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[WebDebate #29 summary] Science Diplomacy: Preparing the next generation

Published on 18 September 2019
Updated on 05 April 2024

In our May WebDebate, we discussed science diplomacy, focusing on the question of preparing the future generation of diplomats for this emerging field. We unpacked the concept of science diplomacy and discussed its growing implications and importance for the diplomatic community. We were joined by Dr Marga Gual Soler, who is an internationally recognised expert, advisor, and educator in science diplomacy and until recently has directed science diplomacy research, education, and training at the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. We were also joined by Dr Jean-Christophe (JC) Mauduit who is a lecturer in Science Diplomacy at University College London and a former AAAS visiting scholar. The debate was moderated by Diplo’s Senior Researcher and Lecturer Dr Katharina Höne.

What is science diplomacy and why does it matter?

Höne started the debate by giving a definition of science diplomacy: ‘Science diplomacy is the use of scientific interactions among nations to address the common problems facing humanity and to build constructive, knowledge-based international partnerships.’ A commonly used three-part framework for science diplomacy consists of:

  • science in diplomacy (the use of scientific advice for the practice of international relations)
  • diplomacy for science (where diplomatic efforts foster scientific co-operation and innovation partnerships)
  • science for diplomacy (where scientific co-operation is used to improve or foster foreign relations).

Gual Soler stated that interest in science diplomacy has taken off in the past ten years, but that it is not a new practice. Indeed, while the term science diplomacy was first coined at the turn of the 20th century and its definition introduced by AAAS and The Royal Society in 2010, scientists and diplomats have worked together for centuries. Science diplomacy is an umbrella term that allows us to understand how interactions between diplomats and scientists happen, how they can be successful and it turns science diplomacy into a discipline that can be researched, taught and operationalised

Most of today’s global challenges, from climate change through food security to global health, have scientific underpinnings and require collaboration between scientists, diplomats, and other stakeholders to be understood and addressed. Diplomats need to understand and adapt to the disruptive technologies impacting their work and changing the geostrategic landscape. Gual Soler mentioned The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer as an example of a successful partnership between science and diplomacy. She further stated that we face the same type of challenge with climate change, in which all nations on the planet have to come together – diplomatically and scientifically – to find a common solution.

Mauduit stated that science diplomacy is an evolving field in constant search of its own definition. The three-part framework – science in diplomacy, diplomacy for science, science for diplomacy – is still a good reference point, but has continued to evolve over the last ten years. Countries might pursue science diplomacy approaches to advance national needs, such as national security or economic growth; but can also encompass actions designed to address cross-border interests, such as climate change, and actions primarily designed to meet the global needs, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Interest in science diplomacy has recently reached the highest levels of governments and international organisations, particularly in countries in the Global South, as science, technology, and innovation are getting more integrated into international relations and diplomatic affairs.

Opportunities for capacity development in science diplomacy

Gual Soler led the science diplomacy capacity building portfolio at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Before  2014, there was only one course in science diplomacy at The Rockefeller University, but with the start of the collaboration between AAAS and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), experimentation in training in science diplomacy began. The first stage was bringing scientists and diplomats together, an exposure awareness-raising exercise to help build an understanding of each other, find a common language, and put across the idea that the work of scientists and the work of diplomats not only can be mutually useful but is becoming imperative to tackle cross-border challenges like the spread of pandemics, water management, nuclear security, or governing the global commons.

The key element is to know which audience is being trained and at what level – finding the right balance and a common curriculum for scientists and diplomats to train together is crucial. Today, an introductory science diplomacy course would cover the topics as diverse as climate diplomacy, global health, astronomy, nuclear physics, water management, or biodiversity conservation. It would serve to introduce participants to different drivers for science diplomacy, after which they can delve deeper into their area of expertise or interest. In 2017, AAAS launched a free online introductory course that has been taken by over 4000 people around the world. Gual Soler also noted that ministries of foreign affairs and diplomatic academies are expressing interest in adding science diplomacy tracks to their regular curriculum – in 2018 she helped develop a course for the Mexican Diplomatic Academy on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Mauduit noted that an issue in the field is that there is no formal educational pathway to study science diplomacy as a specific field. However, there are examples of programmes that examine the intersection of science and global affairs, especially at the undergraduate level. An example is the undergraduate programme in Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., which is oversubscribed every year, demonstrating the demand from the younger generations to be educated in this domain. Only a few programmes at the graduate level incorporate elements of science diplomacy, but those remain specific to certain thematic areas (e.g. health diplomacy, water diplomacy, etc.). Hence student-led university groups and clubs have taken upon themselves to organise and develop their own science diplomacy education curriculum. For example, students now have the option to graduate in a self-designed field study of science diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Boston), thanks to the efforts of its Science Diplomacy Club. Mauduit also noted that there is a demand for educational pathways in science diplomacy coming from undergraduate students in science subjects that are also interested in international relations. Similarly, young diplomats increasingly recognise the need to gain a good understanding of science and technology issues, which are growing in importance in their line of work. Overall, the younger generation may be more attuned to science-driven global issues, such as climate change, which have been rising to the forefront of international relations in the last few decades, triggering their demand for science diplomacy education.

