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Diplo: 10 focus areas for 2021

Published on 07 January 2021
Updated on 05 April 2024

DiploFoundation works on capacity development in the fields of diplomacy, Internet governance, and digital co-operation. Established in 2002 by the governments of Malta and Switzerland, Diplo, among other initiatives, works to improve the role of small and developing states in global diplomacy by:

  • Training officials through online courses, workshops, and simulation exercises 
  • Developing capacity for Internet governance, data, AI, and other emerging tech issues
  • Promoting and developing digital tools for inclusive and impactful governance and policymaking. 

Diplo has associated status with the UN ECOSOC. Diplo has successfully trained over 6600 students from 203 countries and territories, including individuals working in governments, the private and civil sector, media, and academia.

Note: Many of Diplo’s activities are intertwined with the GIP’s work. You can take a look at GIP’s 10 Focus Areas here


1. COVID-19: Fast and holistic response to pandemic-induced challenges for diplomacy

2020: As the world was hit by the pandemic last spring, Diplo reacted immediately by assisting countries and organisations to ensure ‘business continuity’ by organising meetings and other activities online. ConfTech Lab provided training, coaching, monitoring of new developments, and a new set of tools for online meetings and negotiations. As the crisis unfolded, just-in-time research was conducted on diplomacy in the COVID-19 era followed by a series of events and discussions on this theme.

2021: As the pandemic crisis extends into 2021, Diplo will continue to follow related impacts on diplomacy and global governance via research, data analysis, and training. The main focus will be on the mid- and long-term impacts of the way diplomacy and negotiations are prepared and conducted. 


2. Courses: New training and evolving pedagogy

2020: Online learning, the core of Diplo’s activities, has matured over the decades since we delivered our first online course back in 1996. In 2020, the demand for online training increased as people stayed home, especially for our course on AI governance. We provided new courses such as Online Meetings and Conferences: How to Run Effective and Secure Events. New immersion methodologies were introduced for the delivery of, for example, training on the moderation of online meetings, with the aim to make the learning experience close to reality. Diplo also started the transition to a new online learning platform, which will expand pedagogical and course-delivery possibilities for students and lecturers. 

2021: The new year will start with a new online meeting platform and a record number of students at our online degree programme: Master in Contemporary Diplomacy. In early 2021, we will start introducing new online pedagogy built around ‘walking’ through  topics, including: Geneva Digital Tours, history of technology and diplomacy, and learning about Internet governance by following ‘Internet packets’. 


3. ConfTech: From online meeting necessity towards hybrid meeting reality

2020: In a just-in-time style, with the help of the Swiss government, ConfTech came with a help desk, online courses, and research on the future of meetings. In 3 different courses, 113 students from 58 countries were trained in preparing, moderating, and securing effective online meetings. 

The ConfTech Help Desk assisted organisations and individuals by conceptualising and running effective online events, by helping choose the right platform, and by providing on-the-day assistance, event moderation, and reporting, as well as event follow-up.  For instance, ConfTech contributed to the successful implementation of the South Eastern European Dialogue on Internet Governance (SEEDIG), RegHorizon’s AI Policy Conference, and the Youth IGF of Turkey.  

ConfTech also conducted unique research on major online meeting and conferencing platforms. In addition to online activities, the Geneva ConfTech Lab started experiments on hybrid meetings.

2021: The ConfTech Lab will focus on ‘hybrid meetings’, which are likely to be part of the new normal once the pandemic is under reasonable control. An analysis of hybrid meetings dynamics will be approached from tech, moderation, protocol, emotional, and security perspectives. 


4. humAInism: Better understanding of algorithms for better AI governance 

2020: The humAInism project received a new push via the establishment of the AI & Data Lab, a multifaceted initiative that includes: Research and analysis on AI policy, capacity development in the field of AI and related areas, reports from main events and discussions on AI, analysis of the impacts of AI on diplomacy, and research of the capabilities of the latest AI algorithms. 

