UCL European Institute


Navigating the UN landscape: a UCL-GSPI capacity-building visit to Geneva

4 December 2023

From 20-23 November, six UCL researchers, alongside counterparts from the University of Geneva and the University of Zurich, travelled to Geneva to build confidence and gain insights in multilateral policymaking and science-policy engagement.

GSPI Group Photo

Featured image via Cristina Agrigoroae, Global Science Policy Interface

Focussed on environmental governance and climate change, the cohort participated in a co-curated programme by the Geneva Science Policy Interface (GSPI), designed to strengthen their capacity for impactful engagement with the UN ecosystem.

Researchers explored the complexities of international decision-making processes through diverse sessions with UN bodies, ‘gateway organisations', NGOs and policy-engaged academics. The programme facilitated interdisciplinary exposure, encouraged participants to explore holistic approaches to address global challenges and supported the development of new relationships between UCL researchers and their peers in Swiss institutions.

Through individual presentations, each participant reflected on their individual policy engagement plans, and how they would put what their learning into practice, receiving feedback from peers and selected experts.

Programme highlights included a keynote on UN decision-making by Francesco Pisano, UN Knowledge & Learning Director and exchanges with Michel Jarraud, Secretary General Emeritus of the World Meteorological Organisation.

Small-group discussions with the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD); the Basel, Stockholm, and Rotterdam Conventions and UNEP (Grid) offered a closer look at the realities of environmental governance, and the part that science plays in both informing policy priorities and monitoring implementation.

UCL researchers also attended a networking reception hosted by Simon Manley CMG, Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN, and co-organised with the UK Science and Innovation Network team at the British Embassy in Bene and the UK Mission to the UN. The reception convened programme contributors, policy partners and Geneva-based UCL alumni, many of whom now work in the UN ecosystem.

Takeaways: strengthening the interface of science and policy

The programme underscored the growing importance of science-policy interfaces within UN agencies and organisations. Where researchers seek to inform policy on climate change , a clear understanding of the interplay between local, national and international policymaking spheres is vital.

The trip also reinforced the importance of personal relationships in navigating the science-policy interface. Paraphrasing one of the contributors from UNEP, Dr Gregory Giuliani  ‘20% of the approach to policy development is technical, and 80% is relational’ - connecting with the right people, building trust, and aligning values, priorities and agendas.

The pilot programme highlights the importance of equipping researchers with the skills necessary to maximise the impact of their research beyond the academy, and demonstrates the vital role that UCL can play in supporting this, leveraging its global profile, partnerships and convening power.

The visit was part of a wider programme of work to support UCL academics to inform international policy engagement, led by the European Institute,  UCL Global Engagement and UCL Public Policy