Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Work life, personal life: unique and separate but sometimes interrelated

Published on 21 November 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Do I have a work e-mail address? Do I have a personal e-mail address? Have I ever sent a personal e-mail from my work address? Or a work e-mail from my personal address? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Work life and personal life – unique and separate but sometimes interrelated.

Thus began a presentation by Richard Boly, Director of eDiplomacy Work life, personal life: unique and separate but sometimes interrelatedat the US State Department, at Diplo’s conference on innovation in diplomacy.  Just 150 years ago, the oldest agency in the USA was sending information in wax-sealed notes. Typically slow to pick up new technogloy, diplomacy developed at a speed much slower than the conflicts it needed to address.

The tipping point for the US State Department came with the East Africa embassy bombings and 9/11. The old style command /control hierarchical knowledge management simply didn’t work any more. Change was needed. And this change needed to be part of people’s normal workflow. Typically, an organisation organises and individuals conform. Ideally, individuals should organise themselves and make their work accessible to others, i.e. focus on individual not the organisation.

To change from an e-mail-based sharing to having a full toolset to collaborate, it’s important to put down roots. Start by easing the pain – what people are frustrated with – show them that your approach will make them happy, Boly advised. Use a collaborative management initiative – what could 80% of embassies do 80% of the time – and be effective.

The US State Department developed Diplopedia – an online encyclopedia of foreign affairs information. Anyone can edit – with their name. For those balking at the idea of open editors and no moderation, Boly reminded us that the State Department’s bright, competent staff have been hired for their good judgement – they need to be able to use it. Diplopedia articles evolve persistently; it has one curator and 6000 editors with 50/60 powered editors and a detailed process for arbitrating inconsistencies.

One interesting note from Boly was that blogs are fast replacing newsletters. He described blogs as content with conversation. An example is Ulan Bator: all interaction with Washington is via the embassy’s blog. Even diplomatic reports are available through the blog. But what about confidentiality and classification of information? What about locally employed staff? Do they have access? Are they involved? Yes, through  the Social Media Hub, the online locally employed staff community.

Other intiatives underway by the US State Department involve ideation – turning water cooler conversation into action and Corridor – where people’s expertise is discovered and the collective knowledge of 11 000 people is used to solve a problem.

Boly ended his presentation with a call to consider videracy – the importance of video and images and of reverse mentorship – where junior diplomatics who are digital natives and social media savvy, mentor senior staff. Definitely turning the diplomatic world on its head. 



2 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    Hi Karen… I asked Richard
    Hi Karen… I asked Richard about this and this is his reply:

    You are right. “Mongolia in Focus” is one of our 75+ multi-author blogs, which is built on WordPress and is available to all State Department employees via our internal Intranet as well as to other USG agencies via an extranet.

    Corridor, our professional networking platform (think LinkedIn, but looks like facebook), is an easy place to share information, form groups, and find expertise. We build Corridor on BuddyPress, an extension of WordPress. Corridor is only available to employees with email accounts on State Department’s Intranet.

    Easy mobile access is a key goal and something the State Department is working on now.

  2. Karen
    Karen says:

    So both the Ulan Bator blog
    So both the Ulan Bator blog and the Corridor are on the State Department’s internal intranet? I presume that they must be. An excellent idea to make information available and stop the relentless stream of emails. However what are the options of access via mobile devices away from the office?


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