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Ediplomacy@State

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27 March 2012 08:44

Secretary Clinton's Senior Adviser for Innovation, Alec Ross, was kind enough to launch my latest ediplomacy paper today, appropriately enough via Twitter.

While social media is certainly an aspect of ediplomacy, what I hope this report will highlight is that it is much, much more. In fact, after spending four months in Washington, DC researching ediplomacy, I counted and met with 25 separate ediplomacy nodes at State Department headquarters, which collectively employed over 150 people. Overseas, more than 900 use ediplomacy to some extent.

Far from focusing only on social media, I found eight broad uses ediplomacy is being put to. Public diplomacy (a big user of social media) is a major employer of ediplomacy personnel and also a remarkable user of social media: State now operates 600 Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms reaching over eight million people (when you include other social media platforms, this number is even higher). Pages like eJournal USA and Global Conversations: Climate Challenge reach over one million people each.

But other areas are equally prominent in the ediplomacy space. Knowledge Management is a big employer (over 50 staff) and Internet Freedom has been well funded, having been allocated over $US70 million since 2008, with much of this work outsourced.

How, specifically, is State using these new technologies?

Well there are lots of examples in the report, but here are a few I liked. In the area of arms control, State is looking at crowd-sourcing (via InnoCentive) to try and help close some of technological gaps that have been frustrating the area for years. Another official working on US libraries abroad realised how costly it was to send books across the globe and cut a deal to get ereaders delivered instead. And over in the original Office of eDiplomacy – now in its tenth year of operations – a US$2 million annual fund has been set up to crowd-source innovations from State Department employees themselves, with awards and submissions already received demonstrating how much latent talent there is to tap.

Research for the report was generously funded by a DFAT-sponsored Professional Fulbright scholarship and the findings could be used to guide DFAT's own nascent efforts in this area. Key suggestions would include:

  • Establish an Office of eDiplomacy to lead knowledge management indicatives across DFAT and to act as an information hub for all ediplomacy activities, given they generally cut across so many areas.
  • Top-down leadership is essential. Ediplomacy at State has been driven by three successive Secretaries of State who foresaw the need for change early on. Australia's new Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, like his US counterpart, should empower his Department to innovate and insist that 21st century tools are adopted.
  • There is a lot of latent talent within foreign ministries. Empowering staff to innovate would help DFAT save money, do things better and improve outcomes for Australia.
  • There is a need to move beyond a fixation on Twitter and Facebook and their largely imaginary risks. These could be great tools for DFAT, and Ambassadors should be required to use them, but ediplomacy is a lot more than social media. 

The Lowy report, Revolution@State: The Spread of ediplomacy, can be downloaded from the Lowy website.

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