Mary   13 Apr 2012   E-Diplomacy

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Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent think tank, has produced an in-depth paper on ediplomacy activities at the US Department of State.  Titled Revolution @State:  The Spread of Ediplomacy, the report by Fergus Hanson comprehensively details the US government's efforts to use the Web and new communication technologies to advance diplomatic objectives.  As a result of these efforts, Hanson claims that the US has now become 'the world's leading user of ediplomacy'.

The report marshals several eye-popping statistics and facts to back up this claim:

  •  Over 150 US government personnel at State's Headquarters work full-time on ediplomacy matters
  • More than 900 people in foreign missions utilise it as a part of their work
  • State operates over 600 social media platforms, with a global reach of more than 8 million people

One of the more fascinating aspects of the report involves the description of the Office of eDiplomacy, which was launched in 2002 and now employs 80 people in Washington.  Hanson describes an office that appears to resemble a Silicon Valley start-up more than a typical government agency, with a focus on flexibility, responsiveness, experimentation, and innovation.  Although the main coordinating body of US ediplomacy activities, the Office of eDiplomacy 'is just one of over 20 ediplomacy nodes that have popped up at State'.

Other highlights of the report include State's embrace of the Web and social media for inter-departmental information sharing and its recently launched Innovation Fund, which is designed to crowd-source innovative diplomatic ideas from State personnel.  Also noteworthy are the multifaceted attempts by State to spread internet freedom, sometimes through rather unorthodox means, to repressive countries.

Hanson appears to give a large amount of credit to Secretary Hillary Clinton for setting State's ediplomacy vision, goals, and focus, but one might want to be cautious in accepting his claim that the department is 'far more advanced than any other foreign ministry'.  The paper is not a comparative study across different countries - Hanson is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and only examined the American government's activities in this area.  Moreover, it's unclear if such large and wide-reaching e-diplomacy efforts are even suitable or relevant for other countries.

Revolution @State is nevertheless an interesting look at how both the US is harnessing the widespread use of information technology to better achieve its global aims, and how this is in turn transforming the entire State Department itself. 

 

A new post by guest blogger, Steven Nelson, a teacher, trainer, translator, interpreter, and writer.  Steven is a graduate of Mary Washington College (BA in International Studies) and Central European University (MA in Nationalism Studies) and lives with his family in Budapest, Hungary. He has an keen interest in how the Internet is affecting our world and we hope he will be a regular contributor to our site.

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