The digital revolution arrived kind of late at the desks of ministries of foreign affairs across the globe. Ministries focused on social media and ‘Twitter-Diplomacy’ around the time of Tahrir Square and Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution. They were captivated by a technology that created a networked development towards more liberal societies.
In a daily basis deep social and political impacts are unfolding around the world. And yet, most foreign ministries and diplomats lack efficiency and are still comparatively under-equipped to identify, analyse and act towards the waves of information rolling through the digital realm.
The digital diplomacy has been constantly changing and transforming. However, there is a digital deficit that could become a true Achilles heel since technological progress continues to run steadily ahead. Now, the use of 5G systems and the capacity to run the Big Data across them, to develop greater applications for artificial intelligence (AI) along with the cybersecurity threats, will create a deeply disruptive diplomatic environment with an impact on our societies and the way we work. It will also challenge how bureaucracies manage big data and how they harness capacities for anticipatory foreign policymaking.
For the basic and daily work of diplomacy – negotiation – the ability to engage in big data analytics and news clipping-checking can help remove biases, aggregating data on the possible effects of negotiations (i.e. on large groups of national or foreign citizens or companies) and to collect geospatial and sensorial data. In that sense, they can gather more factual and objective information, better insights, and often support and improve an evidence-based decision. To realize the benefits of these data flows, data will need to be collected over the Web and social media channels, mined and interpreted by trained analysts and diplomats.
As such on the digital front, ministries will need systems that are safe and fit for purpose but also the right personnel that know how to handle information and help with diplomacy. Diplomatic careers are now built with proper training with experts on different topics, such as social media and cybersecurity, and how these are connected to digital diplomacy. This should mainly focus on the real transformation of traditional diplomacy to the digital one. Then the digital diplomats will be equipped with the right knowledge to handle and overcome any cultural, linguistic and historical barriers.
Finally one of the main questions that foreign ministries need to answer and start thinking, is how to create foreign policy offices at headquarters and in embassies abroad to make the best use of the changing skills of the different generations of diplomats. And then what they need to accomplish with digital diplomacy and if the diplomats have the right knowledge and experience to succeed. A new philosophy of public service across ministries is needed in the digital world and the time is now to integrate that philosophy.
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