultaneously involved in multiple levels and dimensions, cooperating with a wide range of distinct actors. Indeed, only agglomerating activities throughout levels offers the potential to address challenges comprehensively. Therefore, tackling global challenges through science diplomacy will only be effective if approached as a “mixed-level” effort.


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