The COVID-19 pandemic is an eye-opener on the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s health science & technology (S&T). No country has all the necessary S&T tools for a successful fight and containment of the disease. While the practice of diplomacy for S&T nudged stronger management strategies, the concept remains in the background.
Current and emerging S&T is central to a successful battle against COVID-19. Diplomacy to assure the availability, accessibility, and quality of S&T to manage the COVID-19 pandemic is central to India’s success. India must work in concert with many countries globally and regionally through consortia, multilateral agreements and bilateral agreements to provide these assurances to its people. We are in an environment that is highly competitive and driven by global demand while equally collaborative and driven by necessity. Hence, diplomacy must facilitate the relationships between India and the other countries for the transfer of biological, medical, engineering, epidemiological, and social S&T. The transfer may be through advice, exchange, cooperation, collaboration, commercial transaction or gift. India’s diplomacy must help overcome the financial/economic, geographical, cultural, informational, material, temporal, and transportation barriers to the transfer. Diplomacy must encompass a variety of both state and non-state actors who can aid the identification, medical treatment, personnel deployment, personal protection, strategic management, and access to manage the pandemic. These dimensions and elements are organised as an ontology in figure 1. The ontology encapsulates the above logic and poses a variety of current topics for discussion within it. In this context the Ramaiah Webinar on Diplomacy for S&T to Manage COVID-19 Pandemic held on July 24, 2020, from 3 to 5 pm, intended to frame, highlight, and debate the key issues in the topic from the vantage of India and the globe. The panellists comprised ex-bureaucrats, academicians, researchers, and practitioners from diverse backgrounds. The discussion followed a form of free-flowing interaction among the panellists facilitated by the moderator.
Figure 1: Diplomacy for Science and Technology for Managing COVID-19
Monad Map of Webinar Discussion
Assisted by the framework, the discussions were analysed post-event systematically. A monad map illustrating the spread and scattering of discussion points is constructed based on the coding of the panel exchanges as displayed in figure 2. The number in parentheses adjacent to each element of the map reveals the frequency of its occurrence in the panel discussion. The data bar beneath each element visually indicates the frequency of occurrence, but it is proportional to the number to help visualise relative emphasis.
Figure 2: Monad Map of Diplomacy for Science and Technology for Managing COVID-19 Pandemic
(The number in parentheses reveals the frequency of its occurrence in the discussion. The data bar beneath each element visually indicates the frequency of occurrence, but it is proportional to the number to help visualise relative emphasis)
The panellists focused evenly on the three parts of the framework- Diplomacy, Science & Technology, and Pandemic Management . At the second level, they focused evenly on the dimensions of the framework- scope and types of diplomacy, the fields and objectives of S&T, and the actors and phases of COVID-19 management . At the third level, the emphasis within each dimension was uneven as described next.
Diplomacy at all levels – Global, Regional, and National – was discussed with a dominant focus on the global context. The dominant types of diplomacy discussed were Informational and Financial/Economic – the others, including Geographical, Cultural, Material, Transportation excluding Temporal, were mentioned. Collaboration and commerce were the primary objectives discussed in the fields of Biological and Medical science & technology. The other fields and some of the other objectives were also mentioned. The dominant focus of the discussion on S&T diplomacy for COVID-19 management by a variety of State and Non-State actors was on its Medical Treatment and Access to it.
In summary, the discussion was systemic, but the emphasis was selective. It was not in silos. However, it was skewed towards medical treatment for and access to COVID-19 management by state and non-state actors through collaboration and commerce in medical and biological fields. It was also skewed towards global consortia and multilateral partnerships based on finance, economics and information. The important issues raised are summarised in the following sections.
Diplomacy for Information through Collaboration
The types of diplomacy include geographical, cultural, material, temporal, and transportation. However, the dominant focus in the discussion was only on information (11) and financial/economic (5) diplomacy. The nature of the pandemic is such that new information about the virus, its effects, spread, impact, and interaction with drugs come to the forefront. The importance of information sharing between countries in terms of data on symptoms, a genetic mark-up of the virus, epidemiology, and vaccine development was highlighted. Data/information is the most vital and exclusive element that each country would tend to protect for its national interest. Information is essential to the rapid development of, and access to, safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines worldwide.
