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Category Archives: DDC Washington News

#DiplomacyUnited for International Women’s Day 2019

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For International Women’s Day in 2019, a group of digital diplomats and allies tried something new: they shared a Twitter thread, a coordinated campaign on Facebook and Instagram, and a common objective.

The informal group, a legacy of the first international digital diplomacy conference held in Stockholm in 2014, has long recognized the importance of fostering an environment in which issues of global importance could be discussed on-line. Over the years, the group has shared ideas, hashtags and best practices.

On March 8th, they decided to take their collaboration public. Eight embassies in Washington, DC (@ukinusa, @euintheus, @SwedeninUSA, @swissembassyUSA, @italyinUS, @spainintheUSA, @canembUSA) together with offices in the US government (@genderatstate), the Freedom Forum Institute’s NewseumED (@NewseumED), and the Digital Diplomacy Coalition (@digidiplomats), used their social media presence to bring attention to the harassment of women on-line. They started with a Twitter thread stating their common objective and sharing facts. They also shared the content on Facebook and Instagram.

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The effort was even turned into a Twitter Moment!

Discussion of global issues has grown more vibrant over the years and many of the the people with their fingers on the keyboard have been instrumental in shaping that environment. There is growing evidence that women are less and less safe participating in civil discourse online, so it is imperative that institutions do their part to keep them engaged. International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to send this unified message.

Like all digital conversations, digital diplomats hope to see it grow and for new ideas to emerge from the effort, and we urge others to join us!

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Engaging a Connected World: Q&A with Nancy Groves, UN Head of Social Media

For most in the international affairs and global development fields, the month of September marks an annual milestone — the United Nations General Assembly. While this is a moment when eyes are focused on the UN, the work and impact of the UN system is year-round — and so is their communications effort.

From global crisis to political shifts, the UN is faced with many challenges. Engaging the world around them, however, is an area where the UN has excelled. Adapting to technology, diving into new platforms and working to ensure the UN connects with the world’s people is no easy task, but the organization has stood out as a leader in digital communications.

Recently, I spoke with Nancy Groves, head of the social media team at the United Nations, about the impact of social media and technology on public engagement efforts and how these tools contribute to the mission and success of the UN.

What role does social media play in advancing the UN’s critical mission?

Nancy Groves: We know people are spending increasing amounts of time on social media platforms discussing UN issues so it’s important that we are contributing to these conversations. Sometimes we may put out materials we hope people will share related to campaigns on climate action, peacekeeping, human rights or other priority issues. Other times we correct misunderstandings about the UN’s work. For example, so much of what is reported as “UN” decisions are actually the decisions of our 193 member countries, or more often the decision of the 15 countries on the Security Council. We find it’s really useful to remind people how the UN works.

With so many individual member countries and diverse international priorities, how does the UN social media team work to ensure a strong presence that reflects the work of the UN while also truly engaging the people of the world?

NG: We try to be very selective in what we post and only share content that is timely and of interest to the widest possible audience. This is a challenge when the UN works on so many important issues and sometimes there is pressure to post something that’s only of interest to a small subset of people — or even one country. Social media is, however, an important tool for transparency so letting people understand how the UN works is very key. We try to create “explainer” content or materials that provide background context in an easy to understand way. We also use visuals as much as we can since photos and videos can show so much more than text.

How has social media changed the UN General Assembly meetings? What does this mean in practice?

NG: For one thing, so many countries are now tweeting their own content. They’re posting what is happening in negotiations, their country’s position in negotiations or votes and then they are showing what it’s like to work at the UN representing their country. They host their own Q&A sessions and create their own video recaps. It means that if you want to find out what’s going on at the UN, there is really a huge amount of information out there now. While the UN is a popular tourist destination in places where we have major offices (New York, Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna), we realize that most people will never have a chance to walk through the doors of the UN in person. Social media can be a virtual door and we hope that makes it more relatable in many ways.

Not all of the world is connected. Does the UN’s use of social media take this into account and find other creative or technical ways to engage wider audiences?

NG: We work in a big department made up of many information professionals working in over 60 countries, so we have no shortage of experts on hand to advise us on how content may play in their country and region. There are colleagues who also still produce more traditional types of content like radio programs and print materials. For social media, we are discussing ways to better target our content to specific audiences. For example, we would like to start creating content specifically for women who speak Kiswahili and are under the age of 35. That’s just one example. At some point, the end goal is to make sure all our content is relatable to everyone, everywhere. That’s truly impossible of course especially since our team is still relatively small. We have two people working on content for each of our 9 languages. Others contribute to content production, but just having two people per language means we are never short on work.

