1. How to Get Started?
2. What Is Science Diplomacy?
3. Who Are the Science Diplomacy Stakeholders?
4. How Does the EU Practice Science Diplomacy?
5. What Are the National, Regional and Thematic Approaches of Science Diplomacy?
6. What Set of Skills Do I Need to Be a Good Science Diplomat?
7. Hands On! Case Studies
8. How Can You Dive Deeper into Science Diplomacy?
Satisfaction Survey

2.4.4 The Activist Researcher – The Organic Science Diplomat

In the last two topics we have covered the role of scientists working part-time or full-time in any job directly related to science diplomacy. However, scientists who work full-time in academia performing their research duties can actively engage with members of the general public, policy-makers and diplomats to make their knowledge and research results have a direct impact on society, public policies, or international relations. These are active and activist researchers who engage, either on an individual level or via any expert advisory committee or both, in public or policy discussions to make science present outside the traditional academic ivory tower.

This endeavour may be more difficult to undertake when the scientist is involved in basic or blue-sky research, as transferring their research into a direct policy application may be indeed a challenge. However, these scientists could provide other transferable skills to the public discussion that would be of great social benefit such as critical thinking, the scientific method, an open-minded approach, or their usual ability to build up international collaborations and partnerships.

Having said this, scientists who are directly involved in doing research that can be fitted into any of the 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) will likely have many opportunities to interact with policy-makers, politicians, diplomats and national and international government organisations, as well as with media and/or industry. Traditional examples of these figures would be the role played by many scientists to contribute to an understanding of the ozone problem or the active advisory role of scientists included in the International Panel for Climate Change (Moomaw 2018).

Regardless of their scientific expertise, these scientists embody a special category of scientists that we will call here the organic science diplomat researcher. Although they may not recognise their actions as science diplomacy, and their daily routine is within an academic environment, they also need to be considered here as active agents of science diplomacy.

It is also important to note the growing trend from governments and public research funding agencies to not only implement policies that make scientists more involved in public debate and society, but also to recognise these actions as fundamental parts of their research outputs. Some policies are listed below:

  • Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI): Implemented by the European Commission as a cross-cutting issue in Horizon 2020. RRI is a wide concept that spans from involving society in science and innovation processes, to all kinds of relationships between research and innovation with society (public engagement, open access, gender equality, science education, ethics, and governance). RRI entails engaging all kind of actors through inclusive and participatory methodologies in all stages of Research and Innovation processes and governance, providing potential solutions for grand societal challenges. One of the mechanisms put forward is the “Science with and for society (SWafS) programme” that aims to build effective cooperation between science and society, to recruit new talent for science and to pair scientific excellence with social awareness and responsibility. See the link in the box below for further information.
  • Open innovation, open science and open to the world: These are the three main policy goals for EU research and innovation set by European Commissioner Carlos Moedas in 2015. The one particularly related to science diplomacy is “Open to the World“ that means promoting international cooperation and allowing Europe to access the latest knowledge worldwide, recruit the best talent, tackle global challenges and create business opportunities in emerging markets. See the link in the box below for further information.

All in all, the trend points to the need for active engagement between citizens, scientists and policy makers in a public dialogue about the benefits and risks associated with research, but also in the need for scientists to provide the latest scientific evidence for better policy-making processes. The idea is to establish and maintain citizens‘ confidence in science and technology, to make these more participatory, and also reinforce democracy with better-informed policies and increased public trust (See Dudnik 2017; Holford 2018; Nature 2019; to get an idea of this global trend).       

What the experts think

Watch the videos below to understand how broad science diplomacy can be. As a full-time researcher, one may engage in international discussions with national governments and multilateral organisations around topics such as nuclear diplomacy, water diplomacy, health diplomacy, etc. all of which may be covered by the umbrella term “science diplomacy”.

Izaskun Lacunza

Izaskun Lacunza

Head of the International Projects Unit, Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT)

How should the scientific community be more involved in science diplomacy?

Marga Gual

Marga Gual Soler

Senior project director in the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS)

What are the skills and competences a science diplomat should have? Can you give us some example of jobs?

Read more!

–      Dudnik, Nina (2017): “Why Scientists Should All Be Diplomats.” Time, 22 April. (Link)
–      Holford, Mandë (2018): “Diplomacy for Scientists.” Scientific American, 4 January. (Link)
–      Moomaw, William R (2018): “Scientist Diplomats or Diplomat Scientists: Who Makes Science Diplomacy Effective?” Global Policy Vol 9, Suppl 3, November, pp 78-80. (Link).
–      Nature Editorial (2019): “Scientists must rise above politics — and restate their value to society.” Nature 572, 153. (Link)
–      Responsible Research and Innovation. (Link)
–      Science with and for society (SwafS). (Link) and (Link)
–      Open innovation, open science and open to the world. (Link)

Creative Commons License
The material provided under this course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.