Digital engagement – with both domestic and overseas audiences- is very much a new frontier that is still being explored and mapped by governments all over the world.

One such government is that of Vietnam, which is proving that the model of open, direct conversations conducted online can be applied to almost any political system.

My company Yoosk specialises in designing and implementing digital engagement strategies for government departments and institutions which contribute to both domestic governance and public diplomacy. With the British Embassy in Hanoi, we recently supported The National Assembly of Vietnam in a groundbreaking project to set up its own online consultation platform, a case study of which is here.

The system adopts a version pioneered by Yoosk in the UK and used by a number of government departments, including the Foreign Office and Parliament. More than a dozen ministers have participated with former Foreign Secretary David Miliband the most prolific. He answered nearly fifty questions put to him by internet users as far afield as Wales, Jordan, Yemen and Vietnam.

Here’s how it works in Vietnam:

Members of the public visit the site and post questions directly for their MP. These go through a quick moderation process before they ‘go live’. Other people can view the question and vote for it if they would also like to see it answered. MPs then log onto the website from a verified account which enables them to post their answers directly for all to see and comment on. This takes private correspondence on matters that are of common interest out into the open where they attract feedback and discussion.

Within weeks, over forty MPs had used this system and more than fifteen hundred users had signed up, with some MPs tapping away at the keyboard, keeping in touch with constituents while they were grounded by volcanic ash in the UK.

The project built upon the success of an earlier innovative cross-cultural dialogue media campaign, in which the Vietnamese public put questions directly to a diverse range of UK leaders and celebrities. The UK’s Ambassador to Vietnam talks about this and his other digital initiatives in this video.

We’ve learnt a lot in creating and managing digital diplomacy projects in the last two years: what works and what doesn’t. Chief among these is the importance of working with established media partners to drive audience uptake: the internet is a vast place where gaining your own audience cheaply and quickly is next to impossible. We have also understood the challenges involved in presenting and branding engagement campaigns so that they feel both ‘official’ enough to convey credibility, while at the same time giving an image of openness and informality that is attractive to younger audiences. A collection of case studies of various projects can be found here.

I’ll leave the last word to Ambassador Mark Kent who explains the aims of the FCO funded Yoosk- Vietnamese Parliament project here.

Tim Hood is Founder of Yoosk and Thumbsize Ltd, companies which specialise in digital diplomacy and cultural relations. Previously, he worked as a UK diplomat and manager for the British Council.

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