National approaches to science diplomacy

Gual Soler underscored that every country has different motivations and different goals for engaging in science diplomacy. She also observed a growing trend of countries developing their own roadmaps and national strategies for science diplomacy. She was recently part of the international team advising Panama’s national science diplomacy strategy, the first in Latin America. The Science & Diplomacy Journal of the Centre for Science Diplomacy at AAAS has published many of these national strategies, from South Africa to New Zealand to Spain and the European Union,providing a good overview of the different approaches that countries take in engaging in science diplomacy and how they view science as a tool for achieving their foreign policy goals. This is reflected in their diplomatic academies and new dedicated structures for science diplomacy being created in foreign ministries (Switzerland, India, Mexico and Pakistan are particularly good examples). A formal introduction of science diplomacy within foreign ministries will follow as countries understand the opportunities it provides.

Mauduit stated that many countries, like India, Brazil and Oman, are developing workshops, conferences, and events around science diplomacy in order to develop their own strategy or train their diplomats. Gual Soler stated that international spaces, such as the Arctic, outer space or the high seas, are growing areas of interest for science diplomacy, but also areas for increasing competition over resources – and we will see more orientation of science diplomacy strategies toward advancing national interests.

What should a curriculum for science diplomacy include?

Mauduit stated that a curriculum would be dependent on the audience, whether it is for scientists, diplomats or both, for early career professionals or senior, etc. Some basic elements that any science diplomacy curriculum should contain are the understanding of international relations, the fundamentals of diplomacy and negotiations, an overview of the scientific method and contemporary issues in science and technology, as well as examples and case studies of how science has been used as a tool for diplomacy or diplomacy as a tool for science.

Gual Soler added other elements such as an introduction to the policy cycle, the basics of global governance, understanding of international institutions, the management of the global commons, the peer-review process, and what constitutes scientific consensus.

The most effective training tool is negotiation simulations, where scientists and diplomats switch roles and step into each other’s shoes. This has been the basis of the success of the AAAS-TWAS annual science diplomacy summer course in Trieste (Italy), having trained almost 400 people from over 70 countries over 5 years. In 2019, the course evolved into a train-the-trainers workshop, aimed at mainstreaming science diplomacy education by providing the pedagogical tools and resources to institutions around the world interested in developing their own courses.

Looking forward

Mauduit stressed that by understanding science diplomacy, scientists learn to engage multiple stakeholders and to think from a broader perspective, while diplomats get a better understanding that science cuts across the foreign policy agenda. In turn, this contributes to building the necessary bridges between these two ivory towers of science and diplomacy, and leads to a better, more efficient and much needed interface. 

Focusing on the benefits of science diplomacy training, Gual Soler argued that scientists learn that science does not dictate policy, understand the competing interests at play, and get a better grasp of the world of diplomacy, with its negotiations and protocols. And diplomats learn to incorporate science and technology in their toolkit as an essential element of modern diplomatic practice.

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2 replies
  1. Katharina Hone
    Katharina Hone says:

    Thanks for letting us know…

    Thanks for letting us know Great to hear about your work on Science Diplomacy.

  2. Dr Bhaskar
    Dr Bhaskar says:

    We are glad to read about…
    We are glad to read about Diplo’s activities in Science Diplomacy. With support from the Government of India, Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS) is implementing a 3 year programme on Science Diplomacy . See https://fisd.in and https://ris.org.in for details. The next (4 th edition) of our course on Science Diplomacy for participants from ITEC partner countries will be held during 6-17 January 2020. We also issue fortnightly Science Diplomacy Alerts and publish a quarterly journal “Science Diplomacy Review”.

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