Science Diplomacy Capacity Development: Where Do We Go From Here? (WebDebate #55)

Date: Thursday, 14th July, 13:00 UTC (09:00 EDT | 15:00 CEST | 21:00 CST)

For both diplomats and scientists, science diplomacy has become an important topic and practice. It is discussed as an important contribution to solving some of the most pressing global challenges of our time, such as climate change and the global pandemic. At the same time, science diplomacy is a contested concept and practice. It can mean a number of different, sometimes contradictory things, to various actors.

Beyond these divergences, many actors can greatly benefit from the tools and knowledge science diplomacy has to offer. Broadly speaking, it can help diplomats and scientists to reframe their work in useful ways to enable greater collaboration across boundaries. An example of this is ​​‘boundary spanning’, i.e. bridging the policy and the scientific spheres to facilitate research and increase policy impact.

If we agree that science diplomacy has the potential to be an extremely useful practice and concept, the question of capacity development in science diplomacy comes into an even sharper focus. We now need to ask:

  • How can various actors be enabled to benefit from what science diplomacy has to offer?
  • What content and what form should capacity development take?
  • How do we ensure that capacity development in science diplomacy has a longer-term impact and allows participants to become active shapers of policies and processes in their chosen fields?

For this discussion, we draw on the joint experiences of our speakers from the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) and the Geneva Science-Policy Interface (GSPI), and the experience of jointly working on and delivering the first Science Diplomacy Week, as well as Diplo’s Science Diplomacy online course.


Dr Marga Gual Soler is a science diplomacy expert and founder of SciDipGLOBAL, a purpose-driven advisory, consulting, research, and training firm dedicated to building bridges between science, technology, and global policy. She is a senior advisor to the Geneva Science Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), founding member of the EU Science Diplomacy Alliance, and visiting professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Mr Nicolas Seidler is the executive director of the Geneva Science-Policy Interface (GSPI). He leads the GSPI’s mission to enhance scientific engagement with global governance actors within the Geneva ecosystem, with the objective to facilitate the emergence of effective, evidence-informed policies and solutions to complex global problems.

Mr Maxime Stauffer is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Simon Institute for Longterm Governance. His work focuses on the governance of low-probability, high-impact risks from emerging technologies and on the representation of future generations in policy processes. Previously, he was a senior science-policy officer at the Geneva Science-Policy Interface and a research fellow at the Global Studies Institute.

Dr Vid Nukala currently works at EMBO. He previously worked at the Office of Global Affairs (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, US Embassy), the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, the Institute for Alternative Futures, and the Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum. Nukala is interested in biomedical science, technology and innovation, global health, ethics, policy, diplomacy, and community engagement.


Dr Katharina E. Höne (Director of Research, Diplo)


Looking at the last few years, some trends in science diplomacy can be identified:

There have been a lot of developments at regional levels, especially in Asia.

Governments are increasingly focusing on science diplomacy and evidence-based foreign policy, for example, in climate change.  

Science and technology are gaining significance in foreign affairs given the move of global challenges and scientific issues such as environmental concerns from the sidelines to the centre.

Despite a growing nationalistic tendency in response to the global pandemic, there has been a definite increase in global science diplomacy activities and collaboration.

It is now clear that science diplomacy actors are diverse, including states and a host of non-state actors, and that science diplomacy is a multilayered governance ecosystem. Non-state actors might engage in areas where traditional diplomatic actors cannot reach.

 In terms of more recent trends:

It is important to recognise the role of cities in science diplomacy. Cities such as Barcelona, Spain have become increasingly active by appointing dedicated science diplomacy representatives and drafting related strategies.

Emerging technologies are increasingly at the forefront of science diplomacy policies and cooperation. They pose a unique challenge in unknown risks and national security implications. We have seen rising tensions between states in discussions about emerging technologies and dialogue has become all the more important regarding artificial intelligence and the use of autonomous lethal weapons.

The discussion in the chat also pointed out possible shifts resulting from increasing mistrust between different actors, the effects of mis- and disinformation, and the spread of fake news.

 Science diplomacy in times of tension and in times of conflict:

It is important to distinguish between science diplomacy in times of tension and in times of active conflict. Science diplomacy in times of tension, such as during the Cold War, can be instrumental in facilitating relationships and building trust and long-term engagement. However, the role of science diplomacy in times of active conflict is, less clear and has yet to be unravelled.

The war in Ukraine, for example, poses a monumental challenge to science diplomacy actors in terms of questions around continued collaboration with Russia. CERN was mentioned as an example: The organisation decided to suspend Russia’s observer status but continue collaboration with Russian scientists.  

In times of tension between countries and situations in which diplomatic ties are severed, science diplomacy has a vital role to play. Examples include strains between  Cuba and the USA,  and North Korea and Western countries. In cases like these, however, science diplomacy also faces the challenge of navigating sanctions regimes.

Considering recent development, some chat participants wondered whether science diplomacy has lost its innocence and whether we should let go of the notion of creating a more peaceful world via science diplomacy. The debate also highlighted that the vagueness of the term science diplomacy itself might pose a challenge going forward, if it is not clear what is at stake, and what common objectives are. Overall, science diplomacy seems to work best when it focuses on shared challenges, such as climate change. Especially then, it offers powerful tools to build and maintain relationships and trust while investing in the long-term improvement of relationships.

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by Diplo within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our WebDebates series.

About our WebDebates series

 Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by Diplo within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our WebDebates series.