Barcelona Alumni: A digital science-policy nexus connecting international talent to local challenges
In 2020, Barcelona Alumni’s global virtual platform was launched to leverage the network of international talent educated in Barcelona but residing abroad and contribute to feeding scientific evidence into the local policy-making process. By connecting international experts and local challenges, this first-of-its-kind digital platform provides a pioneering approach to policy-making, making it more crowdsourced, evidence-based, replicable, scalable, accountable, and transparent.
Current global and urban challenges are characterized by unprecedented complexity levels, indicating the centrality of developing science-informed public decision-making. Emerging challenges such as the impact of artificial intelligence on human rights, the climate emergency, the future of work, and global health are clear examples of topics traditionally dealt with by public policy-making. However, as we have seen in the last years, evidence-based advice is not always available on time to better inform the policy-making process. Nurturing this process with multi-disciplinary perspectives and international best practices while empowering anticipatory capabilities, diversity, collaboration, and openness have become a priority for governments and legislative bodies worldwide.
At the same time, the hyper-mobility of high-skilled professionals creates a process in which professionals across all disciplines are trained at top universities, companies, and research centers in specific cities but further develop their careers elsewhere. This global mobility has positioned talent retention as a top priority for most countries and cities. Fortunately, new digital technologies enable us to connect talent diasporas with their former communities.
Bridging these two global trends together, in 2020, Barcelona Alumni was launched as a digital science-policy nexus connecting international talent to local challenges. This platform brings together over 1,000 high-achieving professionals in science, technology, and innovation from any origin, that were trained or worked in Barcelona but are currently based abroad. The Barcelona Alumni members are committed to engage with the city's most significant challenges and to inform new policies within the scope of their expertise.
Barcelona Alumni was launched by SciTech DiploHub, a pioneering non-profit public-private partnership backed by leading research centers, universities, non-profits, startups, corporations, and public institutions. SciTech DiploHub has the mandate to make Barcelona a more influential player on the global stage through its contribution to science diplomacy and sustainable development.
Barcelona Alumni tackles the disjuncture between policy-makers and international expertise by providing a digital platform with tailor-made digital tools designed for facilitating the science-policy nexus. Barcelona Alumni is also a tool for empowering emerging voices, promoting diversity and collaboration. This science-policy nexus can inform relevant stakeholders and create publicly available policy documents, recommendations, and projects.
Barcelona Alumni’s global virtual platform provides seamless functionalities for connecting experts with relevant local challenges:
● Mapping: it identifies members abroad by their geographical locations, sectors, and area of expertise (e.g., sustainable mobility, climate change, global health, social well-being, among others).
● Contribution Selection: experts can choose their preferred collaboration approaches for each project, signaling if they are open to participating in public events and commissions, conducting document revisions, elaborating policy recommendations, drafting scientific reports, and other activities.
● Matchmaking: this process is powered by AI-driven and human-confirmed matchmaking, connecting experts and relevant public policy calls on pressing topics, such as climate emergency, technology for improving health services, public space, and social well-being.
These activities are supported and facilitated by customized and user-friendly digital tools included in the platform, such as meeting scheduling services, built-in video-conference tool, thematic forums, and regional sections. Additionally, the Barcelona Alumni project focuses on capacity building, upskilling and reskilling opportunities, providing members with regular online workshops and training options for experts interested in better connecting their scientific know-how with public policy-making.
This innovation draws inspiration from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program in the United States. This is an interesting example of a project that connects scientists and public policy. Nonetheless, this initiative could not tackle the challenges of bringing in new voices to the discussion or retaining talents, indicating the importance of developing new approaches to refining the science-policy nexus.
Aiming to advance in this direction, Barcelona Alumi is a pioneering project supported by a global virtual platform that can easily be adapted to local and national governments, attesting to its potential for scalability and replicability. This project's primary focus is to promote refined decision-making processes that ultimately impact local citizens, benefiting from evidence-based policy supported via this innovative digital nexus between science and public policies.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Barcelona Alumni is an innovation for policy-making because:
● It is operationalized through a global virtual platform, facilitating virtual exchanges and cooperation between experts worldwide on specific topics using customized digital tools;
● It expands on the notion of “talent retention” and emerges as a pioneering approach to reaching experts worldwide and involving them in local policy-making;
● It strategically links the expertise emanating from the network with Barcelona’s pressing local challenges, using state-of-the-art matchmaking tools and multiplatform services;
● It creates new channels for advancing science-informed public decision-making based on open, transparent, traceable, and replicable processes.
What is the current status of your innovation?
At the present moment, Barcelona Alumni is inserted in a series of inter-related and synergic projects being put forward by SciTech DiploHub, such as:
• Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Strategy (2021-2025): The Barcelona Alumni is currently engaging with its participatory process to define the city's priorities.
