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About: Scott Nolan Smith

Recent Posts by Scott Nolan Smith

A peek inside day-to-day diplomacy

Diplomacy has often been seen as a behind-closed-doors practice taking place in stuffy meeting rooms and made up of discussions that often result in nebulous outcomes.

Enter public diplomacy — the practice of leveraging diplomatic encounters at the local public level to better engage with populations and inform larger audiences. Often synonymous with events or cultural activities, the aim is to offer tailored diplomatic efforts in addition to what is often seen as traditional state-to-state diplomacy.

Over time, this definition of public diplomacy has broadened. No longer does it operate almost parallel to traditional statecraft, instead it works in more direct support of diplomatic objectives. Public diplomacy still focuses on delivering a softer side of diplomacy — events, trade shows, press engagement and the like to more effectively leverage soft power.

The coining of the term ‘digital diplomacy’ however, has allowed public diplomacy to further expand in definition and intention. While not exclusive to public diplomacy, the adoption of digital diplomacy has changed the way diplomats and diplomatic actors engage with the world around them. More tools equate to more means of engagement, and technology has been a catalyst for change within foreign ministries and embassies.

Technology is enabling diplomacy to be more transparent, engaging and accessible. No longer does public diplomacy merely apply to cultural events, trade functions or promotional exercises. Today, diplomats are opening the doors on the diplomatic process by providing views into their day-to-day activities.

This began with ambassadors tweeting about their daily functions, or embassies posting details on policy views or sharing outcomes from discussions. This was a step towards openness and transparency, but many of the functions of daily diplomacy remain elusive. This is shifting yet again.

The public diplomacy team at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC has recently been throwing the doors open on their diplomats’ daily lives. Leveraging Instagram stories, the embassy has been sharing what a week in the life of individual teams at the embassy looks like — and not just the public diplomacy or press teams. Instead, they have also focused on the political unit, the Ambassador’s staff and the defense/military teams.

The stories take viewers through the exciting and the mundane. Highlighting the work, not just the flash, and making the it accessible to an audience that typically would only see or hear about diplomatic events or outcomes but not have an eye on the process.

This ongoing shift in diplomacy has changed who participates in the overall process, giving more access to the public. Being more open enables diplomats and diplomatic posts to be more engaging. The added transparency not only allows citizens back at home to see what their diplomats are doing and for local audiences in host nations to experience what diplomats are bringing to their countries, but enables both audiences to comment, share and express their views. By nature, leveraging social digital tools creates the ability for two way conversations. I look forward to seeing others follow the Swiss’ lead.

The Swiss Embassy is merely one example, and this is not just a best practice for diplomacy. Transparent, engaging and accessible should increasingly be the mottos of corporate, philanthropic and broader government teams.

Opening the doors not only informs a greater number of people, but makes them more a part of the process; it humanizes principals and adds a new layer of accessibility, contributing to a stronger, more robust and trustworthy communications strategy.


Scott Nolan Smith is a founder and board member of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition. He is also a Vice President at Clyde Group and consultant to globally minded organizations and governments. He previously served as head of digital at the British Embassy in Washington.

This post originally appeared on the Clyde Group Medium publication.

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Watch: Global Leadership in Public Diplomacy Forum

In case you missed it

Full video from our Global Leadership in Public Diplomacy Forum in Washington DC with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy hosted at the United States Institute of Peace on 14 October 2015.

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