In addition to social media, what has the UN been doing to explore working with AR or VR? Other developing spaces? And, what’s next for UN social media?

NG: Over the past few years many parts of the UN System have produced some very compelling VR films documenting how the UN works and how issues on the UN agenda affect people around the world. For example, the UN Population Fund produced a film on what it’s like to give birth in a crisis zone. Earlier this year, celebrating 70 years of UN Peacekeeping, we produced a special film in partnership with Time magazine. People who visited the UN were able to “see” for themselves what it is like to work on UN Peacekeeping missions, the sacrifices people make to serve where others often don’t want to (or can’t) go and also the impact of UN Peacekeeping.

Apart from the communications role, colleagues at the International Criminal Court are using it to help witnesses prepare for their court appearances. They’ll be able to feel what it’s like to take questions, hear the sounds of the court, etc. That way, they’ll feel more comfortable and hopefully be able to better focus on telling their important stories.

I’m sure there are many more examples of how these emerging technologies can be used for good all across the UN family.

When it comes to social media, we are talking about ways to use bots to answer common questions and to spread important campaign materials. We haven’t had a chance to figure out how to we could best use messenger apps at scale — or if we should. We always are trying to keep an eye on new platforms.


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 interview has been lightly edited for clarity. This post originally appeared on the Clyde Group Medium publication.

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Speaking EU to Americans: Q&A with Maria Belovas, Spokesperson for the EU Delegation in Washington

Washington is the quintessential diplomatic town, home to embassies representing nearly every country in the world and most international organizations — including the European Union.

The EU Delegation in Washington represents the interests of the European Union in the United States, in conjunction with the embassies of the 28 member nations. It’s a unique diplomatic entity and one which requires a distinctive approach to public diplomacy communications.

Recently, I spoke with the new counselor overseeing press and public diplomacy for the delegation, Maria Belovas. While she has only recently taken up her new post — she began her new position last month — she comes to D.C. having served as head of communications for the Estonian Foreign ministry and as a diplomat in the Estonian foreign service, with previous assignments in Lisbon, Washington and at headquarters in Tallinn.

Maria provides insights into public diplomacy at an international organization and how technology continues to impact diplomatic engagement — exploring the intersections of communication, international relations and public interest.

What are you most excited about in your new role? How does it feel to be back in Washington?

Maria Belovas: I was in the Estonian Foreign Service for 10 years, three of which I served in the Estonian Embassy in Washington. Now I am a diplomat for the European Union in Washington and it is good to be back and moving forward at the same time. It is an interesting time to be working on the relationship between the United States and the European Union. I’m excited about the prospect of putting myself to the test here, as a diplomat, as a European.

How is public diplomacy different for international organizations than for countries?

MB: In essence, it isn’t. The general idea of public diplomacy is to reach out to local audiences, to explain and promote your views, expand your networks and gain friends — whether you are representing a country or a union of countries.

What are the challenges in equally representing the interests of the EU and 28 diverse member states?

MB: When you represent the EU, you represent the member states. The EU exists because of the member states and at the end of the day they decide the direction of the EU. The challenge is how we coordinate and work together in an optimal way — and the excellent cooperation among member states and the EU here in Washington is actually often singled out.

How has social media changed your role and function in diplomacy?

MB: Digital evolution has been quietly changing the way we communicate, and diplomacy has not been left untouched. 10 years ago, social media was considered a niche project for the junior staff to fiddle with. Today, not even the most conservative of diplomats can ignore the necessity of being social media literate. With a near constant overflow of information, we are all fighting for attention — using a wide range of tools to get through is key.

What do you expect an average day in your position will look like?

MB: I have a great team of people around me, so the expectations are way above average every day. The EU Delegation’s press and public diplomacy efforts cover a lot of ground — everything from traditional media relations, digital communications strategies, to events, speeches, culture and much more. I look forward to diving in.


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 interview has been lightly edited for clarity. This post originally appeared on the Clyde Group Medium publication.

