Cities are increasingly becoming active players in science and technology diplomacy. This move is welcomed, especially if it puts innovation as part of the equation.
Cities are becoming active players in finding new solutions to complex problems related to rapid urbanization. Co-developing science and technology, municipal governments are engaging in finding ways to overcome traffic congestion, prevent flash floods, reduce air pollution, and provide better welfare services to an ageing urban population.
Cities have become test beds for many new science and technology advances that are put to work for the benefit of citizens. This is what is widely known as “smart cities”, or the set of initiatives that aim at finding science and technology solutions for local based problems.
Now cities are taking another major, even a qualitatively different step. Beyond “smart city” initiatives, the new direction is that cities are taking a more pro-active role in science and technology diplomacy.
The recent initiative of the municipality of Barcelona (see the photo above) to promote actively the city as a global hub for science and technology bears witness of this move.
Bringing together a number of local public organizations, public research centers and individual scientists, the new initiative Scitech Diplohub has launched a series of activities like alumni meetings, scientific attachés diplomatic network, and a global Council. It aims “at consolidate Barcelona as an innovation capital” and “to position the city as an influential geopolitical actor through science diplomacy”.
As Alexis Roig, its CEO, put it in the opening of the “Barcelona Alumni Global Summit” few days ago: “The soft power, universality and neutrality of science has a very important role to play in the world, and cities are particularly key places” @AlexisRoig.
This move is most welcome because it mobilizes positively social capital around the most important local actors in science and technology in order to create synergies, as well as international visibility. It mobilizes as well the diaspora of scientists that for different reasons have been linked and related to the city, and have much to offer back to it.
I am very happy and proud to engage in this initiative for Barcelona, a vibrant and highly dynamic global city.
It is important that cities engaging in science and technology diplomacy put innovation as part of the equation in their science and technology diplomacy efforts. It is the capacity to produce innovation out of science and technology (to commercialize it, to produce world-visible new science-based products) what truly makes the difference. In a globalized world inputs (attracting investment and talent) must go hand in hand with outputs. Showcasing their outputs, and engaging with the private firms that produce them, is paramount for the success of the initiative.
Photo credit: Angela Silva