Diplomatic reporting

Information is the lifeblood of the diplomatic services with diplomats, like veins and arteries, reporting from their posts back to their home countries. These diplomatic reports, or cables, as they are more commonly known, keep information flowing; they help co-ordinate activities and prepare the groundwork for decisions.

While reporting remains an intellectual activity requiring good judgment, good cognitive skills, and a good writing style, it, too, has been affected by the Internet. What should be reported? How should diplomats integrate into their cables what has already been published by journalists, bloggers, and other providers of information? What value do diplomatic reports add to the already available information and analysis provided by Wikipedia and blogs, among others? What is the usability of the new generation of artificial intelligence tools for summarising texts?

This portal explores the function of diplomatic reporting and the impact of technology on this important function.

Stay up to date!

Subscribe to DiploNews and stay up to date with upcoming events, new publications and research, and Diplo courses and training.

What is diplomatic reporting?

Diplomatic reportingThousands of reports are written every day: they record meetings, analyse situations, and suggest actions. Since the ancient Egyptian Tal-Amarna diplomacy right up until the present day, diplomatic reports have been at the heart of diplomacy. They very often determine the internal chemistry of diplomatic services. Diplomats try to establish their positions and gain peer-recognition through the quality of their reports.

One way to look at diplomatic reporting is to consider it as one facet of a broader and more general phenomenon – the flow of information. Transmission of information is a basic human activity that in one form or another takes place all the time and under multiple circumstances. It is a product of instinct combined with need. Like any other method of information flow diplomatic reporting needs to have its own recognisable structure. It has to emerge from a clearly defined context. It needs direction and purpose. It should avail itself of whatever means of communication are currently available.

Two contrasting aspects characterise the flow of information in whatever form it is conducted. On the one hand once information exists there is both the need as well as the natural tendency for it to flow outwards. One may put this in another way. Information cannot exist in isolation. There is the need for a human recipient, as much as a human conveyor, for facts and events to become information. The underlying thrust is therefore towards all type of reporting, including diplomatic reporting, to become open and unrestrained.

The question is the extent to which there are limits to this openness, and furthermore who decides on these limits. This leads to another, and contradictory, aspect of the issue of information flow. Information is a form of power. Withholding information is a means for one individual or a group of individuals to exercise control over others.

On the whole, technology has been on the side of the moves towards freer flow of information, though it has occasionally also been used for the opposite purposes. The major breakthrough came with the invention of printing. One could go back even further, to the invention of writing.  The latest breakthrough is represented by the internet. It is useful to put the Internet phenomenon in this historical context. In the way it is evolving, Internet forms part of the age-long contest pointing towards a freer and more open flow of information.

Excerpt from Diplomatic Reporting in the Internet Era, a paper by Ambassador Victor Camilleri.

What’s next?

Join us for the various events related to data diplomacy, and get in touch with us:

From our blog

Has diplomatic reporting shifted from narrative to data?

Virdzinija Saveska

Information has always been at the core of diplomacy. The increase in quantity and quality of information on which states and other actors in international relations can rely for decision-making presents an opportunit...

Diplomats as Writers – Marrying the Arts and Diplomacy

Katharina Höne

In our March WebDebate, we explored the contribution of diplomats to literature and cultural heritage and also looked at how art and diplomacy can be usefully combined. We asked: What can we learn from diplomats who a...

Key skills for the next generation of diplomats

Mina Mudric

Our October WebDebate focused on the key skills that the next generation of diplomats needs in order to succeed in a changing world. While there seems to be a core and timeless skill-set for diplomats, an increas...

The medium and how it can colour the message

Mary Murphy

YouTube videos and TV footage, whether captured by professionals or what are now known as ‘citizen journalists’, portray what the documentarist sees, i.e. the action that is unfolding in front of them. The...

Training and courses

Multilateral Diplomacy

Starting 09 May 22

Bilateral Diplomacy

Starting 25 Jul 22

Resources

2011

Diplomatic Reporting: No need to compete with media (CNN, BBC)

In the late 1990s, when Ambassador Nabil Fahmy became Egyptian ambassador in the United States, he decided to change diplomatic reporting from his embassy. Although it was in the early days of the Internet, most of his reasoning about diplomatic reporting is as relevan... Read more...

2011

Feedback in Diplomatic Reporting

Extracts from The 21st Century Ambassador, by Ambassador Kishan Rana (DiploFoundation, 2005) – Chapter 3: "On Feedback in Diplomatic Reporting". ... Read more...

2011

Diplomatic Reporting in the Internet Era

Paper delivered by Ambassador Victor Camilleri during the E-diplomacy panel on Diplomatic Reporting in the Internet Era after WikiLeaks, held on 9 February, 2011.... Read more...

2011

How can Wikis improve diplomatic reporting?

Aldo Matteucci writes: Everyone loves Wikipedia... yet hardly anyone realises that potential of the underlying software for streamlining paperwork in an MFA and significantly improving the efficiency of the archiving system. ...... Read more...

2001

Texts in diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Professor Dietrich Kappeler provides an overview of the various types of formal written documents used in diplomacy, pointing out where the practices surrounding these documents have changed in recent years. He also discusses mult... Read more...

2001

Documenting diplomacy, Evaluating documents: The case of the CSCE

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Rather than individual documents, Dr Keith Hamilton looks at the process and purpose of compiling collections of documents. He focuses on his own experience as the editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas, and particularly o... Read more...

2001

Pragmatics in diplomatic exchanges

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Edmond Pascual interprets diplomatic communication with the linguistic tools of pragmatics. He begins by reminding us that while the diplomat is a "man of action," the particular nature of the diplomat's action is that it consists... Read more...

2013

The impact of the Internet on diplomatic reporting: how diplomacy training needs to be adjusted to keep pace

Over the last 20 years, the Internet has changed the ways in which we work, how we socialise and network, and how we interact with knowledge and information.... Read more...