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About the Author

Paul Dufour is a Senior Fellow with the Institute of Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa. He is a special advisor on international science relations to several Canadian and global research agencies and mentors a number of science policy youth councils.

New Perspective

The Foresight Lens of Science Diplomacy for a Disrupted Era

https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7752

In 2012, I penned a commentary for Science & Diplomacy on where and how Canada’s science and knowledge ecosystem could be injected more strategically into its own statecraft.1 I had high hopes that some progress could be made—and not just in Canada. A decade later, science and its invisible college has largely held its own, but not statecraft.

Indeed, a decade ago, at the 2012 G8 Summit in the United States, the newly elected Russian President had snubbed the meeting, nuclear proliferation was on the agenda, food security and nutrition was a major concern, and various attempts to settle shaky energy markets were introduced. Science & Diplomacy’s first issue of that year had argued for a “foreign policy that can fully address the increasingly complex technical dimensions of twenty-first century international relations.”2

Fast-forward to 2022. Science’s many interfaces with diplomacy remain with us today. The pandemic and health crises, the climate and energy nexus, the associated geopolitics of knowledge production—all are ever present. Open science is now being faced with closed borders. Political leaders are failing their citizenry on climate commitments. There are ongoing difficulties in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, not to mention ensuring food security. And yet, the endless frontier of science prevails, overcoming barriers to its global spread.

Often overlooked in this global spirit of science is its ability to anticipate the future. Foresight is a major aspect of science diplomacy. As the British novelist C.P. Snow once remarked, “scientists have the future in their bones,” and it is this anticipatory quality that can be highly useful in science diplomacy. In one such case, a large-scale foresight study from the United Kingdom’s chief scientific advisor in 2006 outlined the future risks of infectious diseases, science and systems for detection, identification and monitoring, and societal contexts for managing diseases. Looking decades ahead, the foresight study examined potential threats and offered a global action plan.3

Science and technology communities, along with their advisory and foresight capacities, can be mobilized in scanning the horizon for future opportunities as well as threats, without compromising the nature of longer-term discovery science. We can only hope that this unique quality of foresight within international knowledge networks will be more effective and continue to help tackle the wicked challenges affecting our disrupted world.

But this alone will not be sufficient. Our national, international, and multilateral organizations must also enhance the integration of reliable research and sound knowledge in all of its forms for more effective dialogue and diplomacy. Statecraft and science can indeed work in concert to improve the human condition.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/scidip.adf7752

 

Endnotes

  1. Paul Dufour, “Becoming a Northern Minerva: Injecting Science into Canada’s Foreign Policies,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 2012), http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2012/becoming-northern-minerva.
  2. Vaughan C. Turekian and Norman P. Neureiter, “Science and Diplomacy: The Past as Prologue,” Science & Diplomacy 1, no. 1 (March 2012), www.sciencediplomacy.org/editorial/2012/science-and-diplomacy.
  3. UK Government Office for Science, Infectious Diseases: Preparing for the Future, (26 April 2006)