Skip to main content

AAAS and TWAS Offer Summer Boot Camp for Science Diplomacy

Thumbnail
News_20150731_scidip_full_169
Patricia Cabezas Padilla, a Rosenblith Fellow with the U.S.National Academies (left), Dalia Merghani Gadeen Saad, a researcher with the College of Science, Engineering and Technology of South Africa, and Tran Huu Nghi, program director at Tropenbos International Vietnam, work in a breakout session at the AAAS-TWAS course. | TWAS

At the second annual AAAS-TWAS Course on Science and Diplomacy, researchers and administrators from more than 30 countries learned about new ways to share their technical expertise and collaborate with policymakers to resolve complex issues from food insecurity to the spread of infectious disease.

The 8-12 June course, held in Trieste, Italy, was organized by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). The program was organized as part of a 2011 agreement between AAAS and TWAS to collaborate on building science diplomacy capacity and connections in the developing world.

Through role-playing exercises, discussions, and lectures, the attendees explored the available networks and mechanisms for science diplomacy, ways to communicate scientific risk to policymakers and the public, and learned how countries such as Cuba, China, and New Zealand are using science diplomacy to develop their global ties.

For many of the 56 participants, the week-long course offered a roadmap for how science diplomacy could be applied to pressing national and regional challenges. Microbiologist Hannah Ajoge, a postdoctoral fellow at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, said the program helped her understand the challenges faced by her country's policymakers and how to communicate scientific needs to them.

"I'm a scientist and my skills in — some people call it soft power — are very weak," said Ajoge. "How the policies get created has never really been my problem."

Energized by the course, Ajoge wants to encourage other Nigerian scientists to understand and apply science diplomacy as a way to show policymakers how science can aid national priorities such as alleviating poverty.

In his remarks on the opening day of the course, analyst and educator Daryl Copeland said that this type of advice is one way to broaden science and technology capacity in policymaking. At the moment, he noted, international policy and science and technology "represent two solitudes, floating worlds that rarely intersect."

"High-quality science advice and more easily intelligible science communications are desperately needed," said Copeland, a research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. [Read more about Copeland's presentation in the AAAS quarterly publication Science & Diplomacy.]

Thumbnail
News_20150731_gluckman_halfsize
Sir Peter Gluckman | TWAS

Paula Perez Espitia, a food security researcher at the Colombian Caribbean Observatory, worked in a laboratory for six years before she started to note how policy affects her research, and wondered if she should change her long-standing approach to her work. "Some people have the idea that if you started in the science field you have to stick in the science field, that there is no way to combine fields like science and diplomacy," she said. "This course is very valuable for me because it shows me that they could be combined and integrated in an effective way to have a bigger impact on the community in my region."

Science diplomacy can also help small nations like New Zealand achieve a strong presence on the world stage, said Sir Peter Gluckman, science adviser to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Gluckman, who delivered the Paolo Budinich Lecture as part of the AAAS-TWAS course, said his nation's success in fields such as climate change and obesity studies stems from a commitment by his government to recognize New Zealand's strengths in science and use them to advance its interests.

"Small countries need to project their relevance and influence as much as large countries do — and in many ways even more so," Gluckman said. "The large advanced economies have inevitable influence and can protect their interests simply because of their economic and political size. But a small country has to keep reminding the world that we are here, we have something to contribute, we can be a constructive and valuable member of the global community."

"We have to show we are insightful, constructive and nimble," he added. "Science is a key part of doing so and indeed, given the inherently global nature of science, science is a particularly powerful way of projecting our voice."

The 2015 AAAS-TWAS course was sponsored by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Golden Family Foundation, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), and USAID.

Sean Treacy and Edward W. Lempinen of TWAS contributed to this story. Read their coverage of the diplomacy course and of Peter Gluckman's lecture at TWAS.org.