At this point, collaborations become a means to access this information but are not the only way. Diplomacy for information through collaboration formed the major part of the discussion, but there was hardly any emphasis on objectives such as advice (0), exchange (1), advancement (0), cooperation (4), commerce (6), gift (2). To achieve different objectives, the role of actors in the science diplomacy ecosystem is important. Science attachés to different countries, small forum-like initiatives to exchange information, and encouragement of industry representatives will create channels to pursue other objectives.
Global Diplomacy in Medical and Biological Fields for Medical Treatment
The discussion on data and information led to a discussion on issues related to the development of vaccines, i.e. medical (8) and biological (7) aspects and its repercussions on countries. Given the developments in various clinical trials, the demand for vaccines when developed, will be immediate, enormous, and global. Further India’s strengths and manufacturing capacity on the same was highlighted. The panellists highlighted the importance of regional and global partnerships in the development of vaccines considering the global impact of the pandemic. The focus of the discussion largely moved towards the need for global consortia (8) and multilateral (5) diplomacy for partnership in securing the vaccine. People to people diplomacy was also highlighted in reference to individual scientists collaborating unofficially around the world. In addition to this, the role and scope of paradiplomacy or Track-II Diplomacy to further strengthen the dialogue on science diplomacy was highlighted. Contrary to this; the discussion also brought out the need for repositioning existing drugs at the national level by national institutes and other relevant institutions. The role of other institutes and institutional actors in the field of science diplomacy segued into the discussion of the role and scope of State and Non-State actors.
Role and Scope of State and Non-State Actors
The collaboration, interaction, and cooperation between State actors and Non-State actors brought out critical insights into the discussion. Scientists during the time of the pandemic are now called informal diplomats. These scientists can be from State actors or Non-State actors that include civil society, industry, university, research institutes, individuals, and non-governmental organizations. There is a need for the development of regional innovation ecosystems that can support both actors. Creating a network or consortium of scientists that are actively involved in research and practice will strengthen the scope of science diplomacy. The need to create an institutional architecture for the facilitation of science diplomacy was further emphasised by the fact that science diplomacy happens in silos. Additionally, even the State Governments as one of the actors do not have an independent channel established to enable the use of science diplomacy; it depends on the central government rules and protocol.
The absence of an institutional architecture adds to the challenges of Non-State actors to collaborate, participate, interact, and transact. These actors, often called as unintentional diplomats, drive the science diplomacy activities through their informal collaborations and multiple tracks at which they operate. One track in which they operate is through the formation of diaspora. Organised diasporas of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and science policy experts play a vital role in facilitating innovation and economic growth and improving cross-cultural collaboration and understanding. This largely untapped resource can bring together the scientific and engineering professional communities to collaborate with their counterparts around the globe. Industry groups in the diaspora could bring mentoring activities to its members, new talent across boundaries and exchange knowledge across different sectors. Science academies can also contribute to the development of such diaspora by connecting with private sector partners at the international level. The binding factor of the two actors is largely the requirement of a diagonal governance structure that will allow transnational interaction of the entities involved.
The Way Forward
Dealing with this powerful adversary needs strong S&T advisory systems at the national and global levels to foster cooperation, collaboration and competition. There are ongoing large-scale collaborations between the scientific & technological communities around the world, including Indian scientists and institutions, often without formal diplomatic channels and a comprehensive strategy. Some of the recommendations for strengthening the science diplomacy ecosystem are:
- Establish a Centre for Science Diplomacy at the highest level with channels involving both State and Non-State actors.
- Strengthen Paradiplomacy and Track-II diplomacy with fewer central regulatory controls.
- Create and harness science diasporas and strengthen the role of Non-State actors through such forums.
- Form an institutional architecture and governance structure that supports and facilitates science diplomacy at the global, regional, and local level.
The pandemic has revealed important learnings for S&T diplomacy and this ontological framework provides a roadmap for direction and (re) direction of S&T diplomacy to manage COVID-19 pandemic in India in a systemic, systematic, and symmetric manner.