At the request of the Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Academies held a workshop in Washington, DC, in February 2011, to assess effective ways to meet international challenges through sound science policy and science diplomacy. To gain U.S. and international perspectives on these issues, representatives from Brazil, Bangladesh, Egypt, Germany, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, and Syria attended the workshop, as well as two of the most recently named U.S. science envoys, Rita Colwell and Gebisa Ejeta.
Workshop participants discussed many of the characteristics of science, such as its common language and methods; the open, self-correcting nature of research; the universality of the most important questions; and its respect for evidence. These common aspects not only make science inherently international but also give science special capacities in advancing communication and cooperation.
Many workshop participants pointed out that, while advancing global science and science diplomacy are distinct, they are complementary, and making them each more effective often involves similar measures. Since the term science diplomacy has been used in various ways, many workshop participants pointed out the importance of clear and transparent motives for cooperation. Diplomacy is often understood to mean activity of governments rather than individuals. International scientific engagement, on the other hand, is often the work of individual scientists who seek to contribute to global understanding and human welfare. Therefore, some participants suggested it may sometimes be more accurate to use the term global science cooperation rather than science diplomacy. Other participants indicated that science diplomacy
is, in many situations, a clear and useful concept, recounting remarkable historical cases of the effective use of international scientific cooperation in building positive governmental relationships and dealing with sensitive and urgent problems.
Discussions on science policy and science diplomacy over the two days of the workshop showed a considerable overlap:
Changing Research Environment
Many of the initial speakers at the workshop noted major changes in the way science and technology, including the large fraction of technology development and transfer done in the private sector, now proceed on a “global platform” rather than national platforms. An increasing number of technical advances, trained researchers and innovators, and research opportunities are found in other countries. U.S. research and education policies and practices, established many years ago, no longer reflect current realities and opportunities.
Preparing U.S. Researchers for International Science
There is an increasing role for science policy in dealing with science issues that are global by nature, such as climate change, biodiversity, food security, and energy. To respond to those challenges, many speakers and discussants noted, U.S. systems need to provide opportunities and incentives for U.S. researchers to be prepared to operate effectively in the international arena. This may include encouraging researchers to develop language and intercultural skills in preparation for and through international exchanges. It may also require sustained engagement to build personal and institutional relationships globally.
To encourage such engagement, some participants said that funding agencies should have flexible mechanisms that allow joint support for international projects, along with other innovations to reflect changing research opportunities. It is especially important to encourage sustained linkages between individual laboratories and with industry, both nationally and internationally.
Engaging Early Career Researchers
Workshop participants repeatedly recognized the importance of international research cooperation among early career scientists and engineers. Many noted that relationships built through such collaboration can last for decades to come and benefit scientific and technological progress.
Building Global Science Capacity
Effectively advancing science and its beneficial applications, several participants noted, involves actions by the United States and partners around the world, including:
• Developing research agendas that have a potential major effect on human welfare in developing countries;
• Bringing the talents of girls and women around the world into science and technology;
• Helping developing countries to be effective partners and to develop and retain scientific talent through national science and technology programs and the commitment of resources; and
• Recognizing and encouraging accomplishments in developing countries.
Learning from Industry
Given the increasing role of the private sector in the research arena, some workshop participants encouraged innovative public–private partnerships. They argued that governments in particular should try to leverage the experience of industry and apply the private sector’s entrepreneurial and flexible spirit to governmental agencies. There is also a need for more university–industry partnerships nationally and internationally, they said, which can effectively contribute to educational training and technology transfer.
Several participants pointed out that in a rapidly changing research environment involving unprecedented volumes of data and intense competitive pressure, continued work is needed to assure the necessary institutional basis for scientific cooperation. This particularly includes a common understanding of scientific integrity and responsibility.
Some discussants commented that growing global connectivity can dramatically accelerate cooperation and thereby expand the scale of scientific programs, highlighting the critical role of global connectivity for both developed and developing countries. Many pointed out that, while it is important to make efficient use of new information technologies and social media tools to implement new partnerships, they cannot replace face-to-face meetings.
Visa and Travel Restrictions
Many participants stated that visa and other travel policies need to encourage, not hinder, the initiation and continuation of scientific cooperation. They expressed concern that real and perceived visa problems can have serious repercussions, such as an increasing number of researchers looking for opportunities in other countries instead of the United States.
Application of Science Diplomacy
Workshop presentations, summaries of experiences, and discussions included many examples in which scientific cooperation or contact between technical experts had major value in building bridges and positive relationships in otherwise difficult international situations.
Several participants also acknowledged the capacity for cooperative activity in many U.S. government departments and technical agencies, as well as in private–public science partnerships, and emphasized that, to realize the benefits of science diplomacy on a large scale, institutional resources are necessary such as staffing in both Washington, DC, and U.S. embassies. Other participants noted that science, when mobilized as a means of governmental diplomacy, should be carried out consistent with essential scientific methods, such as balanced consideration of all relevant evidence.
This report, structured according to the workshop agenda into a section on U.S. Policy for Global Science and one on Science for Diplomacy—Diplomacy for Science, presents the workshop discussions on these issues in more detail.