Data science and big data have become commonly-heard concepts, yet very little is known about how and to what extent diplomacy could adjust to the emerging data-driven era.

DiploFoundation’s research project on Data Diplomacy, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, provides an overall analysis of the impact of big data on diplomacy and international affairs.

The Data Diplomacy project includes policy research, data policy seminars, and other activities. These are being organised with the aim of:

  • Exploring the trends and best practices in data science that are of relevance for diplomacy and international affairs.
  • Analysing the limitations and challenges related to the application of big data to diplomacy and international affairs.
  • Fostering dialogue among data scientists and diplomatic communities.
  • Raising awareness and understanding on the topic of data diplomacy among foreign affairs officials.

Policy research

The policy research analyses the opportunities, limitations, challenges, and management of big data in diplomatic institutions and international organisations. The main aims of the research project are:

  • To illustrate the use, best practices, and potential pitfalls of data in different diplomatic activities, including consular affairs, strategic planning and policy research, diplomatic reporting, public diplomacy, development and humanitarian aid, and international law
  • To highlight the limitations and challenges of data by looking at questions of data access, quality, misinterpretation, privacy, and security
  • To gain an understanding of the role of data in terms of the organisational culture and structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to be able to offer advice on capacity building and organisational transformation

Data Diplomacy Report: updating diplomacy to the big data era

This report aims to increase the awareness of the opportunities, limitations, and challenges of the big data trend, and to understand how ministries of foreign affairs (MFAs) could adapt their work, procedures, and organisational structures to the big data era. In this report, we provide a broad overview of the main opportunities of big data in different diplomatic fields and functions, and highlight the key issues that need to be addressed for big data diplomacy to flourish.

This framework of possibilities and constraints opens up a diversity of applications and implications that can be explored in further detail, and is meant to inform MFAs that are exploring big data to adapt diplomatic practice to the data driven era where possible and feasible.

Through advancing an understanding of what big data can do for diplomacy, how it can be put to use by MFAs, and which aspects need to be kept in mind when using big data, this report aims to ultimately serve as a toolkit for data diplomacy.

Specifically, the report looks at the key concepts of data diplomacy (chapter one), the use of big data in international affairs (chapter two), organisational considerations for the MFA (chapter three), and key aspects concerning the use of big data (chapter four).

Areas of big data potential: Big data can contribute to a number of diplomatic fields and functions, albeit in different ways. To generalise, we have identified six ways in which big data could benefit diplomacy and the corresponding fields and functions for which they are most relevant.

  • Providing new information and challenge bias (information gathering and reporting).
  • Meeting the expectations of government service delivery (consular affairs).
  • Better understanding people’s perceptions and behaviour (communication, public diplomacy, and negotiation).
  • Tracking programmes and progress over time and space (trade and development).
  • Tracking developments over short timeframes (humanitarian affairs and emergency response).
  • Identifying new forms of evidence and account
ability (international law).

Download the report Data Diplomacy: Updating diplomacy to the big data era and the Executive Summary.

Data diplomacy seminars

The policy research was accompanied by two data diplomacy seminars, one in Geneva and one in Helsinki, and the launch of the data diplomacy report in Geneva. The seminars gathered diplomats, data scientists, policy experts, and other professional communities involved in data diplomacy. They facilitated cross-professional dialogue and aimed to initiate an ongoing process for providing dialogue, training, and awareness-building in data diplomacy.


Data Diplomacy: Mapping the Field

The first seminar took place in Geneva on 5 April 2017, and explored the wide range of data applications and challenges in the field of diplomacy. Read the summary report.

Big Data for Diplomacy

The second seminar, which took place in Helsinki on 9 October 2017, looked more closely at big data in the context of diplomacy and foreign affairs, and assessed best practices and potential pitfalls. Read the summary report. 


Contact and further information

Learn more about data diplomacy. Get in touch with Diplo’s Data Diplomacy team at

Printer Friendly and PDF