Science, Health, and Engineering Policy and Diplomacy

Global threats such as infectious disease, climate change, and food, water, and energy scarcity increasingly require science, health, and engineering expertise to enhance the resilience of societies and ecosystems. Developing a cohort of early career scientists and applied policy scholars who can apply their expertise to support policymaking is essential to collaboratively engage in science policy and international diplomacy efforts. The Science, Health, and Engineering Policy and Diplomacy Initiative (SPDI) is central to University of Arizona efforts to support scientists and policymakers to work collaboratively and enable, advise and build confidence in science and technology engagement in international affairs. Scientific capacity and cooperation have long been key elements for societies to achieve sustainable economic growth, social development, political stability and ecological resilience. Training students to increase capacity in this vital area is a major goal of this initiative. Ultimately, our aim is to train students to investigate and frame the possibilities of Science Policy and Diplomacy and resolve the complex challenges facing our world. 

Over the past 4 years, our core team has begun this effort with a variety of activities and accomplishments that are summarized below. These activities are primarily outreach to establish our position in the science policy and diplomacy (SPD) community and more meaningfully engage with the major players in the SPD field. We have achieved that initial goal through our science diplomacy conference and collaborations in Iranian SD and their associated publications, our seminar series, and interactions with diplomatic corps, particularly in the Americas. 

The next SPDI development stage is to broaden our exposure and formally begin campus training that includes National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) contacts. We envision organizing an interdisciplinary minor/certificate for UA students among other educational activities. In parallel, working with our SPD partners we will seek to open opportunities for the UA to expand collaborations within the US, the Americas, and the world for training, collaborative research, and service. Our high aspirational goal is to bring students, researchers and policy makers to Tucson in a training and research facility focusing on Food-Energy-Water sustainability and resilience and urban development challenges that face the planet.


The UArizona SPD Initiative envisions developing strong educational programs to train graduate and undergraduate students, the community, and stakeholders across the region. We will also build international linkages, primarily with government agencies and universities across the Americas as well as other countries, to develop research opportunities and engage the broader campus community in those endeavors. The initiative will continue to develop our relationships with AAAS, NASEM and Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS). 


Program Goals

  1. Enhance experience and training opportunities for UA graduate and undergraduate students in Science, Health, and Engineering Policy and Diplomacy fields through:
    1. A broad set of courses leading to a certificate or graduate minor
    2. Seminar speakers
    3. Biennial conferences
  2. Broaden UA research and education collaboration opportunities in the Americas and globally
  3. Establish UA as a research and training hub for SPD

About science policy and diplomacy

Science Diplomacy is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnerships (1). The National Research Council Committee on Global Science Policy and Science Diplomacy focused on the definition of science diplomacy. They drew heavily on the Royal Society (2) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science description that focuses on examples of science diplomacy activities rather than stating a specific definition.  Three main types of activities cited are (3):

  • Science in diplomacy – informing foreign policy objectives with scientific advice
  • Diplomacy for science – facilitating international science cooperation
  • Science for diplomacy – using scientific cooperation to improve international relations between countries

The first can also be described as Science Policy in that it intends to expose policy makers with the best information available regarding science, technology and innovation to advise their decisions. The latter topics refer to facilitating cross-border collaborations to improve science or relationships between nations. Science diplomacy is not new but continues to evolve in emerging areas that are not require international cooperation including medicine, the environment, nanotechnology, space, alternative energy and science education. 

One example of the use of science diplomacy is geosynchronous orbiting satellites. Most communication and broadcast satellites are placed in a geostationary orbit band about 36,000 km above the earth. The benefit of this location is that the satellite remains in a fixed position above the earth and requires a minimum energy to remain in that position. Limitations on the number of satellites in that orbit necessitates international cooperation in space allocations that must inherently be driven by an understanding of constraints on proximity to optimize overall usage (science in diplomacy).

This issue is further complicated by previous use of this region that has resulted in 10s of thousands of softball or larger objects (about 10 cm) floating in this band that are potentially harmful to operational satellites. The need to understand the physics and movement of these objectives is crucial to the sustainability of the ‘satellite belt’ and requires collaborative international network to advance that understanding (diplomacy for science).

Collaborations between countries on these issues including transferring technologies to minimize satellite failure risk can benefit maximization of this limited resource while enhancing international relationships beyond this critical need (science for diplomacy).

1. Fedoroff, N. (2009), “Science diplomacy in the 21st Century”, Cell, 136(1), January, pp. 9–11.
2. The Royal Society and AAAS. 2010. New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy. London: The Royal Society.
3. Committee on Global Science Policy and Science Diplomacy. 2011. National Academies U.S. and International Perspectives on Global Science Policy and Science Diplomacy: Report of a Workshop, National Academies Press, ISBN 978-0-309-22438-3, 60 pp.

Diversity & Inclusion

The Science, Health and Engineering Policy and Diplomacy Initiative (SPDI) is committed to creating and ensuring an inclusive environment that celebrates the diversity of backgrounds, experience, and future commitment of all SPDI participants. Following the essence and core goals of science diplomacy, SPDI views diversity, equity, and inclusion as major strengths and indispensable sources of excellence--but ones that require constant recommitment. SPDI organizers recognize that the professional workplace can mirror broader systemic failures in society, especially inequality, oppression, and exclusion. As a result, SPDI promotes open, civic, and respectful debate and dialogue that serve to redress historic and current inequities while contributing meaningfully to future social justice. SPDI eschews discrimination and forcefully rejects hate-speech and other forms of intolerance.