Young science diplomats engage in fast-paced discussion at the Third Annual AAAS-TWAS Science Diplomacy Summer Course, 2016. Credit:
Young science diplomats engage in fast-paced discussion at the Third Annual AAAS-TWAS Science Diplomacy Summer Course, 2016. Credit:

International Collaboration in Connecting Scientists to Policy

science fellowships international cooperation science advice Americas East Asia Europe Oceania

Governments around the world tackle multifaceted problems that science and technology contribute to or can help address, including challenges related to energy, water and food resources, healthcare, economic growth, infrastructure and communications, environmental sustainability, and security. Due to the widespread and long-term impacts of policies addressing these highly transboundary and transdisciplinary issues, it is increasingly valuable for policymakers to have access to the best available scientific and technical information as a critical input in order to establish priorities, make decisions, and develop and measure the effects of various policies and practices.

Yet information itself is not sufficient. Scientific articles, research reports, and other documents abound, but they may not be concise, targeted to specific situations, or provided in a timely enough manner to address urgent or emerging problems. The need for scientific and technical inputs in policy exceeds what can be provided through traditional avenues for communicating scientific and technical information to policymakers, such as chief science advisors, national academies, advisory committees, and blue-ribbon panels. Complementary mechanisms that link scientists across career stages with the policy process have been developed around the world and are increasingly in demand by scientists and policymakers alike.1

The majority of these mechanisms are located in the United States and Europe and are targeted mainly to citizens of the countries where they operate. They provide only a small number of participant opportunities compared to the far greater interest and need for scientists to engage. In countries around the world, scientific and policy communities desire new opportunities to build science-policy relationships to address national, regional, and global challenges. International cooperative efforts, in response to this need, are helping expand national and regional capacity in strengthening the science-policy interface.

A Typology of Immersive S&T Policy Connection Mechanisms and Factors for Success

Contributing scientific knowledge and methods to policy processes requires communication and navigational skills not often acquired through formal scientific training and education. The diversity of strategies and formats for such training can be classified in four general models: fellowships, internships, pairing schemes, and details and rotations. These mechanisms reach multiple branches of government and vary in scope, thematic and geographic focus, target audience, career stage, and duration.

  • Fellowships provide scientists and engineers at the postdoctoral level or beyond with opportunities to be embedded in a government body or other policymaking entity for a year or more. The majority of fellowship programs have nationality requirements for reasons related to security clearances, regulations, or labor laws governing the placement processes. Some programs have broad, multidisciplinary agendas while others are contoured to specific priorities for a given state, country, or region, such as health, the environment, security, or big data. Examples include the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships in the United States, the Mimshak Fellowships in Israel, and the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellowships in the region covering the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
  • Internships are focused on students, in most cases at the graduate level and primarily enrolled in STEM degree programs. Internships provide a short interlude in a policy-focused setting and afford students a valuable opportunity to learn more about the policy world during their formative years, observe the application of science to policy, and gauge their interest in pursuing policy-focused career paths. Internships encompass both salaried and volunteer arrangements, generally require little or no previous experience in policy, and tend to be less strict about nationality requirements than fellowships. Examples include the Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowships at the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the POST Fellowships in the UK Parliament.
  • Pairing schemes connect scientists and engineers with members of parliament (MPs), legislators, or civil servants so that each can experience the roles and varied experiences of the other. Pairing schemes aim to promote a culture of science-based policymaking in parliaments, facilitate the entry of scientific advice into legislatures, and help create lasting links and mutual understanding between scientists and MPs or legislators. These programs typically require only a few days of commitment and are ideally suited for busy academics and policymakers who lack the time for longer or more intensive experiences. Examples include the European Parliament MEP-Scientist Pairing Scheme and the Royal Society Pairing Scheme in the UK.
  • Details and rotations generally bring STEM professionals into temporary full-time government employment so that they can contribute expertise on specific issues or projects on a longer-term basis while learning about policymaking. These opportunities also introduce STEM professionals to civil service roles and cultivate leadership for career employment. Existing programs include the UK-based CSaP Government Secondments at the University of Cambridge and the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program in the United States.

