Science, diplomacy & policy at the 2019 World Science Forum

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Published on
December 2, 2019

On 20 November 2019, I took part in a panel entitled « Science-Diplomacy: Global Cities Take the Lead », at the World Science Forum 2019. The event gathered about 1000 participants from 120 countries in Budapest, Hungary.

The panel focused on the leading role of cities such as Geneva, Barcelona and Miami in addressing pressing challenges captured by the 2030 U.N. Development Agenda (SDGs).

Stressing the leading role of Geneva as a U.N. city and international hub, combined with a strong scientific presence in Geneva and the rest of Switzerland, I covered the growing strategic efforts in Switzerland to position Geneva as a leading player in supporting science-diplomacy and science-policy efforts.As part of these efforts, I presented the Geneva Science-Policy Interface - which is based on a partnership between the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and leading scientific actors in Switzerland and Europe – and its activities to facilitate connections and collaborations between global science and policy actors from Geneva.

In my intervention, I stressed the systemic challenges reflected in the U.N. 2030 Development Agenda (referring to the recent 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report) and the resulting need for collective action, early engagement, and joint agenda-setting between science and policy communities (in contrast to one-way knowledge transfer).

I also highlighted the need for organisations and people with new skills and mindsets; individuals and entities able to connect these communities across professional silos. I made the point that we should recognize and support such champions within academia, international organisations and NGOs.

Yet, as much as we need science to sharpen its focus on big societal challenges, we should not overlook science’s capacity to produce knowledge “out-of-curiosity”, itself the ground for insights and discoveries that might not be captured by current global political agendas. As such, I believe that even if research-action should be top of the agenda, our objective should always be evidence-based policy, and not policy-based evidence.

I concluded by stressing current efforts in Switzerland to promote science as a tool of diplomacy, in particular by the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, who recently referred to the Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy.

As part of the broader discussion with the audience and following examples from Barcelona and Miami, it became quite clear that further efforts to connect initiatives among global cities should be supported as a way to exchange best practices and to support respective efforts around science-diplomacy and science-policy.

After spending a few days at the World Science Forum and attending other sessions covering the relationship between science and policy, I am comforted in the importance of developing practical science-policy networks and ways of working out evidence-based policy – as the GSPI is committed to. I am convinced such efforts constitute a key building block to support broader science-diplomacy efforts.

More photos from the event:


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