The ‘Matters’ of Science Diplomacy: Rhythm and Timing

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 ‘Rythm and Timing’, authored by Ewert Aukes.

Many global challenges may only be successfully addressed by connecting different epistemic communities and substantive domains with each other. Science diplomacy represents one such way of connecting, specifically, the science and diplomacy communities. How these communities connect and may in concert address global challenges, depends inter alia on their respective rhythms, i.e. typical sequences of action, and the timing of actions. As far as science diplomacy is concerned, and particularly when it relates to socio-ecological challenges, rhythms of other epistemic communities, such as politics, must be taken into account to the same extent as substantive domains, such as the economy and nature. Acknowledging the differences of rhythm between communities and domains is crucial for science diplomacy to optimize the timing of actions directed at addressing global challenges.

‘Normal rhythms’, i.e. sequences in which actions routinely or traditionally follow each other, differ between epistemic communities and substantive domains. Where they involve ‘manmade’ communities and domains, these rhythms are defined by the actors in their respective communities and domains. As such, a rhythm describes the general ‘way things go’ and not the rhythm of an individual actor. Understood in this way, a rhythm is an emergent property of a community or domain. For instance, in politics, electoral cycles are typical devices ordering the community’s rhythm. Another example of different rhythms in that field pertains to the implementation of Open Science (Mayer, 2020). When the European Commission (EC) proclaimed Open Science as the new standard for scientific research, Member State reactions were mixed. Some complained that they had just transformed their national science sector into a competitive system as per the ECs previous recommendations and encouragements. Others accused the EC of moving too slowly to keep up with the developments in the field. Similarly, diplomacy has a rhythm defined by specific recurring events demarcated by international treaties, such as the conferences of the parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. These involve extensive sequences of preparatory actions. But also science, the economy or policy have their own rhythms. When it comes to science, this may be linked to processes of applying for research funding, executing research and starting this sequence over. The economy features rhythms of innovation, payback times or fiscal years. For many especially socioecological global challenges, rhythms of nature are also relevant. These may be sequences of chemical reactions with detrimental effects for human life on earth, as in the case of Chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer. But these rhythms may also refer to incubation time or infection numbers, as we have so overtly experienced in the COVID-19 pandemic (cf. Šlosarík et al., 2020). Various communities and domains rhythms also have more than one modality. Multiple modalities are visible in the diplomatic community, which has to deal with emergency situations, in addition to the planned processes of treaty work. In science, the traditional rhythm of laborious peer review may be juxtaposed by the more agile processes of Open Science. Finally, the dependence of different domains rhythms on each other is illustrated by the case of food security (Ravinet et al., 2020). The food production system demonstrates the interwovenness of this domain with other markets. For example, oil price fluctuations and their effect on costs of logistics may require diplomatic reaction to protect food production systems and supply chains.

From a science diplomacy perspective, ‘timing’, then, refers to the way in which actors purposefully or coincidentally align these various rhythms to interfere in ‘normal’ rhythms and modulate their future course to address global challenges. For science diplomacy, the timing of actions depends on whether they address an acute event or an ongoing process (response time and organization), whether they respond to an external impulse or initiate a new process (origin of the stimulus), or whether they break into an existing sequence to modulate it (transformative action). We have observed such transformative action in the Open Science case where science and policy rhythms aligned, generating international efforts to set up a European Open Science Cloud; efforts that were perceived as timely (Mayer, 2020). This feeling of timeliness stemmed from the fact that the effort would have gone awry ten years ago. On the contrary, such a public Open Science would have been obsolete in merely five years, when foreign companies, such as publishing houses, could have jumped on the opportunity. Thus, connective activities involve interference in and modulation of communities and domains rhythms that are simultaneously evolving through time. The timing of these interfering or modulating acts is crucial for them to be expedient. Whether timing is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends on the way in which science diplomatic interfering or modulating action has influenced other communities’ or domains’ rhythm. Furthermore, ‘response time’, i.e. the time needed to respond to an often unexpected specific event, is the time lag needed to align a community’s rhythm to another. The policy response to COVID-19 infections illustrates this: the rhythms of politics and policy had to be adjusted to react to the diseases’ rhythm. For example, in the Netherlands, from March 2020 lasting for several weeks, the decisions of an outbreak management team were communicated to the public in a weekly press conference, and weekly update sessions were organized for members of the Parliament. In several S4D4C cases (Kadlecová et al., 2020; Ravinet et al., 2020; Šlosarík et al., 2020), the response time to crises plays a role. To different degrees, countries have systems or crisis management strategies in place to respond to cyber-attacks or outbreaks of infectious diseases very quickly. Timing then involves a call-and-response pattern where a community’s rhythm adapts to modulating actions initiated by actors from other communities or domains.

