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 at 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.