lighting, Diplomacy

[WebDebate #50] Training cyber diplomats: Tools, gaps, and opportunities

05 October 2021


Event summary

The discussion started by clarifying what cyber diplomacy is. For our purposes, cyber diplomacy described all diplomatic activities related to digitalisation and information and communications technology (ICT). Wallace highlighted three broad areas of cyber diplomacy.

  • First, this includes multilateral efforts in and through international organisations and also efforts to reduce tensions and conflicts. Prominent examples of this are the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Advancing Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace, and the Open-ended Working Group on Developments in the Field of ICTs in the Context of International Security (OEWG). 
  • Second, many topics in diplomacy are impacted by digitisation and ICT, including health, commerce, human rights, and many others. 
  • Third, diplomats need capacities and knowledge to engage with other countries on cyberthreats. 

From this picture, it is clear that diplomats need additional expertise. Barriers to entering this field need to be addressed. Providing the right kind of information, training, and capacity development are crucial elements on this journey. 

In this regard, it is important to ask: 

  • What are the available training and capacity-development opportunities and tools?
  • How widely are they used?
  • What is still missing and what are some of the remaining challenges?
  • What are good practices to learn from?

The study Improving the Practice of Cyber Diplomacy: Training, Tools, and Other Resources (Phase I) addresses these questions. It was commissioned by the GFCE and received financial support from the Government of Canada. Lead researcher Borg Psaila introduced the methodology and main findings. She also highlighted that the annex of the study makes the database available for further research and follow-up. 

When it comes to barriers to capacity development in cyber diplomacy, three key findings stand out: 

  • Lack of awareness
  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of time

Despite living in an age of information overload and search engines, lack of awareness remains an issue. The discussion showed that there are differences in terminology, and not all terms resonate with or are known to the intended audience. The GFCE’s Cybil Portal has started to address this issue and offers a broad overview of available training options. Audience members also highlighted that they are concerned about biases in capacity development, and find it challenging to identify high-quality offers. 

The discussion also showed that lack of funding for cyber-diplomacy capacity development is something that needs addressing. In order to address increasing inequalities between countries, additional commitment from donor agencies is needed.

The research conducted as part of the study showed that lack of time is a key barrier for cyber-diplomacy capacity development. Borg Psaila suggested that a shift in the organisational culture of foreign ministries and other organisations is needed. Practitioners need to be able to dedicate time during their working hours towards capacity development. This shift requires the realisation that cyber diplomacy demands regular on-the-job training, and that capacity development needs to be seen as an integral part of career advancement. 

Based on her research on internet governance capacity development in African countries, Maciel underscored the need for stronger institutional support for capacity development. She also highlighted that online training offers additional flexibility and can be a decisive factor in enabling practitioners to take further training. 

In conclusion, our speakers made three appeals to the audience and those interested in the topic. First, for those providing capacity development, feedback is crucial. There needs to be a continuous process of updating and improving the available information and training. Second, practitioners can support capacity development by spreading the word in their communities and on social media. Third, it is crucial to understand cyber-diplomacy capacity development as a process. New topics are emerging constantly and practitioners are called upon to keep training on the job. 

Event recording

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Event description

Diplomats need to be ready to address digital topics adequately and to harness the challenges and opportunities brought about by digitalisation and emerging digital technologies. Whether we are talking about security, commerce, health, or human rights, digitalisation and new digital technologies play an increasing role. 

Training and capacity development are crucial tools for preparing diplomats for these exciting and challenging new topics. What capacity development opportunities exist, and what gaps remain?

One of the main findings in Diplo’s study titled Improving the Practice of Cyber Diplomacy is that cyber diplomats are often unaware of the many capacity development training and tools which exist

It does seem counterintuitive that in this age of instantaneous and widespread communication possibilities, lack of awareness is one of the major barriers in the take-up and use of training and tools. So how did this come about?

Using the findings from Diplo’s study as a backdrop, during our discussion we will take a closer look at:

  • Existing training and tools to support the practice of cyber diplomacy
  • How challenges in cyber capacity development compare to challenges in other areas of diplomatic practice
  • Emerging issues which cyber diplomacy training and tools need to tackle

About our WebDebates

Our WebDebates on the future of diplomacy are live-streamed on the first Tuesday of every month. They are organised by Diplo within the framework of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (IFDT). Learn more about our WebDebates series.