Another aspect of timing is the problem of the simultaneity of counteracting rhythms as demonstrated by contrasting the two cases of Open Science and the FET Flagships (Mayer, 2020; Degelsegger-Márquez, 2020). The principle of Open Science champions collaborative and open sharing of scientific results and data with the aim of tackling global challenges. FET Flagships, on the other hand, were meant to significantly boost certain scientific fields within the EU as a mechanism to change the game regarding the availability of strategic STI. Here, timing the disclosure of scientific knowledge/results is caught in a conflict between scientific interests to share new knowledge as fast as possible, and economic or (geo-)political interests to share new knowledge only when certain actors have reaped the strategic and economic advantages. For scientific knowledge, these counteracting rhythms of Open Science versus FET Flagships illustrate that there is no absolute ‘right’ time to publish it. The expedience of actions directed at modulating other communities’ or domains’ rhythms also depends on the pursued interests. Science diplomacy can play different roles in relation to the rhythm of epistemic communities and substantive domains. First of all, it is a means of connecting and aligning the rhythms of the science and diplomacy community. Actions initiated as science diplomacy can target, but should at least take into account the rhythms of other communities and domains. Second, science diplomacy can serve as a means for understanding other rhythms by serving as an extra exchange channel for scientific knowledge, supported by mechanisms of Open Science. Third, science diplomacy aptness to connect communities and domains can be instrumentalized in cases of cyber-attacks or oil conflicts by attempting the alignment of counteracting rhythms.

Thus, with an eye to the future, science diplomacy contributes to the normalization of relations between countries formerly or otherwise pitted against each other. Fourth, a perspective on timing as a means of aligning rhythms running counter to each other enables science diplomacy to look beyond emergency response exclusively, and work towards anticipation of crises as well. In sum, science diplomacy represents the purposeful synchronization of sciences and diplomacy’s rhythms to achieve synergistic effects in timing actions directed at interfering with and modulating other communities and domains rhythms to address global challenges.



Degelsegger-Márquez, A. (2020). International dimensions of the EU’s FET Flagships: Largescale strategic research investments as a site of de-facto science diplomacy. In: Young, M., Flink T., Dall, E. (eds.) (2020). Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project.

Kadlecová, L., Meyer, N., Cos, R., Ravinet, P. (2020). Cyber Security: Mapping the Role of Science Diplomacy in the Cyber Field. In : Young, M., Flink T., Dall, E. (eds.) (2020). Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project.

Mayer, K. (2020). Open Science Diplomacy. In: Young, M., Flink T., Dall, E. (eds.) (2020). Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project.

Ravinet, P., Cos, R., Young, M. (2020). The science and diplomacy of global challenges: Food security in EU-Africa relations. In: Young, M., Flink T., Dall, E. (eds.) (2020). Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project.

Šlosarčík, I., Meyer, N., Chubb, J. (2020). Science diplomacy as a means to tackle infectious diseases. In: Young, M., Flink T., Dall, E. (eds.) (2020). Science Diplomacy in the Making: Case-based insights from the S4D4C project.