Tuesday, March 16, 2010

21st Century statecraft in action

We're beginning to see the early shape of 21st Century statecraft, through how the UK and US have begun adopting social media approaches in their international relations.

Both nations have recognised the need to engage their own citizens, and the citizens of other nations, in ongoing conversations - tapping broad bases of expertise and improving the transparency of government decisions.

The UK has shown leadership through its FCO Bloggers, a group of 20 or so diplomats and ambassadors who provide insights into Britain's foreign relations and international dealings. Hosted at the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, the FCO Bloggers provide insight into Britain's overseas engagement and opportunities for local and British citizens to participate in a more open discussion of the diplomatic ties and issues that are vital to preserving global stability.

The US's Department of State has operated the DipNotes blog for some time and used an 'opinion piece' approach to introduce senior diplomats to the blogging concept (a friend of mine says that the best way to get people over the age of 45 blogging is to call them 'opinion pieces' rather than 'blog posts').

The Department also uses Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to provide greater insights into the activities of the Department.

Most recently, the State Department has introduced crowdsourcing to its engagement mix with the introduction of Opinion Space 2.0, an intriguing data sharing and visualisation tool which clusters individual viewpoints into 'constellations'.

Opinion Space captures public views and portrays them on a 3-dimensional spectrum, providing government with a measure of what is important to its citizens and allowing the crowd to prioritise ideas and approaches.

While it's still early days, I am beginning to see some of this 21st Century statecraft bear fruit. By improving transparency and encouraging greater engagement in international relations, the different approaches of both the UK and US are helping to build their national awareness of the need for strong international ties. They also provide ways for the citizens of other nations to become involved in discussions, allowing words a greater opportunity to replace bullets in international dealings.

I hope that in the (not too distant) future, other nations also begin experimenting in this space - using social media to empower diplomatic relations and build bridges between nations. As usual, the technology is not the barrier - it's the willingness of Government Departments to adopt new ways of doing business and to permit dialogue to occur on a less controlled basis.

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