Ten years since the creation of the first office of ediplomacy, ediplomacy is no longer an experiment. In key areas at State it is a way of doing business.
The point has now been reached where it is negligent for foreign ministries to ignore social media. When crises break online, there is now the real threat of serious economic and brand damage being done. Foreign ministries unprepared and unable to mitigate the fallout from these events are not performing their job. Those that ignore communication and engagement opportunities that connection technologies enable are also falling short in their communications function.
Internet freedom is a more challenging policy. Given the ongoing security challenges faced by activists, it makes sense for State to continue to fund the development of circumvention technologies, even though they are going to require constant upgrading as authoritarian states continue to work around them. Smaller countries are likely to calculate that it is easier to let the United States lead the charge on this issue and are probably not going to be persuaded to fund these tools themselves. In other areas though—like export controls on surveillance technologies—the cooperation of like-minded states will be critical.
In the area of knowledge management foreign ministries have a lot to learn from State. As technology continues to increase information flows and foreign ministry budgets continue to be squeezed, the ability to mobilize human and informational resources efficiently will only increase in importance. The interest State has received from the private sector indicates it is already ahead of the game in this space. The greatest potential benefits are in knowledge transfer, information retrieval and awareness, organizational efficiency gains and in progress towards knowledge pricing.
While State is at the vanguard of ediplomacy and well ahead of even its closest peers, beyond the three work areas covered in this paper, it still lacks bureaucratic champions able to adapt State to the 21st century. Consular affairs, disaster response, diaspora engagement, engagement with external actors, coordination with partner governments and, from a whole of government perspective, policy planning, would all derive major benefits from an equivalent level of innovation.
Foreign ministries that are just beginning to adapt to changes in technology or yet to begin naturally want to know what the advantages of ediplomacy are. Given the leading foreign ministry working on this has only been doing so for ten years (and only more recently scaled up these efforts), it is not surprising that it is still struggling to find sound metrics. While this is not a problem unique to State (corporations face the same challenge), this paper has hopefully been able to draw out the advantages ediplomacy offers foreign ministries as well as making the case that more could be done to quantify its value and success.
Not all of State’s innovations have been successful and not all of them can be easily copied by other foreign ministries, but there is now little doubt that ediplomacy is a core tool of diplomacy.
By: Fergus Hanson