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Connecting Science and Policy

On October 10-11th, 2019 leading scientists from four Greater Boston universities collaborated with the locally based international diplomatic corps to help doctoral students build their negotiation and policy advisory skills. This gathering, the Boston Science Diplomacy Dissertation Enhancement Workshop, included members of the faculty and graduate students from UMass Boston, Tufts Fletcher School of Diplomacy, MIT, and Boston University.

“In a world of increasing complexity, the ability to work across disciplines is becoming increasingly important,” said DUSP alumna and participant in the previous year’s workshop, Yasmin Zaerpoor (PHD ’19). “The Science Diplomacy workshop helped me think about how to position my research differently depending on my audience and provided an opportunity to meet great people working on equally complex problems.”

The interactive workshop, offered each year by a different Boston-area university, aims to improve understanding of the theory and practice of science diplomacy, enhance negotiation skills as they apply to scientific issues in local, national and international contexts, and build effective interdisciplinary communication skills. The applied learning experience builds on the scientific research each participant has already been involved in. At the end of the workshop, attendees presented summaries of their dissertation research to Boston-area consular staff applying the techniques presented by the faculty.

Workshop participants submitted brief summaries of their dissertation research prior to the workshop. During the workshop, students were paired off and asked to learn enough about their partner’s research to present a two-minute summary of the findings (along with a suggestion as to how the research might be of interest to a senior policy-maker in a relevant government agency). The participants had to ask lots of questions to make sense of the work being done outside their own field of study. Many of the scientists had to work hard to make their highly specialized findings understandable to people outside their field. Finally, thinking of ways to connect scientific findings to public policy questions was difficult for some of the students, but by the time all the proposals were presented, everyone at the Workshop was impressed with the students’ ability to make appropriate policy connections

With assistance from Professor Susskind, MIT undergraduate, Megan Diehl, prepared a role-play simulation specifically designed for the workshop. Role-plays, or serious games, provide a low-risk opportunity to apply concepts and methods presented by the faculty. Diehl’s exercise is called The Micronium Game, and it will be available through the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, an inter-university consortium focused on furthering the pedagogy and application of negotiation and dispute resolution to local and international problem-solving. Workshop participants were assigned one of seven roles in a hypothetical meeting of government and non-governmental representatives asked to advise the United Nations Secretary General on how best to reduce the growing risks of a substance called “micronium" that is used by many industries around the world, but which appears to pose a growing threat to public health. The 90-minute role play gave students a chance to apply the principles of science diplomacy presented at the Workshop.

“It is essential that scholars in the sciences and social sciences learn how to present their findings in ways that are interesting and useful to policy-makers,” said Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at MIT. “This is not just a matter of simplifying the language they use, it requires understanding, even empathizing, with the diplomats or policy-makers who have to recommend action in the face of competing needs and claims. The Workshop offers a unique opportunity for scientists and diplomat to pull back the curtain and talk to each other honestly about what they need from each other.”

The third annual Boston Science Diplomacy Dissertation Enhancement Workshop was hosted at the UMass Club in Boston. Previous workshops were hosted at MIT and Tufts. Organizing leadership included, Professor Maria Ivanova (UMass Boston), Dean David Cash (UMass Boston), Professor Paul Berkman (Tufts), Professor Larry Susskind (MIT) and Dean Adil Najam (BU).