- What is e-diplomacy?
Currently there is no agreed definition of e-diplomacy. For the purpose of this policy paper following definition will be used: „E-diplomacy is the use of web and new information and communication technology(ICT) to help carry out diplomatic objectives”. This broad definition goes beyond perciving digital diplomacy only as public diplomacy via social media. One of the main characteristics of the digital age is the possibility to create, store and share an earlier unimaginable amount of information. Accordingly the right use of new ICT can improve the peformance of a states foreign service by collecting and processing more information and better distributing it inside the foreign ministry and other governmental institutions. Especially the last element is important in the context of a growing internationalisation of bureaucracy. New means of communicaton can also improve consular services or be used in desaster response. The emergence of e-diplomacy also includes new issues governments have to deal with like the freedom of the internet, internet governance and cyber security. Last but not least the emergence of social media gives new possibilities in reaching a huge audience with in a relative short period of time at a relativly low cost.
Nevertheless it is likely that e-diplomacy will be complementary to traditional methods of diplomacy. Face-to-face negotiations and meetings will still have a major role in maintaining relationships and and exploring the intentions of international partners. At the same time it seems to be certain, that the digitalization of diplomacy is here to stay. Accordingly the challenge todays foreign services face is to keep their e-diplomacy up to date with the technological development.
- American experiences with e-diplomacy
A possible way to improve our e-diplomacy is to observe the practices of other states in this field. An interesting example of how to develop, implement and use various tools for e-diplomacy is the State Department of the United States of America. With the Office of ediplomacy the State Department has a special organizational unit which not only realizes the goals of digital diplomacy. It also promotes the usage of already existing programes in the whole civil service and also supports the development of new tools and strategies for e-diplomacy. The combination on access to financial ressources and the considerable experience gained over the past decade are the reasons why the State Department is currently considered to be the global leader in using e-diplomacy.
Since its establishment in 2002 the Office for ediplomacy was responsible for developing and implementing tools for e-diplomacy. One of them is „Diplopedia”. With a similiar layout as wikipedia it became a central repository for State Department information and is also used as a central knowledge exchange and dissemination tool. Another example is „Communities@State”. A community is a issue specific blog, which can be easily established and gives a forum for exchanging experience and knowledge on the topic discussed. It is also accesible to civil servants of other instutions. An interesting solution for activity in social media is the „Centre for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications”. Communicating in Arabic, Urdu and Somali it targets radical postings in mainstream media, counters missinformation about the US and corrects conspiracy theories. An innovative way to support the public diplomacy affords is the „Virtual Student Foreign Service”. So called „eInterns” are partnered with missions abroad or offices in State Department conducting digital diplomacy. The program proved to be succesful giving the American foreign service acces to talented and free workforce.
In implementing e-diplomacy in practice Americans kept being pragmatic. Their approach can be characterised as „getting on with doing and worring about theory later”. This gave the start to a phase of experimentation and innovation. Nevertheless a more conceptual approach might be soon needed to prevent overlapping of competences and a better resources management.
In order to perform well in e-diplomacy it is important to clearly identify our needs and ressources in the digital environment. Keeping in mind that the Polish MFA is operating with a significantly smaller budget a full imitation of American solutions is unrealistic. Accordingly tools and strategies to be implemented in Poland should be the most cost-effective ones with the biggest impact on improving e-diplomacy capabilities. Based on this assumption following measures should be considered:
- Development of a special digital unit – The wide range of tasks which can be realized with digital tools for the MFA requires an improved organizational structure. A special digital unit should be created which would be responsible for the online communication, information management and knowledge distrubution. It would be also responsible for educating MFA employees on the use of new digital tools. For the success of such a unit it will be crucial to open up for external expertise by not only relying on MFA personal but also recruit experts from private business.
- Improving internal communication – By creating an internal forum for exchanging experience and assisting in problem solving processes an improvement in all fields of MFA activity may be achieved at a relative low cost. Especially when employees are send to foreign placements the experience and contacts of the predecessors can be crucial in a smooth take over.
- Improving interinstitutional communication – The MFA gathers information which is often requested by other governmental institutions. A program should be created giving an easy and uncomplicated access to information to all brands of public administration in need of. Especially fruitfull such a measure would be for the trade departement of the Ministry of Development. An improved flow of information here would increase our ability to suport polish business in trading and investing abroad.
Vice-president of the Polish Forum of Young Diplomats
This policy paper was written as final paper of the 12th edition of the Academy of Young Diplomats
- Hocking, J. Melissen: Diplomacy in the Digital Age, The Hague 2015
- Hanson: Revolution @State: The spread of Ediplomacy, Sydney 2012
- Holmes: What is e-Diplomacy?, New York 2013
- Harkiolakis: The world of e in diplomacy and negotations: http://www.acg.edu/ckeditor_assets/attachments/803/e-diplomacy.pdf
- Arendarska: Elektroniczna dyplomacja – Nowe narzędzia komunikowania w dyplomacji, http://en.oapuw.pl/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Arendarska-J-elektorniczna-dyplomacja.pdf