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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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Video: Public Diplomacy for Sustainable Development

In partnership with the United Nations Information Center, Digital Diplomacy Coalition, and the United Nations Foundation, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) hosted a forum in Washington, DC on Thursday, May 12, 2016. The forum explored the vital role of public diplomacy in engaging a broad array of stakeholders to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The program featured a variety of perspectives, including case discussions by Canada and Mexico.

More here.

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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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How to Ensure Digital Campaigns Create Actual Change

Digital campaigns are fascinating even if one does not run an online campaign for his or her organization. By now, millions of people are aware of the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. Nearly 7 million people have watched Emma Watson’s powerful speech on YouTube and close to 300,000 men around the world have committed to stand up for women’s rights via the campaign’s webpage.

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Exciting times for the Digital Diplomacy Coalition

We welcomed a Deputy Foreign Minister, senior government advisors, as well as dozens more diplomats driving innovation from within government and key private sector individuals integrating outside technologies and expertise into the public sector.

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e-Estonia: Building a Digital Society

What if it took you less than five minutes and no accountants to get your taxes done? Or how about voting in parliament elections online, while on a trip to Fiji? Would you like to set up a new company and have it legal and running within 20 minutes? What about signing business contracts or official documents digitally, without leaving your office – or living room? What if you never had any checkbooks from your bank or parking meters on the streets?

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Understanding The True Meaning of Engagement

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By Maria Belovas, Member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team

The digital diplomacy conversation has moved beyond the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to new levels of listening and engagement. This sentiment was stressed recently in Washington at the Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s (DDC) “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel.

The panelists, as well as the moderator were no strangers to the theme:

  • Petrit Selimi – Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo and author of Kosovo’s National Strategy on Digital Diplomacy
  • Joakim Edvardsson Reimar – Head of Swedish Digital Diplomacy
  • Gökhan Yücel – President of Yenidiplomasi.com and “Turkish Digital Age Geek”
  • Jimmy Leach – Portland Communications Digital Consultant and former Head of Digital Diplomacy at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Tasked with moderating that bunch? James Barbour – Minister Counselor & Head of Press and Public Diplomacy at the EU Delegation in Washington, formerly Head of Communications at the British Embassies in both Washington and Moscow.

Although each participant presented their views at a slightly different angle, none of them questioned the significance of digital tools in achieving diplomatic goals. Having worked in this field for a while I am glad to see that the conversation has moved from ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to ‘How to be even better’. And as Joakim Reimar stressed – it is essential to be good at this, because when you’re not you will only hurt yourself (your country).

So how can governments be good at using digital tools for diplomacy? Definitely not by using those tools as an extension to how things have been done in the past. As Jimmy Leach put it – “in the past digital diplomacy was tweeting a photo of two men shaking hands in front of a 19th century painting”. Of course you can do that too, once in a while. But will that transform the way nations interact with one another? Will that empower citizens to act as ambassadors of their country?

Back to my question – how? First of all you listen. The most important conversations today do not necessarily take place behind closed doors in fancy buildings. There are communities, forums, interest groups where real people deal with real issues. There are also misconceptions going around which could easily be overturned by providing accurate information. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t listen. And if you hear about them in the evening news…well it’s too late now isn’t it?

You listen carefully. And then you speak. You speak about what is important to you in a way which inspires others to take action, to keep the conversation going. Meanwhile you do not stop listening. A conversation requires two-way communication. This is what digital engagement should look like and I am not saying it is an easy task.

Governments are not always eager to truly engage. Engagement is arguably foreign to the ways in which governments traditionally operate. There is a lot of talk about two way communication but it sadly often boils down to officials posting press releases on social media and counting “likes” and “retweets”. This isn’t success, nor does it truly have an impact.

Tougher yet, often the people who have mostly been receivers of information in the public sphere, traditionally called “the audience”, aren’t always prepared  to interact as equal counterparts of the “serious” conversations.

But governments are made up of people too. We’re all people as a matter of fact. And we have these amazing technological possibilities to listen and to be heard. The more governments recognize  this – and the more they see “the audience” as “the community” – the more governments will be able to have a meaningful digital impact.

 


Maria Belovas is responsible for Public Diplomacy and Media Relations at the Embassy of Estonia in Washington. She is also a member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team. All views expressed are solely those of the author and may not reflect the views of her employer or the Digital Diplomacy Coalition.

This post follows our recent “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel. Watch the video here.

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