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A definition of digital diplomacy

European Council meeting in Brussels

Will digital diplomacy mark the end of face-to-face meetings?

My first post is dedicated to defining the scope of my EU Digital Diplomacy blog. I expect this to create a ‘plausible promise’ in the words of Clay Shirky as to what readers can expect from my postings.

Whatever the name you wish to give it, digital diplomacy, also called e-diplomacy, online diplomacy or cyber diplomacy, is a new form of diplomacy in the information age. Despite subtle semantic nuances which I am not going to explore here (but which you can read more about here), it boils down to three major differences compared to traditional diplomacy:

  • more information – if you know where to look for, information is available out there, and if you are not ready to disclose it, others may do it for you.
  • more interaction – digital communication tools allow not only for a 1-to-many conversation, but more importantly for a many-to-many conversation which in turn is radically changing the way we socialise and interact with both individuals and organisations.
  • more transparency – as a consequence of the first two differences, organisations and in particular public institutions are now more willing to open up and share what they are doing and how with citizens.

There is, however, a big discrepancy between using digital technologies to communicate about one’s public diplomacy initiatives, and integrating these technologies and the resulting changes in citizens’ behaviours to shape the decision-making process at diplomatic level.

In my blog, I’d like to explore how this applies to the EU, what European institutions can learn from national governments and other regions, and how the EU Council, for which I work, can be at the forefront of these changes.

There’s no definition of digital or e-diplomacy yet on Wikipedia so before I leave you to fix that, here’s a video definition which encapsulates well the differences which I tried to pinpoint earlier. It’s by Alec Ross, Senior Innovation Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What would be your definition?



4 Responses to “A definition of digital diplomacy”

  1. wow, can it be true that I’m the first to comment here?

    Changing diplomacy from G2G to G2P + P2P – as Ross puts it, above – seems more of a definition of eGovernment & eParticipation than anything else.

    The distinction between eGovernment & eParticipation is another nice semantic discussion, of course! Let’s just call it eGov.

    But his definition of ediplomacy would simply seem to relegate it to ‘eGov applied to diplomatic policy’, where citizens seek to influence a government policy (international relations).

    Where things get interesting, of course, is when actors on opposite sides of a national frontier discuss policy, and then seek to change their governments’ respective positions via national debates.

    And it gets *really* interesting within the EU, where actors are not limited to influencing just their own nation’s policies, but have democratic and institutional channels to continental-scale policy-making. This EU online public space, unfortunately, is more theory than reality.

    - Mathew

    PS Glad to see your use of the Brussels bubble meme, btw.

    PPS Please enlarge the comment text entry window! ;-)

    Posted by mathew | 24 septembre 2011, 09:16
    • Thanks Mathew. I agree that there are at least two levels of e-diplomacy / e-gov: one that seeks just interaction and is service-minded, and one that seeks engagement in order to modify the balance of power by letting citizens take a more active part in the policy-making (or foreign affairs) process. We still are clearly far from both at EU level. And I keep wondering how the EU institutions are supposed to bring member states to a certain degree of modernity (eg. digital agenda 2020) while they are not even capable of applying it to themselves. A mystery :-)

      PS: comment entry text enlarged, thanks!

      Posted by aurelie | 24 septembre 2011, 13:31
  2. Of course it’s easy to deride the EU Institutions for not being as far advanced as national governments when it comes to egovernment, but it’s perhaps somewhat unfair for two reasons.

    For one thing, the EC just doesn’t offer as many services to citizens and businesses as a national/regiona/local government – it does not issue passports and driving licenses, manage state pensions, etc. So there’s simply less scope for service-based egovernment.

    Secondly, there’s this huge gulf of knowledge about Who Does What and Why between citizens and Institutions. Most citizens know which national government department to go to for a new driving license. How many Europeans know which part of which Institution to talk to about any policy, let alone foreign policy?

    This problem is more acute for the Commission, I guess, given that they don’t have a HVR. Or is it Baroness Ashton? I can never get that straight …

    - Mathew

    PS Thanks for Ajax-enabling the comment window! How about adding a ‘notify me’ / ‘subscribe by email’ plug-in, so commenters can follow a conversation without having to continually check back? It’s really useful to developing a conversation/community.

    Posted by mathew | 26 septembre 2011, 11:02
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    Posted by feelings | 2 octobre 2011, 00:26

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