With new technological insights, the humAInism project dived deep ‘under the AI bonnet’ to understand the technology and to analyse the policy, legal, and ethics-related impacts of algorithms and other AI tools. It aims to experiment with AI systems that can help us draft a guide (or social contract) on how to navigate the uncharted waters of the emerging AI era.

2021: humAInism will initiate a debate on the interplay between algorithms and AI governance by publishing the results of its research and technical analysis. The main aim will be to narrow the existing gap between tech and policy sectors in understanding emerging AI technologies and their impact on modern society. 


5. Speech Generator: Combining human and artificial intelligence for useful tools 

2020: The Speech Generator was developed to explore the interplay between human and AI. While developing the Speech Generator, we identified, analysed, and started using a wide range of algorithms for the analysis of semantic similarities, summarisation of narratives, and writing of texts. 

2021: The experience and expertise developed through our work on the Speech Generator for cybersecurity will be extended to similar systems for data governance, privacy protections, and e-commerce. The main focus will be on an augmented intelligence approach combining human and AI. Diplo’s linguistic team will contribute by working on the semantics of diplomatic language by using a new tech platform.


6. Data Engine: Identifying patterns in large data sets across policy fields

2020: The Data Engine addressed the lack of effective tools for gaining deeper insights into data related to the SDGs, climate change, Internet governance, and other policy fields. The Data Engine developed pattern recognition algorithms with the usability via the following tools: The Data Sandbox tool, which identifies patterns in a country’s ranking position across different datasets, such as COVID-19, the economy, governance, and many others; the Countries-Companies Comparison tool, which compares the GDP of a country with the revenues of tech companies; and others.

2021: A new set of applications will be developed to assist diplomats and policymakers to better use data for identifying trends and advancing evidence-based policy processes. 

7. New Tools: Practical apps for building knowledge ecology for courses, research, and analysis 

2020: Diplo continued its traditional approach of developing practical tools while discussing policy issues. A new set of AI and data-driven tools emerged in 2020. Diplo also introduced the Textus annotation system that helps Diplo staff and collaborators to interact by annotating texts on the Internet. 

2021: A new set of AI and data tools will be introduced in 2021 aimed at creating an integrated knowledge system between Diplo’s teaching, research, and policy analysis. This new ‘knowledge ecology’ will combine human expertise and AI tools.

8. Research: Reflecting on profound changes in diplomacy and global governance 

2020: Profound changes in our society have triggered deeper reflections on a wide range of issues from the need to develop a digital social contract to the future of diplomacy and global governance. As a concrete initiative, Diplo conducted policy research on diplomacy in the COVID-19 era

2021: Diplo will focus more on publishing its analysis, data, and reflections that have – so far – been mainly used within Diplo. It will also focus on pressing issues in digital and AI governance, technology and society, and digital foreign policy, among others.

9. Digital diplomacy and foreign policy: Assisting countries to develop new strategies and approaches

2020: Many countries are in search of the right way of integrating digital aspects in their diplomatic and foreign policy activities. In November 2020, Switzerland published the first digital foreign policy strategy. Other countries are engaged in brainstormings and drafting of digital foreign policy strategies and plans. Diplo has been providing support in these endeavours via awareness building, information sharing, and training.

2021: Diplo will focus on assisting small and developing countries in developing their strategies and approaches to digital diplomacy and foreign policy. In early 2021, it will organise a major conference on ‘Digital Foreign Policy’, gathering diplomats, academics, and policymakers to reflect on current initiatives such as the new Swiss policy and future developments in the field


10. Creative Lab: Art and design as amplifiers of research and teaching 

2020: Diplo continued to support its scientific and technical work with artistic, video, and other creative artefacts. The Creative Lab emerged as a unique blend of artistic skills that produced an impressive output of drawings, videos, and comics in support of Diplo’s courses, events, and awareness-building activities.

2021:  Diplo’s video production will be further strengthened in 2021 with new types of videos and animations. The Creative Lab will support a storytelling approach in Diplo’s courses and data visualisation activities.


See also: GIP’s 10 Focus Areas in 2021

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