• Barcelona Knowledge and Innovation Voluntary Review (VER) on the SDG: The Barcelona Alumni participates in this project serving as an International Scientific Advisory Board, providing recommendations and monitoring the conceptualization process.
• Global virtual platform Thematic Calls: this project creates thematic groups on pressing issues (e.g., Artificial Intelligence, Global Health, Sustainable Mobility, 5G, among others) in the Barcelona Alumni global virtual platform, connecting diverse experts into a dedicated forum and articulating the discussion with public policies.
Collaborations & Partnerships
SciTech DiploHub’s partners, leading organizations of the science, technology, and public policy ecosystem in the private and public sectors, co-design and support the Barcelona Alumni. Local policy-makers and public institutions, such as the city council and the regional government, collaborate by supporting and engaging with several projects on strategically relevant topics. Universities and research centers also collaborate by nurturing the process with scientific knowledge.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The primary users of this innovation are the members of the Barcelona Alumni network, while the primary beneficiaries are the local citizens impacted by the energized process founded on evidence-based and contextually relevant policy-making. The main stakeholders are SciTech DiploHub’s board members and the local government. In the long run, this will benefit the city of Barcelona by increasing its resilience, influence, and capacity to face local, national, and global challenges.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Since its launch in 2020, the central part of this project emerges from its focus on bridging international expertise and strategic cooperation opportunities, advancing Barcelona’s capabilities for science-based policy-making.
Important examples of the materializations of such strategic cooperation are ongoing projects such as the Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Strategy (2021-2025), the Barcelona Knowledge and Innovation Voluntary Review (VER) on the SDGs, and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) chapter.
Another practical example of the usefulness of this network emerged from the COVID-19 crisis when the Barcelona Alumni provided an agile reaction to global health challenges. It connected health professionals, scientists, and policy-makers to support and develop projects such as the Cities for Global Health network, Barcelona’s COVID-19 Plan, and Barcelona’s economic reactivation strategy.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge of this project is to create a seamless experience both for international experts and local policymakers. It is crucial to keep innovating and refining the digital tools to foster increased levels of participation and engagement by all parties involved. At the same time, it is central to design policy-making processes that are synergic and adapted to this innovative approach based on scientific evidence and interdisciplinary collaborations.
Additionally, an exciting challenge is to replicate this approach in other local and national contexts. Barcelona Alumni virtual global platform is designed for being easily replicated, but it is crucial that local stakeholders are willing to reshape traditional policy-making processes and invest in collaborative digital approaches for tapping into their expertise pool’s potential.
Conditions for Success
Collaborative approach: It is crucial for Barcelona’s knowledge ecosystem to engage with the Barcelona Alumni's global virtual platform, using its expertise pool to its full potential. It is imperative for the diverse stakeholders in Barcelona’s ecosystem to refine their digital capabilities and design projects that are synergic with collaborative and virtual processes.
Proactive approach: Barcelona Alumni is as strong as its members’ propensity to participate. If, on the one hand, the expertise emanating from the members is unequivocally rich in potential, on the other hand, it can only be successful through the active engagement of its members.
Barcelona Alumni will continue to refine its digital tools, creating incentives for participation and providing training and facilitation when needed. In order to extract Barcelona Alumni’s full potential as a digital science-policy nexus, it is imperative to nurture the virtual space through innovative digital tools and smart practices.
The Barcelona Alumni project has created a global network that connects local challenges with international expertise. The launch of the global virtual platform provides this project with a robust replication and scalability potential. Using digital communication tools for connecting experts is essential for developing dynamic virtual communities capable of growing and convening more members.
Additionally, the virtual platform has a great potential as a best practice to be replicated in other cities, regions, and countries concerned with developing a science-led, democratic and innovative approach to local decision-making. The Barcelona Alumni project is already supporting cities like Boston, Paris, and Helsinki to design their science-policy interfaces, developing strategies for engaging with their scientific diasporas.
This project strongly suggests that it is feasible and desirable to transfer scientific knowledge to urban policy through public-private smart governance. Through a novel and innovative approach, the Barcelona Alumni positioned the city as an influential geopolitical actor ready to develop innovative approaches to policy-making.
Additionally, Barcelona Alumni attests to the importance of innovative digital tools connecting international experts and local challenges and promoting the exchange of best practices. Barcelona Alumni's experience also indicates the centrality of ensuring that the expertise pool trained in the city can impact and contribute to public policy-making.
Finally, Barcelona Alumni strongly relies on top-notch technologies built-in its virtual platform and attests to the importance of multiplatform applications and accessibility tools.