These immersive, relationship-based mechanisms enable scientists to gain a deeper understanding of the policy arena and how research can be applied to policy and societal questions as well as utilized within government policy realms. Additionally, a number of key factors underlie successful S&T policy engagement through the aforementioned types of immersive mechanisms. Such factors include:

  • Political will: Governments are the most important stakeholders for the successful engagement of scientists with policy. Government agencies, ministries, and legislative bodies drive demand as the main recipients of scientific experts in various capacities (e.g., as government employees, fellows, interns, advisory board members, chief scientists, visiting scholars). They are also the largest funders of initiatives bringing scientific expertise into government, either directly or through funding science agencies and research foundations operating within or outside the government.
  • Existence and capabilities of boundary-spanning organizations: Many fellowship programs are administered by independent organizations, such as academies of sciences, NGOs, or scientific societies. Separating program administration and hosting roles helps ensure compliance with legal and ethical frameworks and regulations. While science academies are common in most countries around the world, in limited-resource countries they can often be primarily ceremonial and not staffed to carry out independent work. Organizations administering and managing science policy mechanisms need sufficient resources for promoting, recruiting, selecting, and placing participants; conducting orientation and professional development; facilitating participant networking; and managing relations with policy leaders and government ministries, departments, and offices. Scientific associations, NGOs, and advocacy/interest groups that serve as boundary-spanning entities are not yet present in many developing countries, as compared to those that exist primarily in North America and Europe.
  • Academic rewards and incentives: Creating incentives that acknowledge and reward civic and public engagement by scientists and engineers is a challenge, especially within academia. Yet policy-savvy academics can contribute significantly to their institutions through knowledge of government funding sources and strategy. For efforts involving longer-term investment of time and effort, adequate compensation and support for fellows, as well as flexibility and recognition in the academic career progression, are required to attract participants and enable their dedicated focus.
  • Funding: Stable financial support is critical to develop and maintain mechanisms, solidify branding and reputation, and engage in evaluation to support continual enhancement. Sponsoring entities include federal agencies, scientific societies, NGOs, private foundations, and industry partners. A diversity of internal and external funding sources reinforces the objective or nonpartisan nature of the mechanisms.
  • Measurable value: To measure the contributions of science-policy engagement mechanisms, programs must track shorter-term outputs as well as longer-term outcomes and impacts. This includes providing direct support for policy, developing S&T leadership capacity, and influencing continued engagement at the intersection of science and policy through participants’ career choices and achievements.
  • Community: Many of the science-policy connection mechanisms identified in the landscape analysis support networking among their alumni and strive to create opportunities for broader communication and flow of information, resource sharing, and collaborative activities among their own participants and with other national and international alumni networks for broader impact.
  • Sustainability: Often initiatives fade out due to changing focus, declining resources, and because the individuals who championed them move on. Building organizational and institutional relationships is therefore essential for the sustainability of any science-policy connection mechanism.

International Cooperation to Support Immersive Mechanisms

Multi-country and regional mechanisms can be effective for building relationships between the scientific and policy communities, as well as between countries. Some mechanisms operate at the bilateral or regional level, inviting applications from scientists and engineers from multiple countries to work on issues of shared relevance while promoting regional integration and improved relationships. Examples include the Australian-American Health Policy Fellowship, open to U.S. professionals to conduct research and work with Australian health policy experts on issues pertinent to both countries, and the Congressional Research Fellowship Program of the Australian National University, which places graduate and postgraduate students in the offices of U.S. senators on the Senate committees on Foreign Relations and Armed Services.

Intergovernmental initiatives can also incentivize countries to test programs with less risk and cost and can benefit lower-income countries with more-limited resources. The ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellowships, a program funded by USAID and administered by the ASEAN Secretariat, combines the north–south cooperative and intergovernmental elements to build relationships aimed at addressing regional issues.

Contributing scientific knowledge and methods to policy processes requires communication and navigational skills not often acquired through formal scientific training and education.

Another example involves the long-standing interest of the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in developing parliamentary science advice in Africa and other countries. From 2008 to 2012, this office helped develop capacity for evidence-informed policymaking in the Ugandan Parliament, joining a consortium led by the African Institute for Development Policy to engage health policymakers in Kenya and Malawi. The partnership included a scheme for research staff members from each country’s parliament to conduct internships in the UK to help develop their skills in accessing, interpreting, and using evidence in decision-making processes and briefing their MPs. Ultimately, the program sought to foster “evidence champions” and provide learning opportunities for other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and internationally for promoting evidence use in decision making.

