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Mapping States’ activities, Tracking the Trackers, the end of Digital Diplomacy and Blogging in the UN (not): links we liked

Published on 17 May 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

‘Open Data’ is one of those catchall terms that encompasses a technical development, a philosophy, a trend and an advocacy goal, amongst others. The relevance to e-diplomacy is that the technology is maturing, Governments around the world are committing to making more and more of their own data available for viewing and re-use on the web and the combination of the two is generating increasing amounts of online materials that repurpose and combine (mash) data to make it readable – often visual – and accessible.Mapping States’ activities, Tracking the Trackers, the end of Digital Diplomacy and Blogging in the UN (not): links we likedThese products often combine data sets and deliver new perspectives, well beyond their original purpose, thus increasing the amount of understandable information and public engagement around a state’s activities, which are likely to make the life of a Diplomat even more interesting. Two recent examples:

  • Tracking Chinese Development Finance to Africa, generated by the energetic and creative AidData people
  • Mapped: The U.S. military’s presence in Africa, which in turn draws information from services such as the Public Intelligence project  

And, while we might applaud this move towards openness and increased transparency, we need to consider its dark shadow, the chilling extent to which our movements on the web are tracked in ways and by organisations generally unknown to us. If you already worry a little about how much Google and Facebook follow us and share our preferences with advertisors, then sit down to watch this excellent Ted Talk from Garry Kovacs which was shared on the regularly informative blog site from the Italian Istituto Diplomatico

Meanwhile, we learnt that “The term Digital Diplomacy is almost redundant” from Sec of State Kerry, in his speech,  “Digital Diplomacy: adapting our diplomatic engagement“. This is perhaps news to the active twitterstream, #digitaldiplomacy, which was buzzing this week during the UK FCO Ambassadors Meeting, who had Twitter tips tweeted to them by Alec Ross, who’s done so much to mainstream the use of social media in the State Department, building on the work of Richard Boly and others over the past 10 years, including their continuing global programme of Techcamps

But there are many, many Ministries where the use of social and other digital media is far from the default position, whose staff risk becoming the, “blacksmiths of the information age”. There has been a fascinating couple of blogs by Oxfam GB’s Duncan Green about Blogging in the UN System — or, more accurately, the puzzle of non-blogging in many UN institutions. The overlap between the UN and diplomatic worlds means a lot of what he learnt at the UN, and from the World Bank, where there is an active blogging community, has a lot of relevance to e-diplomacy. And for those who are concerned about readiness within their own Ministries or Embassies, this infographic on ‘using social media as a crisis management tool’ is one to pin on the wall.

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