COVID-19 has highlighted shortcomings in the current interaction between international relations and scientific cooperation. The crisis demonstrates the need for improving science diplomacy practices. The infographic below draws on three S4D4C policy briefs (see bleu box at the end of this topic), where more detailed information on each of the elements can be found:
Figure 1: S4D4C Infographic
In the top left, in facts and figures, we see the various scales involved: geographical, administrative (here in terms of funding), and epistemic (here in terms of the extent of the science effort). It is important to recognise the incredible scale of scientific mobilisation that COVID-19 has generated. The number of publications is remarkable, not only in quantity, but also because these are nearly all open access. What should be noted, is that this was negotiated in advance, unlike many of the ad-hoc approaches to COVID, there was an ‘Agreement on data sharing in public health emergencies’ already in place before the crisis. On the top right, we find a number of key aspects of science diplomacy – the transdisciplinary character of the scientific efforts, the roles of scientists and international organisations as key actors and arenas, and the difficult interrelationship between cooperative and competitive forces.
On the bottom are seven policy recommendations. Connecting these are several themes. Diplomacy is rooted in interactions and relationships, and science diplomacy needs to consider the underlying ways to make these effective.
Ensuring openness and interpretable science for diplomacy, means that diplomats (of all sorts) have access to science, but also access that they can use – it must be more than merely available, it must also make sense to them. Going back to the massive number of publications – this is both an opportunity and a threat – how does one sort through, much less absorb this massive amount of information? Promoting bi-directional fluency is critical for this – diplomats need to have a framework in order to make sense of scientific data, but it also goes the other way, scientists who are involved in diplomacy need to understand the politics involved in decision-making. Both sides have the tendency to simplify the context in which the other works. This is a mistake: scientists need to understand the multiplicity of interests and possible solutions on a diplomatic level, and diplomats need to understand the contingency of scientific knowledge. How can this happen? A number of the policy recommendations address this. Creating interactive spaces and Empowering scientists, diplomats, and other stakeholders to work together – directly on global challenges. Diversifying career paths and creating positions for transdisciplinary professionals, so that we have people who can effectively translate from and to the languages of science and power. We also need to Engage the full spectrum of scientific disciplines. COVID-19 has established the importance of science for addressing global challenges. It has also shown the value of the Humanities and Social Sciences – which in the first phases of the crisis were crucial to establishing social distancing and models of flattening the curve. History as well tried to tell us that the 2018 Spanish Flu came back with a vengeance in the fall – regrettably, that lesson was not taken seriously enough.
Finally, it is important to Exert values-based leadership. This infographic was written with an EU policy focus and uses the words European Values – but these are not exclusively European, they are the values of a liberal, democratic, rule and good-governance based multilateral world order. We are optimistic that the crisis can be a springboard for both those values and for raising awareness of global challenges more broadly. But the stakes are high: science diplomacy efforts around COVID-19 will set the tone for our future ability to act resolutely (or flounder) when it comes to climate change, food and water security, and many other global challenges.
– S4D4C Policy Brief “Towards effective science diplomacy practice” (Link)
– S4D4C Policy Brief “Calling for a Systemic change: towards an EU science diplomacy for addressing global challenges” (Link)
– S4D4C Policy Brief “Building better science diplomacy for global challenges: insights from the covid-19 crisis” (Link)