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What makes up institutional capability for e-diplomacy?

Published on 27 February 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

Organisations appear to change slowly, often very slowly. The causes are legion and the stuff of libraries full of research into institutional change. Yet in some ways the term, ‘organisational change’ is a misnomer since, in reality, it’s individuals in organisations who change. That causes problems for senior managers who want organisations to operate differently and even more problems for junior staff trying to influence how their organisations work. And it’s a huge problem for everyone trying to help their organisations innovate, or adapt to innovation, as well as to disruption in the external context.

The opportunities and challenges of e-diplomacy derive from a quintessentially disruptive technology-based set of trends. These involve Social Media and other elements of web2.0 (if we still use that term]; convergent digital technology platforms such as smartphones and pads; the massive expansion of Internet connectivity; and a rapidly growing population which profits from those trends to spend more of their time online and in cyberspace to talk, share, flirt, organise, learn, collaborate, consume – and do all the other things we do as social animals, professionally and personally.  Individuals can become competent in using the tools but organisations as a whole can only respond by enabling their people to learn and experiment.

Is your team, embassy, ministry, institution e-capable?

The capability approach is a useful way to approach this issue.  It suggest that managers and staff need to work together to build an enabling organisation, that supports and encourages learning for change. In that way it collectively develops a set of capabilities which enable it to respond to change. The approach is associated with management theories that treat organisations holistically, as entities rather than collections of systems1; learning theories that view organisational learning in terms of co-creation and communal constructivism; management theories building from Michael Porter’s work on value chains and organisational core competencies; and the Knowledge Management movement, bringing together approaches to organisational learning derived from Senge’s ‘The Learning Organisation’ with ICT (and Internet) based collaboration and information management tools. The approach has been influential in Defence planning and management – ‘no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’2: the military know, above all, the need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly, from strength. The concept continues to be updated within Management theory, as this atypically thorough Wikipedia article illustrates.   


Above all The capability approach is forward looking. The core issue for institutions is not how they are to catch up with the status quo, it’s already too late for that, but how to become an organisation that responds flexibly, creatively, efficiently, coherently and responsibly to future developments in the converging worlds that are affected by continuing rapid changes in digital technology. To be, like this Greek statue from the triumphant Hellenistic period, ‘poised, at the point of movement’.3

In Diplo we have been exploring what might be the elements that make up an ‘e-diplomacy capable organisation’, starting with a leadership profile

1. Enabling, responsive leadership/management

  • Accepting of risk and failure tolerant: this involves regular risk assessment and contingency planning, including of a disaster recovery strategy

  • Leading by example, which would entail learning and being active online, including encouraging remote participation and online meetings

  • Rewarding experimentation, innovation and mainstreaming of e-diplomacy, through devices such as innovation funds or competitions but also regularly discussing ideas and pilots in management meetings. Ideally, e-diplomacy competencies would be built into performance management schemes

  • Prioritising resilience: this would entail a regime of social media monitoring as a standard practise within all teams, ensuring that influencers are identified and engaged with on social media and other platforms, aiming to build a capability to reach and engage mass audiences

2 Capability for e-diplomacy – institutional profile

  • ​A host of Communication policies & guidelines need to be developed, covering, amongst other things, the organisation’s recommended software platforms; personal/professional responsibility and safety;   using social media; responding to criticism and ‘harassment’; confidentiality and open-ness, including disclaimers; guidelines on developing content and selection of platforms; IPR and creative commons; social reporting 

  • ICT, or IT has a key role, both in terms of management and security but also, crucially in how it responds to the new environment. This requires:

    • A 21st Century ICT infrastructure – no more excuses for absence of wifi – and policies to match, covering security for e-tools; cloud and other storage; archiving

    • Acceptance that IT/ICT/IM is not accountable for all digital media, that it shares responsibility with communication and knowledge sharing teams, as well as ‘activity’ teams (whatever the task organisations are)

    • Diverse platforms supported and available, including video conferencing, webcasting etc, internal and external platforms, open source as well as commercial

    • Shared directories integrated with bookmarking and other information sharing tools like mind-mapping

  • Provision of Information Management support, meaning curation of Intranet or other shared tools, ensuring they display diverse information sources; provide directories of relevant search spaces and sources of relevant information; provide a central resource for feeds, possibly using tools like Netvibes, as well as sharing of bookmarks; and resources to support source verification

3. Learning and Knowledge Sharing

  • Knowledge needs to flow freely laterally & vertically – which of course is easier said than done. A funded Knowledge Sharing programme about e-tool uses is probably essential.
  • There needs to be financial resource for training, experimentation and  scale-up, including a systematic programme of training and online learning

What do you think?

Is this a realistic list? What is missing? And, possibly most important, what examples can you give us of e-capable organisations? 



  1. Elias Porter and beyond
  2. Colin Powell
  3. Thanks to Ambassador Walter Fust for the connection to organisational change
3 replies
  1. Biljana Scott
    Biljana Scott says:

    Pete, can you explain what “a
    Pete, can you explain what “a funded Knowledge Sharing programme about e-tool uses” would involve in the Diplo context? Is it for staff, for participants or for other players? Because I’m not in the loop, I need help in understanding what your suggestions would mean for somebody like me, head down to the teaching grindstone!

  2. Biljana Scott
    Biljana Scott says:

    Pete, can you explain what “a
    Pete, can you explain what “a funded Knowledge Sharing programme about e-tool uses” would involve in the Diplo context? Is it for staff, for participants or for other players? Because I’m not in the loop, I need help in understanding what your suggestions would mean for somebody like me, head down to the teaching grindstone!

  3. Aldo Matteucci
    Aldo Matteucci says:

    Spendid, Pete, splendid. I
    Spendid, Pete, splendid. I like your metaphor of the Greek statue. I may add that the Roman statue is not “poised” at the point of movement:Roman statues all stride.

    One point: lists are “closed” – they may be incomplete, but not “open”. Everything you say is “open”. however. Put improvisation at the top of the list…

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