In July 2015, POST, the Commission on Science and Technology of the Mexican Senate, and the Scientific and Technological Consultative Forum of Mexico signed an agreement to exchange knowledge and best practices to strengthen parliamentary science advice. The collaboration has led to the establishment of a new office dedicated to providing knowledge-based advice to Mexican legislators regarding science, technology, and innovation: the Oficina de Información Científica y Tecnológica para el Congreso de la Unión (INCyTU). The agreement includes capacity building in methodologies for evidence-based legislation, such as the preparation of documents for MPs and the establishment of internship programs for doctoral students in parliamentarian offices. A similar agreement was recently enacted between POST and Chile.

Sharing best practices on fellowships and other mechanisms can be useful, but it is not sufficient for success because models cannot be directly transferred across countries and governments. Such endeavors must also factor in government structure, availability of stakeholders, and funding sources.

Sharing best practices on fellowships and other mechanisms can be useful, but it is not sufficient for success because models cannot be directly transferred across countries and governments. Such endeavors must also factor in government structure, availability of stakeholders, funding sources, and an understanding of the scientific systems and political environment to determine which type of mechanism best suits a given country’s needs and goals. Nor is the creation of new boundary-spanning organizations always necessary; existing ones such as academies of sciences and scientific societies can be repurposed and reoriented to support institutional development for the administration and management of mechanisms. One example is the Indonesian Academy of Science, which since 2010 has leapt from being simply an honorific society to helping establish the Indonesian Young Academy of Science, which strives to build a science-policy-society ecosystem in the country, and launching the Indonesian Science Fund, the country’s first transparent, merit-based scientific research granting mechanism.

Training and Capacity Building

International cooperative efforts that expand capacity are critical. One rapidly growing area of focus involves the education and training of boundary-spanning professionals. The September 2016 report The Future of Scientific Advice to the United Nations, produced by the UN secretary-general’s Scientific Advisory Board, recommends the establishment of international training institutes for scientists and policymakers at all levels to build capacity nationally and regionally.2 Such trainings bring together scientists and policymakers from multiple countries and are offered by a variety of entities, including NGOs, scientific societies, research institutions, and international organizations. Some examples of established and new collaborative international trainings include:

  • The Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), an intergovernmental research organization comprising nineteen countries in the Americas, conducts capacity-building events that link scientists and policymakers on global change issues at a transboundary and hemispheric scale.
  • The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and AAAS (publisher of Science & Diplomacy) organize a summer course on science diplomacy in Trieste, Italy. Participants include young scientists interested in connecting their research to international policymaking, diplomacy, and broader development goals; policymakers seeking to learn about the transnational scientific and technological issues influencing their work; and research funders looking to build international networks.
  • In 2016, the first Summer School on Evidence and Policy was convened by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The course combines high-level discussions with master classes on the provision of evidence in a policy context that cover uncertainty, effective communication, modeling and big data, strategies to test policy ideas, and anticipatory foresight and games to simulate policy scenarios.
  • The Global Young Academy (GYA) is leading efforts to establish National Young Academies in regional areas and developing countries to train and connect emerging leaders at the intersection of science and policy. An example is the Africa Science Leadership Programme, which provides early and mid-career African academics with leadership, teamwork, and collaboration skills to solve the complex issues that face Africa and the global community.
  • The JRC recently launched a pilot Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme to train a new generation of doctoral graduates in science and technology with a focus on the science-policy interface. The program is designed to train graduates to understand research needs at different stages of policy cycles, and to cultivate their transferable skills to provide scientific support to policymakers as well as conduct science communication and knowledge management.

Universities are important sources of multinational education. In the United States, separate from traditional courses and academic programs in science policy or S&T studies, more and more universities are providing policy-focused and cross-boundary education, some through multicentric initiatives such as Emerging Leaders in Science & Society and others through individual graduate courses such as the Hurford Science Diplomacy Initiative at The Rockefeller University, Science Outside the Lab at Arizona State University, and the Water Diplomacy program at Tufts University. Programs vary in thematic and geographical scope; range from a few days to several weeks, either intensively or distributed throughout the year; and often include opportunities for direct contact with policymakers on field trips or site visits.

Universities are important sources of multinational education. In the United States, separate from traditional courses and academic programs in science policy or S&T studies, more and more universities are providing policy-focused and cross-boundary education.

