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Science Diplomacy: Examining the Relationship Between Science and Diplomacy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By April Heyward
June 8, 2022

The antecedents of science diplomacy can be traced back to the 18th century, however varying forms of science diplomacy have emerged over time such as the exchange of technical information, providing scientific advice to governments and international science cooperation. As science and technology continued to advance and expand around the globe, science diplomacy continued to evolve. The phrase “science diplomacy” formally emerged in the 21st century and has become a growing field of interest for practitioners and researchers. Science diplomacy is global and multifaceted which does not easily lend itself to universal characterization due to diverging perspectives, traditions and norms within different countries, sectors and academic disciplines. There are competing and varying viewpoints of science diplomacy among researchers that study science diplomacy; state actors in government that work in science diplomacy; non-state actors that do not work in government but contribute and influence science diplomacy; policymakers; and other stakeholders. The traditions and norms in international relations diverge from public policy and public administration as each has its own traditions and norms which then shape the views and characterizations of science diplomacy. There are also the expectations of science diplomacy, versus the reality of science diplomacy.

It is an exciting time to be engaged in science diplomacy either as a practitioner or researcher. Although the antecedents of science diplomacy can be traced back to the 18th century, its formal emergence in the 21st century presents tremendous research opportunities that can contribute to the science diplomacy body of knowledge, substantive theory development and scholarly discourse. April Heyward’s research is examining the relationship between science and diplomacy. There is heavy focus on the diplomacy side of the science diplomacy equation in prior research. Science must be equally understood, including how science works, which also invites the discussion of the science of science. This can extend comprehension of science diplomacy. Heyward’s aim is to underscore the role of science in science diplomacy, examine the relationship between science and diplomacy, and to demonstrate the broader impacts of science diplomacy.

Science is a global language and can be employed to advise diplomacy and to move diplomacy forward. Science crosses borders, enters rooms and sits at tables where government sometimes cannot, also contributing to the resolution of sensitive situations and relations. Science and diplomacy are dependent on each other. Diplomacy moves science forward and provides scientists with an opportunity to participate, contribute and influence diplomacy. Kristin Lord and Vaughn Turekian underscored in their 2007 article, Time for a New Era of Science Diplomacy, the importance and benefits of engaging scientists in diplomatic efforts. Scientists are trained to think critically and to investigate, which are both major assets to diplomacy. The call and need for scientists to be engaged in diplomacy reinforces the importance of building and sustaining the STEM workforce pipeline that Heyward described in The Public Value of Science Policy. Building, extending and sustaining the STEM workforce pipeline is critical to scientific progress and to facilitate scientists participating in diplomacy which is another example of broader impacts. Non-state actors extend beyond individuals not working in government and include non-governmental organizations, for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations. In 2008, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) created the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy to expand its focus and advocacy of science diplomacy. The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy underscores the role of science in diplomacy; fosters community among stakeholders who are contributors and beneficiaries of science diplomacy; and builds and increases the capacity of current and future actors in science diplomacy.

In 2009, The Royal Society partnered with AAAS to co-host an international Science Diplomacy meeting that comprised of representation of state actors and non-state actors from 20 countries. This was a pivotal meeting that set the tone and charted the path forward for the future of science diplomacy. One of the major outcomes of the meeting was a 2010 report, New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy: Navigating the Changing Balance of Power, that presented formal characterization of Science Diplomacy. See Figure 1 for the Aspects of Science Diplomacy. There are three primary aspects of science diplomacy: Diplomacy for Science, Science for Diplomacy and Science in Diplomacy. The aspects of science diplomacy focus on facilitating international science cooperation, employing science cooperation to enhance relationships between countries and providing scientific advice for diplomatic and foreign policy matters. There is a relationship between these aspects of science diplomacy. See Figure 2 for the Relationship of the Aspects of Science Diplomacy. Science diplomacy is critical for addressing complex, tame and wicked problems that cross borders. There are issues and initiatives that are not unique to one country that requires leaving silos and collaborating, such as COVID-19 through COVID-22, climate change, poverty, food insecurity and clean water. Some of the benefits of science diplomacy include the exchange of technical information, shared human resources, shared financial resources, shared facilities and equipment and the improvement of the wellbeing of individuals and society. There is tremendous future growth in science diplomacy.


Author: April Heyward is an Author for PA Times, STEM Professional, 4th Year Doctoral Student, Researcher, and a R Programmer. For more information on April Heyward, visit www.aprilheyward.com. She can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ heyward_april. All opinions and views are her own and does not reflect the views and opinions of her affiliations.

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