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How has the Internet affected diplomatic reporting?

01 July 2013

So of course there’s no such thing anymore as effective diplomacy that doesn’t put a sophisticated use of technology at the center of all we’re doing to help advance our foreign policy objectives, bridge gaps between people across the globe, and engage with people around the world and right here at home (Kerry, 2013).

What exactly does diplomatic reporting include? Is it simply (i) inter-mission correspondence or does it also include (ii) correspondence with capital, i.e. cables, quarterly reports, annual reports, financial reports, memoranda, country briefings? Can we also add (iii) inter-government correspondence, i.e. Notes Verbale, démarches, letters of credence, and (iv) foreign policy matters reported in the media? And to this mix, can we insert (v) public diplomacy initiatives, for example, communication with the diaspora?

This question was asked in a general survey answered in part by 105 practising diplomats from five regions: Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It would seem that all five ‘categories’ of diplomatic reporting are viable, with the main component being correspondence with capital (92.7%), followed by inter-mission correspondence (67.8%), inter-government correspondence and foreign policy matters reported in the media (58.1%), and public diplomacy initiatives (54.3%).
In addition to the five categories listed, respondents added the following:

  • Annual conference/meeting of ambassadors held in the capital.
  • Constant reports to headquarters about the situation on the field.
  • Discussions with diplomatic interlocuteurs.
  • Economic matters reported in the media.
  • Foreign policy discussions with contacts not in the media.
  • Early and regular identification of promotional and investment opportunities for short and medium term action.

The survey was an attempt to discover whether the Internet has affected diplomatic reporting, and if so, how. More than 90% of those with more than ten years of diplomatic service said that diplomatic reporting has changed since they began their service.

But how has it changed? Using the parameters effective, immediate, cost-effective, formal, and pressured, the survey asked respondents whether they found the Internet to have made diplomatic reporting more or less effective, or whether they have registered no change at all. The vast majority said that it has made their work more effective, more immediate, more cost-effective, less formal, and more pressurised.

  More Less No change
Effective 91% 5% 4%
Immediate 92% 1% 6%
Cost effective 86% 9% 5%
Formal 6% 84% 9%
Pressurised 63% 20% 17%

 

In her next blog post, Mary Murphy analyses the effects of social media on diplomatic reporting.

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