This post was originally published by Portland as part of a series of articles on digital diplomacy and the G8.
Diplomacy, and how we define diplomacy, is changing. No longer is it just an art for the elite or people with titles. It is becoming a social craft that requires mastery of social technologies and a knack for relationship building. It has begun to empower people at all levels of government to engage more directly with the public. This empowerment is not only changing the conversations we are having with the public, but also providing us with more opportunities for public/private partnerships, informal collaboration with the public, and the ability to reach more people in places that previously were not accessible.
Most governments aren’t prepared for the changes that technology and the world are thrusting upon them. Most consider these changes disruptive and uncomfortable. Many prefer to ignore their existence or think they can smother them if they sense they are encroaching on their borders. Change is difficult for everyone. Change forces all of us to look in the mirror and contemplate who we are, what is our value, and how we may need to change for success in this new world. This is not an easy journey for us individually, let alone for governments. But we have no choice. We are being forced to adapt.
One of the greatest challenges we all face as we evolve into more social organisations, is how do we prepare to become more social? Social and government haven’t usually co-existed well in a formal sense nor are they normally considered to be easy partners. But since there is no choice, how do we manage these changes? How do we ensure success? In an age where all of us are increasingly budget conscious, how do we scale activities and training for employees in a way that is cost-effective and valuable?
We may intellectually understand the changes these social technologies herald. We may be able to master the tools to make us successful. But real success comes from embracing the ideas of how to be social. How do we have an official conversation? How do we provide opportunities for collaboration? How do we build trust with the public? How can we be more transparent in our dealings with the public?
It will require our employees to embrace new ways of thinking. This culture change comes from strong leadership, realistic policies, flexible processes, creation of an innovative environment, and extensive training. While formal approaches to cultural change are important, it is even more important to recognise the employees on the front lines of our organisations. They are the practitioners of social technologies. Chances are they had been experimenting with these technologies long before you thought about writing a social media use policy. These are our pioneers and future leaders. It is important that we support and incubate these employees. It is no longer a choice about whether we should to make these investments in our people. We must do so. They are the lifeblood and our future.
In 2012, a small grassroots meetup group called the Digital Diplomacy Coalition (DDC) started in Washington, DC. The premise was to explore and share how we are using social technologies for our various diplomatic missions. It is free for people to participate and most events occur after hours. What started as a meetup group has grown to be a fully-fledged community of over 700 members. We meet to share best practices and talk about issues unique to governments who share the diplomacy mission.
With the celebration of our one year anniversary, the DDC has started to expand to other world capitals. We will be developing DDC chapters where there are people who are willing to commit to helping each other learn and be more effective with social technologies. For us, this is an exciting development. It provides the opportunity for more people and governments to get involved and start collaborating more with each other on social technologies. It raises the level of social expertise for all participating governments. This participation does not just provide governments with the ability to be more successful in providing information, services, and opportunities for collaboration with the public, but it begins to build new relationships and communications channels between governments. It is the creation of a truly global diplomacy community.
There are significant opportunities available to all governments who can embrace social technologies. But that success will be directly related to having the right people in place who understand the technologies, knowing how to build relationships with people, and understanding the diplomacy mission. The DDC is just one option for how a government might start to build social capacity. We are truly on the cusp of changing how governments work, how they engage with their citizens, and the impact they can have globally.
Lovisa Williams serves on the Leadership Team of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition in Washington, DC. She is also the Senior Policy Advisor for Emerging Technologies at the US Department of State.