Boundary spanning during the Science Diplomacy Week

Written by
Published on
May 20, 2022

The team of Geneva Science-Policy Interface organised two sessions during the first Science Diplomacy Week, a pilot event staged by the Geneva Coalition on Anticipatory Science and Diplomacy.

The first ever Science Diplomacy Week was held from 16-20 May 2022 in Geneva. The event consisted of two tracks: an Open Forum for the broader public, and an Immersion Programme that invited in Geneva 30 participants from 20 countries, representing both the scientific and diplomatic worlds.

The Immersion programme was designed to train emerging or confirmed professionals to navigate the diverse ecosystems and practices around the field of science diplomacy.In this framework, the Geneva Science-Policy Interface focused on raising awareness and sharing best practices on spanning the boundaries between science and policy in the international Geneva ecosystem.

Boundary spanning englobes the set of skills, knowledge and practices that actors develop to navigate the interface between science and policy. These actors can be qualified as ‘boundary spanners’, playing critical roles to support the development and adoption of evidence-informed policies around global governance challenges. To introduce the participants to these practices and their related skill sets, the GSPI held an immersion session on how to foster interaction between science and diplomacy.

Maxime Stauffer presented a guiding path to better understand and navigate the relationship between science and diplomacy by unpacking its social and behavioural blackbox.

Coming from different countries and backgrounds (academia, government representatives, international organisations and others), the participants reflected individually on their own experiences and perceptions of boundary spanning.

Participants split into different groups to share their thoughts and brainstorm together on skills and tactics required to better enable science-policy collaboration.

The rest of the session was dedicated to synthesis and conclusions, with the relevant input from Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, the first special representative for science diplomacy in Switzerland.

So what works to span science-policy boundaries?

This was the main focus of the Open Forum panel discussion that featured experienced boundary spanners active in international Geneva: Pascal Peduzzi, researcher at the University of Geneva and Director at GRID-Geneva (UNEP); Moira Faul, Executive Director at NORRAG and lecturer at the Geneva Graduate Institute; Marie McAuliffe, Head of the Migration Research Division at IOM, as well as Maxime Stauffer, Senior Science-Policy Officer at GSPI. Moderated by Nicolas Seidler, GSPI’s Executive Director, the discussion ranged from concrete methods to span science-policy boundaries to the potential professionalisation of the field.

Nicolas Seidler reminded in his opening remarks that the GSPI is a platform whose mission is to be a full time actor that supports the engagement between worldwide academic actors and policy actors from the international Geneva ecosystem. “The work we do is based on the assumption that more regular, more intensified and better quality interactions between those communities can lead to more impactful evidence-based and evidence-informed policies”.

Whether looking at the role of science around the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent IPCC report or the UN Secretary General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’ which calls for a UN 2.0 based on science, it is clear that using science for global policy is on the global agenda and a shared goal. Yet, when researchers want to engage with international Geneva policy actors, it can be hard to navigate and to know who to talk to, when, where, and how to actually contribute. For science and policy actors to inform each other, we need more boundary spanners that can understand both sides and engage scientists and policymakers. “But for them to exist, we need incentives, opportunities, resources and connections – to validate their profession, to motivate them, and to make sure that the engagement is sustainable. And for that we also need a common language and a community of practice”, said Maxime Stauffer.

What the GSPI tries to do with its own activities is to provide incentives, support and to foster a network of practice that can enable professional boundary spanning in international Geneva. The panel embodied that mission by bringing those boundary spanners at the table and making them share their experiences.

Marie McAuliffe shared her professional path leading to her current role of heading the Migration Research Division at IOM and editing the World Migration Report. According to her, there is “a natural synergy and a very strong appetite” in both the science and policy communities to learn from each other and to collaborate. Yet, “it is important to understand the [science-policy] boundaries, to respect them, bend them, but not break them”, said Dr. McAuliffe.

Another discussion point was the way scientists communicate about their research. “If you want to be a scientist who can influence policymaking, you have to communicate clearly, without jargon, to understand what matters and to propose solutions”, said Pascal Peduzzi. When speaking about concrete actions, he gave the example of the Montreal Protocol, which allowed the tackling of the ozone layer issue. “Whether it’s climate change, education or security, we need to go from policy formulation to policy implementation on the ground, because that is where it matters”, said Prof. Peduzzi.

Working on issues of education and development with experience from international and private sectors and academia, Moira Faul underlined the importance of adopting a language that is understandable across sectors. “You have a message. You can say what you want to say, but if you want to put the message across, you need to say what the other party can hear and actually take onboard”, said Dr. Faul.

Watch the full recording of the panel discussion below.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay in touch to receive our latest updates and announcements.

By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy.

More news

November 9, 2023

Apply to the 2024 Impact Collaboration Programme

Environment & sustainability
Human rights
Peacebuilding & security
July 18, 2023

Science-Policy Interfaces for environmental solutions: learning to span boundaries

Environment & sustainability
May 15, 2023

Engaging with 30 leaders at the 2023 Science Diplomacy Week

Science diplomacy