WSDS Student Takes’ is a two-edition series in 2020 and 2021 written by alumni of InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School in the weeks and months following their completion of the program.

Learn more about WSDS20 and WSDS21 here!

Traversing boundaries: A virtual week in Warsaw

By Jenice Goveas

In the recent past, many international bodies have attempted to leverage science diplomacy (SD) for its power to solve some pressing global challenges, which is what personally drew me to InsSciDE’s Warsaw Science Diplomacy School 2020 (WSDS). It was organized to meet the project’s vision of fostering “dialogue, competence-building and dissemination of theoretical and strategic frameworks for larger goals”. In the Student Takes series, WSDS alumni, including myself, review how this was achieved and illuminate the experience of the training program from our perspectives as students, beginning with this overview article and complete with analytical and descriptive accounts from each of the four thematic teams that huddled to discuss, plan and create during WSDS.

WSDS virtually transported us to Warsaw for an exciting 5-day journey of science diplomacy learning, networking and collaborative activities.

Before we took off, pre-teaching sessions supplied us with take-off instructions and broke the ice among the four thematic WSDS teams (Team Robinson, Le Roux, Paillette and Marques, named after the author of their assigned case study). On receiving the participant booklet before the start of the programme, I was amazed at the rich diversity of WSDS in terms of culture, education, and experience that varied from fresh graduates, early career researchers, trained diplomats, international relations and public policy practitioners. The group consisted of 28 students, representative of six continents and 27 countries (including both country of residence and nationality when different), along with mentors from over nine institutions of the InsSciDE consortium who also added to the global spirit.

WSDS started with an exciting speed dating activity as an ice breaker, which was followed by several well-structured lectures, group discussions and team assignments. Yoga and other energising exercises ensured that the students felt integrated and relaxed throughout the week.

WSDS employed a unique concept of developing policy and strategic outcomes by analysing historical cases and applying their key learnings in reflections on the future. A skills workshop embraced the uncommon-yet-evidently-vital focus of Risk, Safety and Security (RSS) concerns in SD, uniquely supplementing our understanding of the bearings of European science diplomacy in combating global challenges. Deliberations succeeded in underscoring the key concepts, tools and bridges necessary to develop effective practices at the science-policy nexus, in scientific advising and for science diplomacy.

The computer screen was our window into the expertise and experience of a range of SD and European affairs experts, seasoned practitioners stationed in embassies across the world, as well as fellow SD enthusiasts from different sectors. Prof. Rasmus Bertelsen’s lecture on Power with Science Diplomacy and Dr. Björn Fägersten’s strategy lectures, enabled us to understand power and strategy through a multidisciplinary lens and with new awareness of the delicate balance between competition and collaboration (day 1, 2; watch the recording here!).

An engaging session with practicing science diplomats helped derive insights into the role of science at embassies and the European External Action Service (EEAS) (day 3). In mock-presentations for the EU’s External Coordination Group (EXCO), we proposed policy advice that could strengthen SD in an area corresponding to our assigned case study, taking care of the primary interests and RSS dimensions of involved actors at the individual, organizational and state level (day 3, 4).

The School fostered a unique understanding of history by analyzing it to contextualise current challenges and prepare for future ones. It highlighted the significance of an interdisciplinary outlook in finding holistic solutions and strategising policies. A key takeaway was the need to maintain the balance between competition and collaboration in international engagements while keeping in mind several risks involved at the individual, organisational and state levels. WSDS20 was also a telling episode of the role that universities and research centres play in advancing the EU’s goals globally, and it demonstrated the profound power of investment in human capital.

At the grand graduation ceremony on the last day, Professor Griset (InsSciDE Coordinator) and Natalia Czajkowska (EAD Head of Executive Education) announced the WSDS Expert Guidance bonus – a one-on-one meeting with an individually assigned science diplomacy expert. It was the cherry on top of the cake. With an energetic organising team, enthusiastic students and enriching sessions they managed this challenge with great panache to make it truly a worthwhile experience.

Picture from WSDS graduation day.

WSDS20 Student Takes: Traversing boundaries at a virtual week in Warsaw