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Thinking about Science Diplomacy training: InsSciDE visits two gatherings in Washington DC

Europe’s ambition of "Inventing a shared Science Diplomacy" will require knowledge of the past and vision for the future – as well as dialogue and transfer. Our H2020 InsSciDE project will offer open conferences and summer schools, plus a full legacy of training tools, to help create a new generation of science diplomats. Today we are talking with students and trainers from across the world to understand their views and expectations.

InsSciDE went to Washington in September 2018 to engage in dialogue about different vectors of science diplomacy (SD) education and training:

• At the AAAS/SEPA 2018 SciDipEd workshop we met student leaders involved in SD career development. They appear to view SD primarily as “boundary work” between science and policy. Role-play revealed an interesting image of the EU that may affect future diplomacy.
• We also were privileged to attend the IFDT 45th Meeting of Deans and Directors of Diplomatic Academies and Institutes of International Relations. Debate on training for SD examined the roles of diplomats and scientists, and how to bring these Track 1 and Track 2 actors together for the global common good.

The SciDipEd workshop on 13 September grouped 24 international participants interested in how SD can become a career and a recognized field. Concrete ways for future science diplomats to build competence were presented by representatives of 5 campus groups in the US and Canada. Most had a natural or physical science background. Interestingly, the title chosen for each of their organizations often centered more on the science/policy interface than on SD itself.

Some student leaders described their advocacy ("making noise") to convince universities to include SD in STEM curricula. Moderator Marga Gual Soler stated, "Students are stakeholders in science diplomacy: how to bring them into the game? Embed them from the undergraduate level, where they can learn from each other." Impressive examples of such embedding came from the University of Pennsylvania group, which has extensive partnerships with related student and departmental organizations. Activities include workshops on policy brief writing or science communication (a need mentioned by almost all the discussants). With an empowered outlook on what science can contribute to societal problem-solving, the Penn group sought "science issues we can consult on"—and “cold emailed” the Ambassador of Lithuania to suggest a study on that country’s high suicide rate. The student researchers ended up testifying to the Lithuanian Parliament about their findings.

A Montreal group wrote a white paper on how universities define excellence. In some contexts, student evaluation criteria include “outreach and community engagement”—encouraging these future science diplomats to act now as knowledge-brokers and craft their identity as a “policy resource”. An experienced practitioner pointed out, however, that typically a diplomat negotiates from a set national position – and is not tasked to create policy on the basis of scientific knowledge. We similarly challenged the panelists by recalling that public health disasters of the 1990s (HIV contaminated blood supplies, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, etc.) caused European institutions to separate the roles of scientific assessor, societal priority setter, and policy decision maker. Agreement emerged that these student groups are looking to "train people who can talk at the boundary of science and policy, recognizing that policy has various factors to balance".

Principles and practices of SD are still emerging, and Gual said while "there is a lack of role models" among scientists, "the challenge of involving diplomats is even greater" (80% of applications to AAAS SD training courses come from science profiles). Panelists judged that recruiters who visit campus to inform students about foreign service careers "don’t know what role scientists can play", and called for a database to be created of the varied professional activities that correspond to SD.

In the afternoon, joking that "research shows… that just showing research to policy makers changes nothing", Prof. John Sterman (MIT Sloan) engaged the participants in experiential learning. A World Climate negotiations game was enabled by C-ROADS, an open access tool allowing players to simulate the impact of policy choices on the global climate system. During the role-play we were struck by the positive image attributed to the European Union, clearly shared by those portraying EU negotiators and those assigned to represent other states or regions. The EU as a diplomatic entity was enacted and viewed throughout the 3 rounds as a fair partner, humanistic, responsible, generous, and a creative mediator in the search for diplomatic solutions. Is this a legacy of the actual COP process leading to the Paris Accord? Or is this excellent reputation shaped by recent actions like "Make Our Planet Great Again", inviting climate scientists to find a new research home in Europe? Whatever the background, the positive image of the EU we saw among these young scientists interested in diplomacy is one that may affect future real-world negotiations.

On 20-21 September IFDT hosted by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University (directed by Amb. Barbara Bodine) brought us into contact with some 60 educators (many former Ambassadors) from 40 countries and the UN. A no-holds-barred talk by Amb. William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, set the tone for two days’ discussion of the "renewal" of diplomacy in an era of disruption and discontinuity.

Amb. Bodine spoke of "a bright spot –the collaboration of diplomatic and science communities to deal with existential threats, by nature transnational" to open a panel on SD chaired by Prof. Paul Berkman (Fletcher). As science literacy is generally low at national level, diplomats’ science awareness must be built through continuing professional education. Panelist Marc Giordano (Georgetown) noted that the initials of the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) are jokingly said to mean "Safe From Science". However, science and technology have in fact been part of the program for at least 20 years, and math competency among the trainees has risen (moreover, half of today’s graduates seek a career in finance rather than public service!). Rebecca Katz (Georgetown) insisted that science has clear relevance when embassies coordinate efforts on the ground to e.g. stem the impact of the Ebola virus.

Discussion turned to ways of bringing science expertise on board – across countries whose science capacity differs – and several opined that seconding scientists to embassy posts might be easier than bringing International Relations specialists closer to the sciences. A fundamental need, said InsSciDE’s K. Pisarska (EAD), is to identify vital topical areas where diplomats and scientists can "lose their fear of talking to each other". Katz agreed that foreign service personnel might need only a basic scientific understanding, and more importantly, to "know whom to call".

Panelist Jeremy Mathis (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said that in Arctic studies, science informs diplomatic exchange and diplomats indicate priorities for research. However, "asking scientists to be advocates undermines their credibility". Noticing that science was treated with some reverence throughout this discussion, we pointed out that it is a human practice like any other, framed by values and subject to political pressures. This opened a discussion on the exercise of power, as when, remarked Amb. B. León Gross, European scientists and diplomats created a new category, "Orientals" to whom the Enlightenment was to be brought. [Interestingly, InsSciDE includes case studies which address the shaping of Arctic research, as well as the SD practice of archaeologists.]

All in all, our Washington trip taught us that the respective roles of diplomats and scientists, and the definition of "science diplomat", will be important topics in future InsSciDE trainings. Our trainees will expect hands-on competence building and case-centered debate. The curriculum must intersect with traditional interests of diplomats (international relations, economics…) and inspire new directions. We approach our January 2019 Open Conference in Kraków, jointly organized with the Academy of Young Diplomats, with an even greater sense of excitement.

- Claire Mays, Executive Director in the InsSciDE Coordination Team