Universities are important sources of multinational education. In the United States, separate from traditional courses and academic programs in science policy or S&T studies, more and more universities are providing policy-focused and cross-boundary education.


In the UK, the new policy-oriented Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) at University College London explores how scientific and engineering expertise can meaningfully engage with public decision-making and policy processes to tackle pressing global issues and improve public well-being. Some universities host and administer their own fellowship programs, such as the CSaP Policy Fellowship, which brings policy professionals in government, industry, and NGOs to the University of Cambridge to meet with researchers from a wide range of disciplines with the goal of addressing questions and building relationships and mutual understanding between the policy realm and academia.

In the United States, student-led science policy and diplomacy groups are rapidly growing, such as at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, MIT, New York University, Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the University of Pennsylvania. These groups often attract international and first-generation students who recognize the potential of science diplomacy from their own personal experiences, allowing them to serve as bridges to their home countries and raise awareness of related political, administrative, or cultural challenges. These diaspora networks are critical to help countries with less capacity participate in regional and global dialogues at the science-policy interface.

Meetings and Networks

Among the most widespread means for connecting scientists with policymakers are regional and global meetings bringing together professionals from academia, government, NGOs, scientific societies, academies of sciences, think tanks, and industry. Bottom-up examples include the AAAS Annual Meeting, the EuroScience Open Forum, Science Agora (Japan), Science Forum South Africa, and the Latin American and Caribbean Open Science Forum; top-down examples include the Science, Technology, and Society Forum (Japan) and the World Science Forum.

The International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) was established in 2014 to close the gap between need and existing capacity by crafting a set of principles and standards to guide science advice internationally and organizing conferences and capacity-building workshops for both scientists and policy practitioners around the world. In 2016, a network of foreign minister S&T advisors was launched to help countries embed scientists in foreign ministries with the goal of tackling transboundary and global challenges.

Organizations have also been started over the last decade focused on developing global science policy leadership and networks for early and mid-career scientists. From the Interacademies Young Scientists Programme and the GYA to the World Association of Young Scientists and the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations, these entities are addressing integration of early career researchers into broader high-level policy forums to present a unified voice for the emerging international young scientists movement in policy discussions and decision making requiring scientific input.

Cultivating Boundary-Spanning Professionals Internationally

Bilateral, regional, or multilateral instruments uniting participants from different countries illustrate effective top-down approaches that can cascade into national initiatives and help small, lower-resourced countries participate in regional and global dialogues. At the same time, bottom-up approaches such as young academies, young scientists associations, and capacity-building programs (as well as virtual networks) can be instrumental in orienting scientific careers toward policy, diplomacy, and international development.

Alumni of science-policy connection mechanisms represent a significant international resource of highly qualified, adaptable professionals able to span the science-policy divide and thereby effect solutions for global challenges. In order to cultivate and network such boundary-spanning STEM leaders, international cooperation should support:

  • Expanding and creating international trainings, courses, meetings, and networking opportunities to facilitate boundary-spanning learning and connections.
  • Establishing general core competencies and skill sets to imbue boundary-spanning leaders with shared understandings and aims across different political and cultural environments.
  • Strengthening science diplomacy and advancing regional and global cooperation on S&T policy by facilitating connections and information sharing among national, regional, and international science and policy stakeholders.
  • Establishing an online global science policy resource and networking hub to provide centralized access to information, tools and practices, case studies, training, funding, and career opportunities.

The landscape analysis reflects a global convergence of interest in mechanisms for science-policy engagement, a growing demand from scientists to participate, and increasingly complex societal concerns that science and technology can help address. This presents a critical nexus of collaborative opportunity for organizations and countries to strengthen science-policy linkages, cultivate an ethos of STEM civic engagement, and foster boundary-spanning capacity to address global challenges that no nation can solve independently.


  1. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science & Diplomacy) conducted a global landscape analysis an 18-month period to map programs and mechanisms that enable scientists across various career stages and disciplines to contribute to policy processes and build relationships with policymakers. The analysis gathered information from nearly two hundred science policy stakeholders in academia, government, nonprofit organizations, international organizations, and the private sector in almost fifty countries. The research focused on criteria, conditions, and factors that support or hinder sustainable engagement between scientists and policymaking internationally. The following article is drawn from the full report, "Connecting Scientists to Policy Around the World."
  2. See the full report:
Capacity Building and Development Mechanisms March 2017